CLINTON, Iowa — An old river town, Clinton sits along the banks of the Mississippi River. In the late 1800s, it was known as one of the "Lumber Capitols of the World." Huge log rafts were floated down the river from northern states Wisconsin and Minnesota, cut into lumber at Clinton, then shipped to communities via the river and the railroads.
Then, manufacturing industries moved in and picked up steam.
Over the years, Clinton's economy has changed, facing declines in manufacturing and increased overseas competition. The city's population has also been continually declining.
Downtown Clinton needs work, too. In 2019, the city received a $100,000 grant from Iowa Economic Development to help redevelop some downtown buildings "to stimulate economic growth or reinvestment in the community."
Most recently, the city has turned to art. A group of high school students painted murals earlier this year, and this summer, volunteers are adding art to the streets.
"It's to get people talking, giving people something to smile about, something to spread the word that Clinton's got some cool things," said Karen Rowell, the director of the Downtown Clinton Alliance.
Volunteers are painting murals on eight crosswalks along 2nd Street in downtown. Some of the already finished crosswalks include hopscotch, cow spots, a Hawaiian sunset and an homage to Thursday night Music on the Avenue.
"I'm not a very artsy person," Hillary Burken said. "But being a dairy farmer, I can paint cow spots. So, my first crosswalk, I painted some beautiful cow spots, and now I'm painting some clouds (across the street) to go over the top of my cows."
Burken was a student through the Synergy program at Clinton High School. Through the program, students get class credit for doing service in the community that they feel would benefit the lives of people here in Clinton.
She's looking forward to seeing what the crosswalk art adds to downtown Clinton.
"My favorite part has definitely been the people who stop, get out of their cars and say, 'Hey, I really love what you're doing. I love what you stand for with helping bring back the city of Clinton,'" Burken said. "It just is very inspiring, because being out here, standing in the middle of the road all day on the ground painting, it gets a little hot and you get tired and dehydrated."
Stacey Shirley doesn't consider herself an artist. She works for a railroad, but has found time to paint four of the new crosswalks.
"It actually brings a little bit of fun and color to the downtown," Shirley said. "It's something different. Not everybody's doing it. I thought it was a great idea that's why I was on board with it. I was like, I'll do one. Next thing you know, I'm on my fourth one."
Painting the street isn't the easiest task. Traffic is still driving over one half of the crosswalk or the rocks tend to get in the way.
"They're not quite flat grounds," Burken said. "I'm a perfectionist, so I have to make sure every little hole gets filled in. So sometimes it is hard to get the paint just perfect."
The crosswalk paint won't last forever. There are some spots where the traffic has already started to pick up the paint.
"And the snow and the plows, and I'm sure none of that's gonna make them look too pretty in the spring," Rowell said. "Next year, we'll do it all over again."
Rowell said she's hoping to expand the crosswalk murals over to 3rd Street and continue to add murals to the buildings.