Mulberry, AR Participates In Very Rewarding Program

Mulberry, Arkansas, is in the Arkansas River Valley. The city settled around the time of the Louisiana Purchase. The town got its name from early settlers because of the large mulberry trees lining the riverbanks. According to Mulberry’s History – The City of Mulberry, Arkansas, the city suffered heavily, despite only a few battles nearby. In 1876, things started to improve when the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad began. Thomas A. Carter bought the land that is now on Main Street. The town continued to have issues due to the Great Depression, flooding and the stock market crash of 1929. However, Mulberry pulled through because of The Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the city began to prosper again after World War II.

Mulberry, AR participated in a 3 year Community Sustainability program with CU

The residents of Mulberry enjoy outdoor recreation, and Mulberry has several facilities that provide year-round water sports, fishing, and hunting. The Mulberry River attracts people from all over for canoeing, kayaking, swimming and tubing. Farming has always been a big business in Mulberry. Locals raise livestock and grow hay, soybeans and other food crops.   

In 2019, the city of Mulberry was selected to participate in the Community Sustainability Program with Communities Unlimited (CU). The funding for this three-year initiative comes from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) Grant. CU was chosen to serve as the intermediary organization responsible for providing technical assistance to Mulberry and other communities. The overarching goals of the initiative align with the mission of CU: To move rural and under-resourced communities in areas of persistent poverty to sustainable prosperity. 

On October 7, 2019, the city of Mulberry hosted CU for a public announcement about the selection for the Community Sustainability Program. Around 50 people attended the first meeting. Some returned the following month for a Mulberry Community Leadership Team (CLT) workshop. This was the first of a series of monthly workshops to build a leadership team that would serve the community for the next three years.

During those three years, CU’s Senior Community Facilitator, Michelle Viney, led the team in monthly workshops to better their community and develop their roles as local leaders.

As time passed, the Mulberry CLT and Michelle worked to identify assets in six of the eight capital areas. These include Built, Natural, Social, Financial, Political and Cultural. They deep dived into each area and discussed the community’s needs. They talked about the infrastructure of existing buildings, water and sewer systems, broadband and road issues. 

A walk audit was part of the Community Sustainability program in Mulberry, AR

Through the Community Sustainability Program, Michelle guided the community leaders in the creation and process of identifying assets and opportunities for local-wealth growth in their town. She worked with small business owners to assist them with business development and management. She also assisted them with organizing and staying on top of community events and ways to attract visitors to their small town and led the team through a walk-audit. A planning engineer from Crafton Tull conducted the walk-audit. A walk-audit, also called a walkshop, is a site meeting held to walk (or bike) an area of town with a diverse group of community members to identify conditions that either support or create barriers in the built environment regarding the livability and safety of the users. During this audit, they identified the need for accessible wheelchair routes, better bike lanes, curb extensions and more along Mulberry’s Main Street.   

During the three-year program, Michelle kept track of the community’s needs and guided them through ways to make the Mulberry community a safe and happy place to call home.

Mulberry, AR Mayor Gary D. Baxter presents CU's Michelle Viney with a "Key To The City Of Mulberry" plaque

They were all happy about what Communities Unlimited has done for their city.

Mulberry’s Mayor, Gary D. Baxter, stated, “Michelle has been a lifesaver to our city, and we will miss having her.”

He is glad that the town of Mulberry was selected for the Community Sustainability Program.  Michelle explained that although she would not be there in person to meet with them every month, CU would be here if they needed anything. 

The three-year initiative ended on September 28, 2022, during the last town hall meeting with Michelle, Mayor Baxter, and a few community leaders. Mayor Baxter presented Michelle with a plaque that granted her a “Key to the City of Mulberry” for the challenging work and dedication that she has given to them over the last three years.