People complain about ugly, unkempt medians on U.S. 278 through Bluffton, and rightly so.
But local tradition tells us they will have to do more than complain. They must get busy and do the work themselves.
Dianne Reynolds of Bluffton was cleaning out junk the other day and kindly brought me a piece of it. It was a yellowing copy of the March 6, 1975, edition of The Island Packet, then a tabloid.
On Page 2 is the riveting headline: "Group meeting today on Pope Avenue landscaping." The same edition reported the state was about to install the island's first traffic light, on Pope Avenue at Cordillo Parkway. But beautifying the median, and Sea Pines Circle, came about because of the people.
It was a project of the island's Bicentennial Committee, headed by Bill Murrell.
Maybe we need more bicentennials.
The state highway department agreed to plant and maintain new grass, shrubs and other plantings the committee wanted for Pope Avenue. The Jaycees and the Hilton Head Board of Realtors kicked in money, and other groups followed.
The people demanded more, did more, and got more.
The same thing was going on in Beaufort, where the Beaufort Garden Club planted palmettos along the road into town, among other beautification projects.
The Bicentennial Committee morphed into the Island Beautification Association, led by Murrell and Jack Henry. With the four-laning of U.S. 278 on the island, and miles of new median, they got real busy real fast.
"Bill Murrell and I viewed this horrible, stripped concrete with its ugly, bare median strip, and wondered what we might do to make it more attractive," Henry told our gardening columnist, Betsy Jukofsky.
People donated to the cause and got an "I Own a Tree on 278" bumper sticker. It became something of a joke when drought killed many trees in the first planting of 175 palmettos, 60 pines and red maples, and more than 1,300 bushes and shrubs. They also got permission to replace the state's hay-like bahia grass with Bermuda grass. And the results of that citizen uprising have lived to tell a beautiful story today.
When Ben Racusin, elected the island's first mayor in 1983, appointed Jack Henry to head the new Town Beautification Committee, Henry said, "You know, Ben, you're asking a man who, up until recently, thought a pyracantha was the name of a snake."
But he knew about getting busy. He'd been a broadcaster, syndicated columnist, FBI agent and assistant to a congressman before "retiring" to Hilton Head and starting its first radio station, the jazzy, smooth voice of WHHR-FM. When Henry retired from the town committee 16 years later, he said he was spending more than 40 hours a week on his volunteer job.
The Town of Hilton Head Island has remained very involved in beautifying medians above the state minimum.
If Bluffton wants to fight ugly on U.S. 278, it needs to get busy.
Interactive: Hilton Head Island median 'tour'
From a starting point at Hilton Head Island's first traffic signal at Pope Avenue and Cordillo Parkway, use this street view to explore the median. Click the arrows that appear on the roadway to move forward, or click and drag the image to change direction. A bicentennial committee began improving the landscaping of roadways on the island starting here. Columnist David Lauderdale suggests future improvements to roadways in Bluffton will have to follow the same model.
Note to tablet users: Regrettably, some tablets do not display Google Street View so to appreciate this content, you must view our story on an ordinary laptop or desktop computer.
View Hilton Head Island median 'tour' in a larger map
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.