Ever since the tiny downstate town of Strasburg adopted garden gnomes as its mascot about two years ago, the pint-size mythological figures have arrived in increasing numbers, residents say.

And so town leaders have decided to launch their first Gnome Census, sending volunteers door to door Saturday to ask the roughly 600 residents how many bearded figurines they have, as well as their sex, age and place of origin.

It's a bit of fun that leaders hope will bring members of the community, about 80 miles southeast of Springfield, closer together.

The results will be published in Strasburg's unofficial newspaper - a town newsletter launched last year called Gnome News that goes by the motto, "Gnome News is Good News."

The "gnome thing" - as some residents call it - is part of a larger effort Strasburg started in 2008 to keep the town alive. It created a tax-incentive district for businesses, initiated an effort to beautify the town and put up welcome signs.

"The town was dying," said longtime resident Jane Giertz, who sits on the "gnome committee" and dressed as one last Halloween. "We had no grocery store, we had no gas station, we had nothing."

Since the gnomes arrived, Strasburg has won a Governor's Hometown Award and seen two businesses - including a gas station and convenience store - open.

A Strasburg business leader said tax incentives have more to do with that than garden gnomes, but Les Sentel, who came up with the gnome idea, thinks tax breaks and garden kitsch are jointly responsible.

"There was a need to have people slow down and see what's going on (here)," said Sentel, who has 40 gnomes. "And with the Gnome Census, more people are going to be saying, 'I need to get myself a gnome.'"