Group wins Spark Plug Award for beautifying city

Photo provided by Julie Waara The Houghton Beautification Committee plants flowers and paints murals in the summer and constructs snow statues in the winter, all a part of "enhancing what we already have." The volunteer organization won this year's Keweenaw Community Spark Plug Award for Project of the Year. Founded in 2015 by Julie Waara and Martie Leonard, the organization has a core group of 20 volunteers and manages 60 gardens throughout Houghton.

Residents of and visitors to Houghton have noticed an increase in murals, creative crosswalks and colorful flowers in the city over the last couple of years. The organization behind these changes, the Houghton Beautification Committee, which was formally recognized for its efforts at the Keweenaw Community Spark Plug Awards dinner earlier this month, winning the award for Project of the Year.

More than a dozen members of the committee accepted the award, showing how the award was a team effort.

“Thank you to the city of Houghton for sponsoring us, for believing in us,” one of them said. Even if we didn’t always know what we were doing, we always had a really good vision of what we wanted something to look like. I want to thank all of the volunteers that aren’t with us, a lot of our volunteers have gone away to sunnier parts for a little while.”

“We will continue with our big dreams,” another member said.

The committee has a core group of around 20 volunteers, according to Julie Waara who started the organization with Martie Leonard in 2015 while they were working on the background for the Northern Lights Mural on the parking deck near the bridge in Downtown Houghton.

“We were thinking of other things we could do to make the waterfront prettier,” Waara said. “It’s just about enhancing what’s already here and making the most of what we have.”

The committee now manages around 60 gardens in Houghton in addition to its painting projects. Many of these gardens have been “adopted” by other individuals, groups, businesses and organizations. The committee also works with schools and other organizations as a form of community outreach and education.

A committee of the city of Houghton, the group works with the city to plant gardens in places to enhance the beauty of the city without being destroyed by necessary activities like plowing.

The committee is also funded by the city, but it keeps their costs low by staying volunteer-based and being smart with their plants. It does this by planting perennials — plants that grow back year-after-year without being replanted — and harvesting flowers and bulbs that they store over the winter to replant in the spring.

It plans on reviving last year’s geraniums in the windows of the Portage Lake District Library beginning April 3, giving passers by an opportunity to watch the plants liven up and mature for planting.

Those interested in learning more about the group can follow them on Facebook or attend their April 3 meeting at PLDL at 6 p.m. Everyone is invited to talk to members of the committee when they see them planting as well.

“We meet so many people when we’re out volunteering and they’ll stop and ask us questions,” said Waara. “People like to see people doing positive things.”

The Keweenaw Community Spark Plug Awards are given annually to projects, businesses, organizations, and individuals who contribute to the community. Other awards include Growth, Innovation, and Customer Service. Members of the community can make nominations in advance of the awards and winners are chosen from those nominations by a panel consisting of members of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce, MTEC SmartZone, Keweenaw Young Professionals and the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance.