In 2018 groups like Friends of Portsmouth made it their goal to bring life back into downtown Portsmouth, and have the small community known for it’s positivity and hope rather than poverty with even more projects and plans in store for 2019.
Jeremy Burnside, one of the founders of Friends of Portsmouth, said the community needed something to bring a positive light on a community he has lived in for the past 10 years. The local attorney said many hours were spent by him, as well as many members of the community in the summer of 2018, painting and power washing the historic Boneyfiddle and Chillicothe Street area.
Then on Aug. 18, the community banded together to break a world record of simultaneously planting a plant. With a representative from Guinness Book of World Records on site to officiate, the record for most plants potted simultaneously was broken with 1,405 participants, knocking out the previous record of 500. The attempt was just one part of the Plant Portsmouth events, organized by The Friends of Portsmouth group and Chairperson Jeremy Burnside. The event sought to bring together hometown proud individuals who wanted to put Portsmouth on the map as a city that was taking a step in the right direction, and wanted to change the conversation about the area.
The event brought in over 500 volunteers to assist in a giant cleanup effort of Chillicothe and Market Streets, which came together to paint light posts, power wash business fronts and sidewalks, and stain brick, among other projects. With the overwhelming support of the event from local businesses, Plant Portsmouth raised $75,000 to go towards beautification efforts, while ticket sales from volunteers launched them over the $100,000 mark. Additionally, a new group of the first ever Town Ambassadors were introduced who will make it their mission to see that Portsmouth continues on the right path.
One world record proved not enough for Friends of Portsmouth however, and during the month of December, the group gathered forces for Winterfest and a second record attempt. The month long festival featured ice skating, live nativity scene, as well as decorated storefronts and festive street lighting, and on Dec. 15, 2018 another world record was set by almost 1,900 in attendance on the evening of Dec. 15, 2018 for the most people Christmas caroling simultaneously beating out the previous record set by Waukesha, Wisc.
Portsmouth Acting Mayor Kevin Johnson was among the many in the crowd Saturday night. He had nothing but praise for the Friends of Portsmouth and the Winterfest event they launched early that month. Johnson said Winterfest was proving to be a wonderful family festival. “We’ve been on the ‘glice,’ taken a carriage ride and just generally had a good time,” Johnson added, further noting Winterfest obviously was a wonderful thing for the city.
By “glice” Johnson was referring to the space-age plastic that makes up the surface of the temporary skating rink set up for Winterfest. In an interview with Burnside, who is a local attorney, he said there is more to come. “We’re not a flash in the pan,” Burnside said. .
Two major projects for 2019 include the recent merger of Friends of Portsmouth with the Portsmouth River Days Committee. Burnside said FOP is “honored that they asked us for a succession plan.” Burnside also said there are plans in the works for a mountain bike trail in Shawnee State Forest. “We could easily be Ohio’s mountain bike capital,” Burnside said. “We know that it’s going to draw people to the area.” Burnside said they hope to “bridge” the Boneyfiddle District to the mountain bike trail and include shuttle service to and from Shawnee State Park.
Friends of Portsmouth has established an Ambassador position, who can be seen out picking up trash along the streets or doing whatever needs doing. Burnside said the ambassador is also a hub where businesses and organizations can coordinate events.
Friends of Portsmouth has also orchestrated lighted arches over Second Street in the Boneyfiddle District. Although plans are still being put in place, Portsmouth City Council has been moving forward with allowing the plans to become a reality. Burnside spoke highly of the city leaders, saying they are on board with FOP plans and activities.
Burnside said most of the members of Friends of Portsmouth have full time jobs and small children. He said they just want to leave their children a place to live, work and raise their family someday.
“We wanted to instill hope,” he said. “We want to get that hope to grow.”
Burnside said there is now a feeling of excitement he hasn’t seen in the 10 years he has been practicing law in Portsmouth. “People are now starting to get interested. By no means…we’re not stopping,” Burnside said. “We’ve got a lot of plans that will start bringing a tangible payoff.”