A model for moving forward

The Oso tragedy brings into focus the central role of recreation in revitalizing rural economies, particularly in east Snohomish County. The Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act, signed by President Barack Obama last week, is a recent example. Darrington residents viscerally understand that the timber economy and recreation are not mutually exclusive. (You can work at Hampton Lumber and support the local recreation industry as a fisher or backpacker.)

Rural communities need recreational options that complement existing small businesses and are integrated into the region’s fabric. The key is to develop a broad, workable vision that knits together a diversity of interests.

The Skykomish Valley is a case study. Recently, Forterra, the innovative land-conservation organization known for its lions-and-lambs canoodling, shepherded a plan that blends economic development and recreation. The Skykomish Economic Development, Recreation and Natural Resource Conservation Initiative (avoid repeating while operating heavy machinery) is concentrated along the historic Great Northern Railway line and Highway 2 corridor. It’s an area that extends from Stevens Pass west to Everett and Puget Sound. Much of the valley is part of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

On April 15, a committee of the King County Council voted in support of a motion that enshrines the Skykomish Initiative. It goes before the full council today.

Sponsored by Republican Councilmember Kathy Lambert and Democrat Rod Dembowski, the motion commits King County to work with the town of Skykomish, the U.S Forest Service and various user groups such as Forterra and the Washington Trails Association to protect key lands in the valley. The work includes the protection of river frontage and old-growth forest, fish and wildlife habitat and cultivating outdoor recreation. Another component is preserving working forests that provide timber-related jobs and limit conversion of forest land to non-forest uses.

In addition to promoting a recreation-based economy, the county will work to revive Skykomish’s historic town center and link to the old Great Northern Railroad. The initiative also focuses on emergency response and flood-reduction services.

Snohomish County already puts a premium on protecting natural lands — the council’s unanimous vote Wednesday to purchase Hooven bog, a rare peat bog, for $1.6 million is a case in point. A version of the Skykomish Initiative needs to be adapted for Darrington and the North Fork Stillaguamish Valley, with buy-ins from small businesses, local families and community leaders.

On March 22, the world learned about a vital community in the shadow of tragedy. Now, the light of renewal.

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