A tale of 2 signs in Helper
It was the best of signs. It was the worst of signs.
The one, a brand-new broadside on the fence of a brand-new ball park, reads "Helper Yard, Est. 2011."
The other, a faded, aging billboard just south of the Poplar Street exit on U.S. 6, greets drivers with a friendly, "Welcome to Helper."
There's a story behind each.
The Little Leaguers playing on the groomed and manicured diamond at Saturday's game were pitching and swinging on what was a wasteland less than a year ago.
It was a remnant of the former Pony League ballpark, abandoned years ago and left to decay. What was left of the fences was rusted, the bleachers were rotted and the five acre field was lumpy and covered with "native plants."
In mid-summer 2010, attorney Sam Chiara decided to do something about it. He formed Heritage Ballparks, a non-profit foundation designed to raise funds and volunteer support to resurect the park from ruins.
Chiara raised funds from the Recreation/Transportation Special Service District and from corporate and private donors. He studied ballfields and designed plans.
But, perhaps most tellingly, he got the muscle power of the people of Helper and surrounding communities behind the project.
Helper City kicked in with public works assistance to work on water and electric supply.
And at summer's end, more than 100 volunteers showed up to cover the entire field with donated sod. By spring, new concrete dugouts were visible, the parking lot was graded and graveled, and the signage recognizing the donors who made it possible went up.
Chiara estimated Saturday that the whole project cost $120,000 - or would have cost that much if the volunteers had been paid and city support tallied.
As for the other sign, and its sister on the other side of town, there are changes in store.
"It's negative advertising," declared Mayor Dean Armstrong. "We're advertising a run-down, faded out, tired out community."
"I've stopped even looking at it," added Councilman Robert Bradley at Thursday's council meeting.
Noting that city ought to intensify its efforts to bring people off the highway and into the heart of town, the council agreed to appropriate not more than $3,300 for two new signs to let drivers know that it's worth slowing down and taking either exit into the city.
As to what should go on the signs, well, that's to be decided. Whatever goes up, it will have to be artistic, short, sweet, and to the point, advised Dave Gerrard of SignEdge.
It is also a good idea to change the message from time to time to keep it from getting tedious, he added.
Given all that Helper has to offer - parks, a pool, a museum, shops and restaurants, as well as performances at the Rio Theatre, car shows, the Arts and Music Festival and the Light Parade, that's a lot of promotion.
How the council and the artists and poets of Helper decide to handle it will be visible by mid-summer.