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Reston Honored for Beauty

With eye towards natural beauty and 'volunteer spirit,' national contest sends Reston to the head of the class.

The calendar might say it’s fall and the leaves might be beginning to change, but last week a national beautification contest honored Reston for being in "bloom."

It seems that everything is coming up roses for Reston after the Sept. 20 announcement that the tree-friendly community had won the "America in Bloom" competition.

Reston caught the collective eye of the nationwide contest’s 20 judges, including expert floral designers, horticulturists, landscape architects and master gardeners, for its commitment to the natural environment and for the dedicated involvement of the community in furthering those efforts. The contest hopes to improve the visual appeal of the country’s neighborhoods, parks and open spaces by encouraging and emphasizing coordinated local involvement and actions, its organizers say.

Participating communities, including Lake Oswego, Ore., Columbus, Indianapolis, and Boston, hosted trained and qualified judges, with discerning eyes and green thumbs, into their neighborhoods this past summer. Judges were evaluating each area in a series of criteria: community involvement, floral displays, landscapes, trees, environmental awareness, heritage, tidiness and open spaces. Besides receiving special recognition for its community involvement, Reston won the 50,001 – 100,000 population class beating out Encinitas, Ca., a suburb of San Diego, and New Bedford, Mass., a community outside of Boston.

"This is such an honor and Reston should be extremely proud, as I am, for this outstanding achievement," said Claudia Thompson-Deahl, the Reston Association (RA) environmental resources manager. "This is what Reston is all about and the community was the big winner for being so involved and for caring so deeply."

RESTON WAS ONE of nearly 50 communities nationwide that competed in one of seven different population categories sponsored by the Columbus, Ohio-based America in Bloom organization. In its third year, the organization’s roots come from north of the border where the Canadian version, Communities in Bloom, has blossomed from 29 participating towns in 1995 in its first year to more than 500 communities this year. Still in its infancy, the America in Bloom program began with only four American cities.

It was a real collaborative effort, RA staff said. Led by Thompson-Deahl, a team of RA officials, community leaders and volunteers spent two days in July escorting a pair of visiting judges, Darryl Trout and Pam Bennett, from one end of Reston to the other, showing off everything from Reston’s lakes and stream beds to public gardens and open spaces. In less than 48 hours, the two judges made nearly 40 stops from Lake Anne in the north to the future site of the Nature Center in the south.

After announcing the good news to the RA board at its monthly meeting last Thursday, Jerry Volloy, the RA executive vice president, took time out to thank the work of the RA staff and to the entire Reston community for their "tireless" effort towards "improving, beautifying and maintaining the natural environment of our community."

While there is no monetary reward for the distinction, RA staff is proud of its community’s latest recognition and the bragging rights that come with it. "This is a tribute to Reston in so many ways," Volloy added. "One of the major characteristics of our community is the sylvan environment that is Reston. It surrounds our entire community and every neighborhood within it. Our open space and our care and enjoyment of it defines our community of Reston."

OUT OF A POSSIBLE 1000 points, Reston earned 870 beating out Encinitas with 810 and New Bedford with 770 points. America in Bloom judges especially liked RA’s ability to involve RA members and to keep them involved.

Delilah Onofrey, the contest's co-chair, said Reston's bid was very strong and she said she was happy Reston won because the community is "very nature conscious and environmentally aware."

"While some cities might do well in some of the eight categories, Reston did well in all of them," she said. "As strong as their competition was, Reston was head and shoulders above everyone else in their category."

Reston received its highest scores in the areas of urban re-forestry, community involvement, tidiness and turf and ground cover areas, said Karen Monaghan, RA communications director, who attended the awards ceremony in Chicago earlier this month. "A full-time volunteer coordinator demonstrates the Association’s commitment to involving the greatest possible number of citizens in a broad range of activities," the judges said. "The Garden Club of Reston, the Boy Scouts and other groups of citizens have given much time and money to replant the median strips, create seating and other gardens."

Judges also commended Reston for its commitment to building the Nature House, a year-round educational building at the Walker Nature Education Center that will provide "a focal point for bringing the entire community together," Monaghan added.

In awarding first place to Reston, America in Bloom judges applauded Reston’s consistent effort in living up to, and surpassing, the goals set forth by the community’s founder, Robert Simon. "The vision and values permeate the entire community and can be felt by its visitors," the judges wrote in their summation. "Your community volunteer efforts serve as a model to others. Your value of natural and open spaces has provided an environment for all in years to come."

"Reston is wonderful," Onofrey said. "It's like living in a park down there."