Approximately 30 residents of Pope and Yell counties gathered at Arkansas Tech University to learn about a new beautification initiative being undertaken jointly by the two counties. The initiative, called “Paint the River Valley,” has invited businesses in Russellville, Dardanelle, Atkins, Pottsville and surrounding areas to spruce up their properties with paint and other minor improvements the weekend of Nov. 14-15.
The initiative is an early result of Pope and Yell counties’ participation in the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Uncommon Communities program. Uncommon Communities is a yearlong community and economic development program that aims to equip community leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to effect positive change while opening eyes to the possibilities for a vibrant future. Conway, Perry and Van Buren counties are also participating in the program.
Tonya Gosnell, community education manager at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and secretary of Pope County’s Uncommon Communities group, explained that the inspiration for “Paint the River Valley” came from Greenville, Kentucky. Greenville was featured in the inaugural meeting of the Uncommon Communities program, which was held at the Institute in August.
Against a backdrop of before-and-after photos of downtown Greenville, Gosnell told the story of a small town—population just over 4,000—that went from empty storefronts and a dwindling population to being named No. 4 on Budget Travel’s list of America’s Coolest Small Towns in 2013. And all Greenville started with was a few cans of paint.
“It just becomes contagious,” said Gosnell. “Whenever you become motivated about change, and volunteering and helping people, real change starts to happen. It’s an inspiring story, and it didn’t take much to get them started.”
So far, businesses in Russellville, Dardanelle, Atkins and Pottsville have signed on, with other possible projects in Dover and Hector. Gosnell, who lives in Russellville, stressed the importance of regional collaboration in the endeavor. “This is a great opportunity for us to have unity within the county,” she said. “This doesn’t just mean Russellville or Dardanelle.”
While images of buildings slated for a face-lift were projected behind her, Gosnell explained some details of the proposed improvements, including color schemes and specific areas to be painted. Hobby Shop Deluxe, in Dardanelle, whose owners were present, is one such building. “They want the building to keep the old-school feel,” explained Rashad Woods, a reporter for the Dardanelle Post Dispatch and the publicity chair for Yell County’s Uncommon Communities group. “We’re not going to lime-green it up—we’re not going to scare you. We’re just going to bring it back to life.”
While many supplies, in-kind donations and discounts are coming from area businesses such as Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams, along with other equipment from area residents, the work itself will be done entirely by volunteers—many of them students. Professional painters and other tradesmen will be on site to supervise the work. And for those who might be reluctant to take up a paint brush, yard work and cleanup will be done at several locations.
Dr. Mark Peterson of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, one of the creators and faculty members of the Uncommon Communities program, reiterated the importance of these seemingly small improvement efforts. “This is more than just a paint-up, fix-up. When you start to really spruce up your community, people get excited. And investors who are looking to start a business start to look seriously at your community…This is really a catalyst for a larger development process.”
For more information about “Paint the River Valley”—and to sign up to volunteer—visit the Uncommon Communities: Pope and Yell Counties page on Facebook.