Mayor Jim Marshall

Keeping Macon-Bibb Beautiful Is Serious Business


Seven successive mayors have nurtured the vision and worked to create the reality of Macon as a clean and beautiful city. This vision first took shape in 1974 -- when Macon began to work with Keep America Beautiful, Inc., and focus in a proactive and systematic way on the issue of litter -- and it comes to full bloom every year, literally, during the City's internationally acclaimed Cherry Blossom Festival.

In 1972 Keep America Beautiful, Inc. (KAB) initiated a national study of the origins and causes of litter. The resulting behavior-based research became the foundation for the development of KAB's Clean Community System, which was designed to provide KAB-affiliated towns, cities, counties and states with an effective and systematic strategy to prevent and reduce litter and promote responsible waste handling. At the core of this new system was the belief that education and awareness were the most effective tools for changing individuals' attitudes -- and, as a result, their behavior -- regarding litter.

Macon was selected by KAB as one of three cities to participate in a national litter-reduction test using the new system. In March of 1974 the City of Macon and Bibb County unanimously agreed to adopt and jointly support the new system, and created the Macon-Bibb Clean Community Commission to implement it. As a result, the Macon-Bibb Clean Community Commission became the first affiliate program of Keep America Beautiful, Inc. Carolyn Crayton was its executive director and only paid staff member, and she worked with an 18-member volunteer commission. The Commission's annual budget was set at $29,000, representing $14,500 each from the City and County governments.

Macon Gets Serious About Litter

The Macon-Bibb Clean Community Commission immediately embarked on an ambitious public education and awareness campaign called "A Cleaner Macon-Bibb County Is Up To You." To drive home the message, the Commission bombarded City and County residents with posters, bumper stickers, and public service ads for radio, television and print media, addressed dozens of community and school groups, and enlisted members of the media, who responded with their own barrage of columns, articles, editorials and talk show segments.

By the end of 1974, the Commission was able to report an 11% overall decrease in litter in the several locations around Macon and Bibb County where baseline and follow-up measurements had been taken using KAB's new "Photometric Index" tool. This was followed by a 22% decrease in litter at the end of the second year (1975). Litter measurements taken during the remainder of the 1970s and the following two decades recorded decreases in litter of 44% and 66%, and up to as much as 82% in some areas.

Because of its success in developing effective litter-reduction initiatives and in creating public awareness and widespread community support for them, the Macon-Bibb Clean Community Commission quickly became an increasingly important and active partner in the City's and County's cleanup and waste-management efforts. One of the first big issues the Commission tackled was curbside garbage pickup.

At that time, the City of Macon still provided backyard garbage pickup service to homeowners, which was proving to be increasingly expensive and inefficient. Because some residents were not properly bagging or containerizing their garbage, complaints by neighbors and sanitation workers (about rats, putrid odors and trash heaps) were also on the rise.

At the Commission's urging, the City implemented curbside garbage pickup in October of 1974, and the Commission launched a full-scale education and awareness campaign to inform residents about the benefits of "curbside" and how important it was for everyone to properly dispose of their trash. The move to curbside pickup saved the City $1.2 million in the first year, the result of increased productivity, and over $3 million in the first few years.

Based on other Commission recommendations, the Macon City Council and Bibb County Commissioners adopted new and stricter ordinances establishing standards for garbage and refuse containers. They required containers to be placed in certain areas; making businesses and residents responsible for the cleanliness of their properties and adjacent sidewalks, and authorized the City and County to clean up littered and neglected properties, with unpaid bills becoming property liens.

In 1988 the Commission formally changed its name, to the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, in order to more closely identify itself with the Keep America Beautiful national organization and movement. When the City of Macon instituted curbside recycling in 1992, and Bibb County followed in 1993, it was the Commission, in its role as the educational arm of the City and County on these issues, who led the public education campaign, and it still does. To date, more than 85,000 residents have attended Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful's educational workshops.

From Clean City to Beautiful Tourist Destination

Key to Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful's success has been its ability to focus the public's attention on the serious, negative impacts that litter has on a community. In partnership with local government agencies, civic groups and the business, corporate and industrial sectors, the Commission works to address problems systematically, by developing "action plans" that focus on sustainable results. Far and away the most successful of these action plans has been the City's annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

In 1976 the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission formally incorporated "beautification" into its highly successful litter-reduction program, and began its sponsorship of local beautification and improvement initiatives as a way to reduce littering and instill community pride in citizens. The Commission's first major beautification project, which continues to this day, was the planting of rose bushes every Mother's Day along Interstate 75. The plants are all donated by citizens in honor of their mothers, and are planted by volunteers.

The idea for the Cherry Blossom Festival first took "root" in the 1970s. A prominent realtor, the late Bill Fickling, Sr., was a long-time resident of Macon who loved his City and was equally taken by the beauty of the Yoshina cherry tree. It had been his habit every year and for many years to donate cherry trees to every school in the City and County, as a way of introducing Macon-Bibb's children to these natural wonders and in hopes of beautifying the city. Every year only a fraction of these hundreds of young cherry trees were ever planted.

