More than meets the eye

NRVMA's 2002 Roadside Excellence Award winners exhibit all-around strong programs

Article May 16, 2003
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Cruising down I-70 at 75 mph outside of Topeka, Kan., there
is more to the interstate than meets the eye--actually it's the side of the
road. Green and lush, roadside vegetation plays a vital role in the aesthetics
of our nation's infrastructure. Based on personal experience and the projects I
have researched for this and past articles on roadside vegetation, I have an
appreciation for the work and effort that goes into maintaining the side of a road.
Many Americans, though, do not share this appreciation.

Unfortunately, roadsides are constantly being littered with
fast-food debris, empty soda bottles, cigarette butts and things that shouldn't
grace the pages of ROADS & BRIDGES.

In recent years, the tide toward beautifying the nation's
infrastructure seems to be turning as more and more cities are incorporating
roadside vegetation programs--some of which are sponsored by big-money
corporations--with the sole purpose of keeping the roadsides clean and
beautiful. But a roadside vegetation program goes far beyond keeping the trash
out and the grass short, as critics say of these so-called corporate
philanthropic programs.

Conversely, the efforts of those who make roadside
maintenance their profession were acknowledged at the 2002 Annual Meeting of
the National Roadside Vegetation Management Association (NRVMA) with the
granting of the association's Roadside Excellence Awards. Recognizing roadside
vegetation management programs since 1986, a NRVMA Roadside Excellence Award is
a badge of honor to those who dedicate their careers to this niche of the
industry.

Judged by current officers, executive board members and past
presidents of NRVMA, each nominated program in four different categories
(state, county, city and roadside support) undergo a wide variety of scrutiny
before being selected as a Roadside Excellence Award winner. Even then, the
criterion for winning goes beyond a certain set of rules, according to NRVMA.

"Each program and/or individual has to demonstrate a
commitment to excellence in roadside vegetation," Paul Northcutt,
executive director for NRVMA, told ROADS & BRIDGES.

Inundated with nominations in three of the four categories--ironically,
not a single nomination was placed in probably the most recognizable
classification, the city category--the NRVMA Roadside Excellence Awards panel
had a difficult time with their decisions.

"There was certainly difficulty in selecting our 2002
winners because we received several nominations for each of the three
categories, and many of the nominees exhibited great programs," said
Northcutt. "However, the judging committee felt these winners exhibited
the best overall programs for 2002 and were those who exhibited the best
all-around programs exhibiting strengths in numerous facets of the various
roadside management disciplines."

A national leader

Recognized with the 2002 Roadside Excellence Award in the
state DOT category was the South Carolina IRVM Program. Accepting the award at
NRVMA's 2002 Annual Meeting on behalf of the South Carolina DOT (SCDOT) were
Kelly Jo Swygert, IRVM program coordinator, SCDOT, and James B. Aitken, Ph.D.,
professor emeritus, Clemson University.

"The SCDOT was selected in the state DOT category based
upon the top-level management commitment to a roadside vegetation management
program," said Northcutt.

The SCDOT has emerged as a national leader in roadside
vegetation management as the DOT maintains vegetation along 42,000 miles of
roadways. Highlights of their 2002 winning program include the hiring of a
full-time IRVM coordinator; developing an annual agency Integrated Roadside
Vegetation Management (IRVM) plan; publishing a monthly vegetation management
newsletter for SCDOT employees; developing an intranet website for vegetation
management issues; planting and maintaining 1,100 acres of cultivated
wildflowers on SCDOT roadsides; and partnering with business and community
leaders.

"The South Carolina roadside vegetation management
program is unique because it is an integrated program," Swygert told Roads
& Bridges. "It is a diverse yet balanced approach to vegetation
management that relies on a team of valuable members in order to be successful."

One member of that team is Clemson University, which assists
the SCDOT with the development of educational materials for SCDOT employees who
have vegetation management responsibilities. Clemson also assists the SCDOT
with semiannual vegetation management training for its employees and provides
guidance with the continuing development and improvement of the DOT's IRVM
program.

