Quincy's flowery Highway 28 welcome needs volunteers

Progress has many faces. For some, it’s the shiny, welcoming confines of the Public Market,  in the background, and for others it’s that plus the pretty flowers that adorn the highway that runs by it. The work of the Beautification Project volunteers faces a time of uncertainty as many are getting older and the search for younger volunteers has yielded scarce fruit. Photo by Sebastian Moraga

Red canna flowers sway in the breeze along Highway 28, greeting drivers coming into town at the roundabout. Standing nearly as tall as a person, the cannas greet visitors and locals alike and wave a gentle goodbye as they leave.

The flowers are part of a city-wide project known as the Quincy Beautification Project. Flowers line the roadway from the roundabout to Tenth, between Second and Third, and then start again around Sixth. Four more areas line the south-bound highway toward George.

The flowers are planted and maintained by the Quincy Beautification Committee, a group of seven volunteers. They keep the flowers watered and weeded from early spring to mid-fall. There are seven areas altogether, one per volunteer.

“I do what I call the west end from the round-about to Quincy Market,” said Tom Snyder, committee president. “I spend a lot of time down there. I tell people it keeps me out of trouble most of the time.”

Though the red cannas are the most striking, the committee also plants tulips and geraniums. The geraniums — 200 to 300 purchased each spring — are their biggest expense. The rest of the flowers reproduce on their own, but what they don’t require in funds, they make up for in labor.

“The flowers all have to be dug up,” Snyder said. “We store the tubers over the winter in an area that doesn’t freeze. In the next two weeks, I’ll be knocking down all the big, tall red flowers and putting them in storage. And then in the spring, in April, we have to plant them. They are all kind of labor-intensive in that respect.”

The labor required to maintain the areas is one of Snyder’s most pressing concerns.

“Our biggest worry is maintaining the areas that we have, simply because everybody in our group is over 70 and we don’t seem to be attracting any young people to pick up the pieces,” he said.

Two members of their seven-person group are retiring soon — both are pushing 85 — and though they’ve tried their hand at recruiting high school students, it hasn’t worked out well. Years ago, Snyder said, they utilized people who needed to do community service, but that too was an imperfect solution.

Thankfully, the pandemic hasn’t had any effect on the project. Since the flowers are outdoors and everyone has their own area, social distancing isn’t a problem. Even wildfire smoke, which has been so thick the past few summers, has barely impacted the project.

The city has done a lot to support the effort, providing water for the plants and even helping spray for pests as needed. And the reception by the community has been great.

“I’ve had people stop when I’m out there weeding and tell me how much they enjoy it,” Snyder said.

Unfortunately, none of that addresses their most immediate concerns. Snyder hopes that they will be able to recruit new members to the group. Until then, the project’s future remains uncertain.

“We won’t be expanding,” Snyder said. “We are just trying to hang onto what we have.”

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