Seeking a sign that spring has truly sprung? Look no further than Propstra Square in downtown Vancouver.
The square, located at the southeast corner of Esther Short Park, exploded with flora Saturday morning as local volunteers and staffers came together for a community planting event. By the time they had finished, the ground was lush with around 1,200 flowers — cheery marigolds, bunches of geraniums, spindly stems of salvia and vibrant clusters of impatiens.
“Suddenly we have instant color. Isn’t it wonderful?” said Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, stepping back and brushing dirt from her gloved hands to admire the work so far. “It just feels like spring.”
The mayor was one of around 75 volunteers to turn out Saturday for the event, coordinated in conjunction with a wider cleanup that saw around 20 blocks in the downtown core deep-cleaned and beautified.
“There’s so many people out. Really they just wanted to get out and get in the dirt and make a difference,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
The full event was a joint effort between the city of Vancouver, the Vancouver Downtown Association and the Parks Foundation of Clark County. Waste Connections and Frontier Landscaping also donated funds and labor.
Volunteers also power-washed signs and pavement, put down new mulch, and swept up dead leaves, cigarette butts and needles. The VDA also combined the cleanup event with its Spruce the Couve contest challenging businesses to gather a team of coworkers and submit photos of their beautification projects. A winner will be selected on Tuesday.
“We were focusing on areas from Fifth up to about 12th Street, and then about two blocks over on each side including Broadway,” said Michael Walker, executive director of the VDA. “Volunteers took on a variety of tasks, (including) litter pickup, graffiti removal, fixing landscaping on some island areas.”
A springtime spruce isn’t a new concept. City staff and volunteers have been conducting some version of the seasonal planting and downtown cleanup project for more than a decade, according to Hailey Heath, a volunteer coordinator for the city of Vancouver and the manager of the event.
It’s always been open to any member of the community who wants to show up and help out, she said. The exception was last year, with COVID-19 just picking up steam in spring 2020, and municipalities still trying to figure out what could be done safely in the public sphere. A small group of Americorps volunteers planted the flowers last year in a closed event.
This year, she said, organizers found a middle ground. The planting and cleanup events were open to the public on an RSVP basis, with attendance capped at 100 to help avoid crowding. Most volunteers wore face masks.
“It wasn’t on the back burner, (but) it was on a different burner last year,” Heath said. “We are super happy to be back utilizing community volunteers.”
It’s more fun that way, but it’s also more efficient. Saturday’s event might have proved effective, but it lasted only two and a half hours.
“Give it a couple of hours, and it’s all done. Many hands make light work,” said Dellan Redjou, executive director of the Parks Foundation of Clark County.
The timing is especially fortuitous, Walker added, as vaccination rates rise and the state looks to be on track to reopen its economy fully by the end of June.
“Especially as we welcome back the public, having the downtown clean is really important. It’s just a nice welcome back post-COVID,” Walker said.