"Additionally, Clemson University's vegetation
management research efforts generate invaluable information that is essential
to the ongoing improvement of the SCDOT's IRVM Program," added Swygert.

The SCDOT also is recognized for becoming more active in the
local state vegetation management association for South Carolina; providing
semiannual pesticide applicator training to employees; developing pesticide
container recycling programs; coordinating with the South Carolina department
of corrections in mowing the state's rights-of-way; and maintaining over 250
landscape sites throughout the SCDOT transportation system.

These cumulative efforts have led to a balanced roadside
vegetation management program at the SCDOT, a program which its employees view
with great pride.

"SCDOT is elated about receiving the NRVMA Roadside
Excellence Award," said Swygert. "This award recognizes the SCDOT's
determination in developing and maintaining a well-balanced roadside vegetation
management program. The SCDOT is even more proud of its road maintenance
employees whose dedicated and tireless efforts made this award possible."

A man and his land

Acknowledged in the county/parish government program was
John Kabus and the Shawnee County Noxious Weed Department of Topeka, Kan.

Kabus and his staff are responsible for vegetation
management of 800 miles of county right-of-way; 3,000-4,000 acres of drainage
systems; and noxious weed control for all railroad systems within Shawnee
county.

"John Kabus and the Shawnee County Noxious Weed
Department was selected in the county category due to his success in working
not only with the Kansas State Legislature, but also with local land owners and
citizens in including their input onto the Shawnee County integrated roadside
vegetation management plan," said NRVMA's Northcutt.

As mentioned above, Kabus is active in testifying before the
Kansas State Legislature on noxious weed-related issues, and his public
relations efforts have brought more attention to noxious weed-related issues.

Each year, Kabus coordinates land owner and
intergovernmental meetings and hosts information meetings at his facility to
discuss vegetation management issues. He also has been known to host a
breakfast and informational meeting each year for legislators, civic and
business and land owners.

One of Kabus' main goals is to ensure that his recently
completed county facility surpasses all codes and EPA requirements.

Scholastic recognition

Awarded the 2002 NRVMA Roadside Excellence Award was Terri
Rogers, instructor of the Natural Resources Management Program at Hawkeye
Community College, Waterloo, Iowa.

A steadfast supporter of NRVMA, Rogers runs what quite
possibly may be the only degree program in roadside vegetation management found
in the U.S.

According to Rogers, the Natural Resources Management
Program tries to get students involved in roadside management from the first
week they arrive on campus. Students begin to incorporate the philosophy of the
benefits of utilizing native plants, and by the end of their first year the
students are proponents of the integrated roadside vegetation management.

"The Natural Resources Management Program at Hawkeye
Community College provides students the opportunity to develop the necessary
skills and certifications for entering careers as natural resources
technicians," said Rogers. "Students learn both the physical aspects
of managing the natural areas and the theory behind the procedures."

The Natural Resources Management Program was developed in
1997 and initially had emphasis on vegetation management. The first year the
program had four students and when a wildlife management emphasis was added in
1999, enrollment swelled to its current level of 52 students.

In addition to running the vegetation management program,
Rogers also has been a driving force in this program and actively supports her
students to become involved in NRVMA.

"Students may find employment as roadside managers,
natural resource technicians, park workers and workers in a wide variety of
supporting industries," said Rogers. "A new growth industry is that
of private contractors for right-of-ways."

Rogers also contributes to NRVMA in other ways--she has
served as a key member of the team that developed and administers the
association's National Certification Program for certified professional
roadside managers and technicians. A key element Rogers contributed to
developing NRVMA's Certification Program was coordinating the development of
the question for the examinations given to prospective program candidates.

"NRVMA's Certification Program seeks to recognize
professionalism and encourage professional development among all practitioners
of the component skills of roadside vegetation management," said Rogers.
"National certification is a voluntary, examination-based program which
provides recognition of professional and technical competency."

"Terri Rogers was selected as developing one of the only
degree programs on roadside vegetation management within the U.S. and for her
work in encouraging and sponsoring students in becoming active in roadside
vegetation management activities. Terri also has been a leader in helping to
manage NRVMA's National Certification Program for roadside managers and
roadside technicians," said Northcutt.

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