In 1982, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful's Carolyn Crayton approached Mr. Fickling with the idea of undertaking a formal tree-planting and maintenance program. To celebrate the flowering of the trees and Mr. Fickling's gift to the City, as well as his birthday, Crayton also proposed holding the City's first Cherry Blossom Festival the following March. Mr. Fickling generously agreed to donate 500 Yoshina Cherry trees, which the Commission and some 30 volunteers planted that winter in a single residential neighborhood and in several City parks. The following spring, Macon held its first-ever Cherry Blossom Festival, which drew an impressive crowd of about 10,000 people.

Since its auspicious debut in 1983, Macon's annual Cherry Blossom Festival has grown to fantastic proportions. Every spring more than 600,000 tourists travel to Macon to attend the 10-day Festival, which features 500 events including hot-air balloons, air shows, health fairs, Picnics-and-Pops concerts, two parades, a golf tournament, the famous Pink Pancake Breakfast, recycling exhibits (with the message: "It's Your Town. Your Future. Your Choice."), and an environmental show that travels to Macon's schools for the duration of the Festival.

The Cherry Blossom Festival generates $7.2 million annually for the City. The centerpiece of the Festival is, of course, the City's 225,000 Yoshina Cherry trees. Today, Macon has more cherry trees than any other city in the world, including in Japan and Washington, DC. All thanks is due to the continuing generosity of Mr. Fickling and then his family, who, since 1983, have donated 7,500 saplings every year to the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission/Cherry Blossom Festival. And every year, during the first week of December, the Commission distributes the donated trees to anyone in the community who asks for them, first-come, first-served. In October, the Commission publicizes the availability of the cherry trees, and individuals who write to the Commission receive two trees each (groups can get more). The cherry trees are planted anywhere and everywhere.

The Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission was in charge of managing the City's Cherry Blossom Festival for five years. But, by 1988, the event had become so successful and so big that the City created a separate Cherry Blossom Festival division within the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, assigning it a separate staff and budget, and an 18-member volunteer board of directors.

When Carolyn Crayton partnered with Bill Fickling 17 years ago to create Macon's first Cherry Blossom Festival, their shared goals were to promote community fellowship and instill pride in residents - and visitors -- for the beauty of the city by showcasing the beauty of the flowering trees.

Those goals have been realized. The Festival quickly became Macon's signature event, drawing regional, national and international attention. On the home front, today, more than 3,500 volunteers work with Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful and the Cherry Blossom Festival throughout the year, adopting streets and parks, picking up litter, coordinating educational programs and hosting international visitors. Their efforts are concentrated heavily on the City's downtown area, and they are an important part of the reason why the City of Macon continues to attract increasing numbers of tourists, new residents, and new businesses.

Another "draw" for Macon is the significant and highly favorable media coverage it has received. Macon's Cherry Blossom Festival has been the subject of thousands of newspaper and magazine stories and hundreds of television and radio programs, ranging from the Ladies Home Journal to Good Morning America and CBS' Sunday Morning.

A Sound Investment of Public Dollars

The Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission/Cherry Blossom Festival reported that it returned $13 to the community for every $1 of government funds that it received for the 1998/99 fiscal year. The Commission continues to be funded jointly by City and County governments, and its 1998/99 annual budget was $169,044. The Festival's annual budget was $152,836, 100% of which was derived from the City's and County's Hotel/Motel Tax. Total public support for the Commission/Festival for FY 1998/99 was $321,880.

That same year, a total of 147,501 volunteer hours (valued at $737,505) were donated to the Commission/Festival, which also received in-kind and cash contributions of $3,490,323, for a total of $4,227, 828 in benefits to Macon and Bibb County.

In recognition of the important role that the Commission has played in making this a clean and beautiful city and a magnet for tourists, in 1990 YKK -- a Japanese zipper company with its U.S. headquarters in Macon -- donated $300,000 to erect a headquarters building for the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission/Cherry Blossom Festival. Eighteen other local businesses and corporations contributed all of the furnishings. Appropriately located on the corner of Cherry and New Streets, the headquarters was built on public land that is leased to the organization for $1 a year.


"Get the Facts. Involve the People. Develop a Plan of Action . Focus on Results. Provide Positive Reinforcement." This is Keep America Beautiful's "5-Step Process," and it is an integral part of KAB's Clean Community System.

Since 1974, the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission has honored its volunteers and recognized their tremendous accomplishments with an annual awards ceremony that is sponsored by local businesses that support the Commission's work. What began as a small ceremony is today a major event for the entire city, and it is now held in the City of Macon's Auditorium to accommodate an ever-expanding audience and list of honorees.

More than 1,500 guests attended the Commission's 1999 awards luncheon held in March, which marked the 25th anniversary of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and the 17th annual Cherry Blossom Festival, where over 60 coveted awards were presented. A special 25th Anniversary Award was presented Bill and Neva Fickling, the son and daughter-in-law of the Festival's original benefactor.

The Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission/Cherry Blossom Festival has received its share of recognition, as well, including awards from Keep America Beautiful, Inc., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Arbor Day Foundation, Keep Georgia Beautiful (the state affiliate program of Keep America Beautiful, Inc.), and from Keep Britain Tidy, to name a few.

For more information, please contact:

Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission/Cherry Blossom Festival
794 Cherry Street
Macon, GA 31201-2090
Phone: (912) 751-7427
Fax: (912) 751-7418

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