2016-08-25 / Around Town

Making Newport Great

By Betsy Sherman Walker

Scenic America Chair (and Newport resident) Ronald Fleming, left, with Lynda Bird Johnson Robb and her husband, former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-VA). Lynda Robb’s father, President Lyndon B. Johnson, was an avid advocate of scenic conservation, and she carries on her father’s – and mother’s– legacy. In his 1965 State of the Union message, the president said, “We must make a massive effort to save the countryside and to establish – as a green legacy for tomorrow – more large and small parks, more seashores and open spaces than have been created during any other period in our national history.” LBJ signed the Highway Beautification Act on Oct. 22, 1965. (Contributed Photo) Scenic America Chair (and Newport resident) Ronald Fleming, left, with Lynda Bird Johnson Robb and her husband, former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-VA). Lynda Robb’s father, President Lyndon B. Johnson, was an avid advocate of scenic conservation, and she carries on her father’s – and mother’s– legacy. In his 1965 State of the Union message, the president said, “We must make a massive effort to save the countryside and to establish – as a green legacy for tomorrow – more large and small parks, more seashores and open spaces than have been created during any other period in our national history.” LBJ signed the Highway Beautification Act on Oct. 22, 1965. (Contributed Photo) Newport Tree Warden Scott Wheeler would probably say he was just doing his job. So, too would Eric Offenberg, director of engineering at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. The board of directors of the Washington, D.C.-based Scenic America, however, sees things from a slightly different, more appreciative angle. On Thursday, Aug. 25, with the board gathered in Newport for a series of meetings, Wheeler and Offenberg will be presented with the group’s “Taking the Long View” award at a reception at Bellevue House, the home of chairman Ronald Lee Fleming.

They are being honored for their efforts to make Newport great again – with trees.

Founded in 1978, Scenic America is the only national nonprofit dedicated to preserving and enhancing the integrity of the country’s urban and rural public spaces. Its national campaigns have targeted billboards, telecommunications towers, farmland conservation and historic preservation, as well as an ongoing revamp of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act. Scenic America also supports efforts at the grassroots level, such as Newport’s Daffodil Festival and the Daffodillion project (recognized in 2014) and its goal of planting one million daffodils along Newport’s miles of oceanfront cliffs, yards, sidewalks, and parks.

To date, 496,000 bulbs have been planted, more than 60,000 of which are at the Pell Bridge gateway.

According to Fleming, Wheeler and Offenberg were instrumental in helping to orchestrate last April’s planting of 31 new trees near the Pell Bridge off-ramp.

“Because of their hard work,” he said, “the experience of entering Newport from the bridge has been immeasurably improved.” Under Offenberg’s direction, RITBA removed a fence and assumed responsibility for maintenance. The city contributed administrative resources, equipment and planting, valued at $7,000.

The tree planting was a joint effort between the Newport Tree Society and the Daffodil Days Festival. The Daffodillion gala last April raised more than $23,000, which helped with the purchase of the trees.

Members of Scenic America’s board, coming from as far afield as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Reno, Galveston, and Savannah, are in town to strategize and to examine the group’s recently released white paper, “Taking the Long View: A Proposal for Realizing America the Beautiful.”

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