Between two exits on Interstate 5 in Oregon is a small town known as the Gateway to Mt. St. Helens. But the residents want Castle Rock to be noticed as more than just a place along the highway, after their partnership with America in Bloom.
In 2011, Nancy Chennault of The Plant Station helped install flowers at the town’s entrance as part of a beautification project. When the community started to expand those plans, they turned to Chennault for her years of experience in the nursery industry.
“People said, ‘Wow, this is great. We’d like to do more of this type of thing,’” Chennault says. The town had kicked off a renovation project downtown that placed light poles throughout with hanging basket hooks, but no plan – or budget, given the town has a population of 1,980 – to really hang anything.
“We had to figure out how we were going to do this as a small community,” she says. Jumpstarting that initial effort with fundraising and donations and sponsorships from local businesses, she helped Castle Rock America in Bloom move forward. She worked with high school students to grow the plants to get them involved in the industry and in the downtown restoration.
“We’ve been able to mentor them, and that’s a real joy for me, having them learn what it is to be in the green industry,” she says.
After that first year, the city council looked at renovating even more of the town, expanding plans to include another downtown street with matching hanging baskets. The beautification moved off the main streets as well, running a float in the local parade and taking the site of a historic jail from a forgotten park to a useable part of the community center.
“2012 was a big year for us,” Chennault says. “It was a big display all over town. You can see the community involvement, and the work of the students and citizens and businesses. You can see where people want to be a part of that.”
Even though Castle Rock is small, people from within the town and the outlying areas get involved in helping the community projects thrive. “We call ourselves the 98611 bunch,” says Chennault, referring to the area’s ZIP code. More than 100 people show up for the town’s cleanup days, and it’s that level of involvement that has helped the projects grow each year. In 2012, Castle Rock received the award for best hanging baskets overall in the nation, plus a few honorable mentions. The report from AIB has served as a rough guideline for upcoming projects.
“It’s like getting a very in-depth consultation about where your city is and where it can go,” she says. “The 24-page report had 52 tips on what we could do to improve Castle Rock.”
And those suggestions are helping Castle Rock get noticed. From last year to now, the number of planters has grown from 38 to 50, some sponsored by local businesses. The community has grown around these projects to give tourists an excuse to spend more time in the town.
More businesses are making use of the downtown storefronts as those potential customers come through, and vacations have been stretched an extra day to take in the sights of the small town. The town also boasts a recharge station for electric vehicles, which can give tourists 90 minutes of free time to look around and enjoy the installations. But even more people driving through the town makes it worth the effort for Chennault. “Flowers make you smile,” she says.
The author is custom media editor at GIE Media.