Sign still a welcoming sight on I-5 in Vancouver, thanks to volunteers

by guest blogger Abbi Russell

2011 "Welcome to Washington" sign planting
A unique roadside feature greets drivers that cross the I-5 Interstate Bridge from Portland, Ore. into Vancouver, Wash. – a huge flowerbed shaped like Washington, welcoming them to the Evergreen State.

For years the “Welcome to Washington” flowerbed/sign was meticulously planted and maintained by Vancouver-based employee Sharon Morgan.  Every year she designed beautiful plantings that made the sign a living work of art and a pleasant sight for everyone who traveled northbound I-5 in Vancouver.

When Sharon retired in 2007 and the maintenance budget was cut back, the sign didn’t get planted for the first time in a long time. And boy, did we hear about it.

Drivers were upset that the famous sign wasn’t being kept up. Our Environmental team planted the flowerbed with a sustainable and perennial design of native northwest plants. Most things were planted in the fall so they could winter over and bloom in the spring.

The plants didn’t look like much that winter – some drivers thought the sign looked weedy and unkempt. Then a well-meaning citizen took it upon themselves to mow down the “weeds” without knowing that the native plants were poised to bloom in just a few months. Many plants died, so our crews removed everything down to bare dirt, and we all wondered – what do we do now?
2011 "Welcome to Washington" sign planting
Enter Vancouver resident Yvette Golemo, who contacted Roadside Maintenance Supervisor Bill VanAntwerp and asked about the Adopt-A-Highway program. Yvette wanted to know if she could adopt the “Welcome to Washington” sign. Bill was happy to bring Yvette and her volunteers on board, and in 2009 the sign was once again planted in all its glory.

Volunteer groups have planted the sign ever since. This year, we are working with the Washington State University Master Gardeners program (insert shameless Cougs plug here). The Master Gardeners grew all of the flowers and herbs we purchased for the planting; proceeds go to support Vancouver-area charitable programs.

Volunteers with the Master Gardeners program are planting the sign this Saturday in the shape of a state icon – a shiny red apple. Thousands of brightly colored petunias, begonias and salvia plants will be combined with alyssum, sage and parsley to create another living work of art along I-5 in Vancouver. Sharon would be proud.

Big thanks to the generous volunteers who are helping keep Washington a beautiful and welcoming state!