Visitors to Campbell River welcomed with weeds, overgrown grass

Council made the decision to forgo any planting at the welcome sign when it chose to cut the city’s horticulture budget

Beautiful floral patterns below the Welcome to Campbell River sign have been replaced this year by weeds and long grass, much to residents’ dismay.

The colourful annuals formerly planted in the garden plot below the grey, industrial-style sign  are the victims of this year’s city budget cuts.

And that’s not sitting well with some people.

“What is city hall thinking with the mess that is growing below the Welcome to Campbell River sign on the Island Highway and Jubilee Parkway?” asks Lynn Michaluk in a letter to the Mirror. “We want to project that Campbell River is a beautiful community to live in (which it is) and welcome people to move here, and this is what they see as they drive in? It used to be so beautiful with flowers and well-kept.”

Esther Kowalko, who moved to the city from Victoria two years ago, said in a Facebook post that she would like to see the public come together and spruce up the garden.

“The weed patch under the CR Welcome Sign is sad, sad,” Kowalko said. “Loved the idea of a garden club involvement. Let this be the last year for that weed patch…pride in our community.”

Council made the decision to forgo any planting at the welcome sign when it chose to cut the city’s horticulture budget by 25 per cent, or $49,000, in 2012.

“Essentially that reduction resulted in the reduction of two full-time seasonal positions that worked 40 hour weeks from April to September,” said Ross Milnthorp, city general manager of parks, recreation, and culture. “We will be maintaining the grass in the area but not providing any service to that flower bed, which means no planting…and we will be weeding once this year.”

Coun. Larry Samson, council liaison to parks and recreation, said that’s not something anyone likes to see, but the cuts were necessary to balance a tough budget.

“I don’t think it’s a standard we’d like to see or that we’ve kept to in the past but unfortunately when there is a cutback in the level of service there are drawbacks and repercussions,” Samson said. “I think anybody would be concerned, including council but when we were doing budget deliberations, where were the cuts supposed to come from? Parks was identified as one of those areas and as a councillor you have the responsibility to respect the majority of council.

“But anytime it affects the beauty of where we live there has to be a concern.”

Samson spoke out against cutting the horticulture budget during budget planning in February.

“I think it sets a poor standard for our neighbourhoods,” Samson said of cuts that have translated to no planting in neighbourhood parks, tot lots, all 15 city boulevards, Willow Point flower baskets, Campbellton islands, the sportsplex and Adams, Frank James, Nunns Creek, and Dick Murphy parks.

Milnthorp said after the budget was cut, staff prioritized city flower beds based on the highest degree of visibility. Those at the top of the list were planted this year.

“I know that sounds crazy because the Welcome to Campbell River sign seems like a high visibility area but Robert Ostler Park is even more high visibility,” he said. “Ostler Park is a heavily-used site and the pride of the downtown core.”

But the book may not be closed on the welcome sign just yet.

Samson said Monday afternoon the issue would likely be discussed at council’s Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday evening after the Mirror went to press.

“I’m quite sure that it will be brought up to see if something can be done,” he said. “Having said that, it is getting late into the summer season to plant but that’s up to the experts. Hopefully we’ll see what we can do.”