Group in W.C. lauds small towns

WEBSTER CITY – People from across the state gathered in Webster City Wednesday to share ideas on how to improve their respective communities.

Keep Iowa Beautiful, a statewide organization which aims to assist communities and organizations with cleanup and beautification projects, held its annual conference at the Webster City Community Theatre. More than a dozen speakers discussed topics ranging from art in rural communities to natural resources, as well as ways to create a town identity.

Gerald Schnepf, executive director of Keep Iowa Beautiful, said Webster City was chosen to host the conference because the town of nearly 8,000 has many assets to showcase.

“When you look at the trail system, Briggs Woods Park, the rec center, the library, the theatre where we’re having the conference at, it’s all really great stuff and good models for other communities,” Schnepf said.

While Webster City may not draw as many people as a conference in a larger city, he said it’s more important for the organization to share what smaller communities have to offer.

It’s important for communities to gather those ideas, according to Schnepf, because those who labor to make their town look better reap the results.

“An attractive community retains people, retains residents, attracts new residents, attracts business and makes people have a sense of pride.

“A community that’s unattractive does everything in reverse,” he said. “Image is important to the cultural health and economic health of a community.”

One key element of community improvement efforts that Schnepf and other speakers discussed was the involvement of local youth. Schnepf said giving children a chance to be involved in the future of their communities ensures its long-term livelihood.

“If you don’t involve them, they don’t have ownership. What we tend to treat youngsters for is cheap labor. ‘Come out and clean up this. Do that. Paint that,’ rather than saying, ‘What are your ideas on what this community ought to look like?'”

By getting children involved in their communities, Schnepf said it instills them with good, small-town values that are important in life.

“It’s the community that raises a child,” Schnepf said.