- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

CLEVELAND, Miss. (AP) - Cleveland is becoming a little more attractive, thanks to the crepe myrtle trees planted along U.S. Highway 61 and Mississippi Highway 8.

“Getting the state to approve this was almost like an act of congress. It just about took the help and support of the entire town to get this project going,” said Wilma Wilbanks of Cleveland, who was instrumental in the process.

“Thirty-one trees have been planted. You can see a heavy concentration of them at the intersection of Highway 8 and 61. There are a few on 61 and a few west of 8. We would have rather to plant them around November but by the time the permits were approved, it was already March,” she added.

Wilbanks said the Delta Home and Garden Club was prompted to plant the trees after an evaluation of Cleveland.

“The Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce had a team to come from Mississippi State University to do an evaluation and study of the city of Cleveland. Before they presented us with the results from the evaluation, they named all of our positives.

“They said our positive aspects are the downtown area, Bolivar Medical Center and Delta State University,” she said.

Wilbanks said the evaluation revealed that the view from Highways 61 and 8 for people who passing through Cleveland, was unattractive because the signage was not uniform.

“We do not have an ordinance that requires uniform signage. They suggested that we do something to create uniformity to the view of Highway 61 and 8,” said Wilbanks.

Wilbanks said it was a long process to get a permit for the approval of the trees.

“We had to constantly move and remove stakes. Each time we moved the stakes, people from the Mississippi Highway Department had to come and make sure that we had put them in the right place,” she said.

Before Cleveland Public Works planted the trees, Mississippi 811 Inc. had to be contacted.

Mississippi 811 is a statewide center, which establishes a statewide communications link between those who dig underground and those who own and operate underground facilities in Mississippi.

The purpose is to eliminate damages and reduce the chance of injury or death, destruction of public and private property and loss or interruption of services vital to public health and safety.

“Before we could get a permit and approval, we had to relocate certain stakes and contact individuals from Mississippi 811. We had to call them because it is important to know where to dig, to avoid hitting gas lines or any important wires,” said Wilbanks.

She said she was prompted to plant crepe myrtles after she and her husband took a trip to Alabama.

“My husband and I were traveling through Alabama and as we drove through town, we noticed beautiful sycamore trees. He suggested that we use sycamore trees.

“On a separate trip, we went through a town and we saw watermelon colored Arapahoe crepe myrtles all the way down the streets there. When we saw them, we knew that this was something that we wanted in Cleveland,” Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks said Arapahoe crepe myrtles grow well in the Delta.

Wilbanks said she and the Delta Home and Garden Club hope to have between 100 and 125 trees planted by the fall.

“During this time of year, there is a lot of heat. Cleveland Public Works has done a wonderful job at planting and watering the trees. We are so appreciative for their efforts,” she said.

Wilbanks said the total cost for planting the trees is around $11,000 and the garden club received assistance from several entities to fund the project.

“In 2011, the Delta Home and Garden Club had a flower show, it was at the Delta Arts Alliance building. We did a flower show and a month long exhibit called ‘The Magic of McCarty.’ We honored Lee McCarty and we charged admission. We were able to raise over $5,000.

“If you can do one thing and accomplish a bunch of things at once for the same amount of effort, it makes it easier,” she said.

Wilbanks said many things have happened since they raised the money.

“The Rotary Club of Cleveland gave $1,000, Junior Auxiliary agreed to give us $500 a year for two years and some of the businesses around Cleveland have pitched in. The city also matched what we initially raised,” she said.

Though a great deal of hard work went into getting the trees approved, the city has agreed to help maintain them.

Wilbanks said a few companies have agreed to pay for trees that are or will be planted in front of their companies.

“If individuals want to pay for a tree or trees in front of their building, then they are more than welcome to follow the lead of other companies. The businesses that have paid for their own trees have shown great leadership,” she said.


Information from: Bolivar Commercial, https://www.bolivarcom.com

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