This is not a beauty contest.
Although the North Stillaguamish Valley, from Darrington to Arlington, would be a finalist in that competition, too, for its natural beauty and small-town charm.
What is being celebrated in Wednesday’s announcement from Durham, North Carolina, of Arlington and Darrington as one of eight finalists in the America’s Best Communities competition, are the ideas and plans that the communities have put forward to revitalize the region’s economy, reinvigorate their downtowns and neighborhoods and improve opportunities for children.
As one of eight finalists from across the country, Arlington and Darrington will receive $100,000 to continue implementing the revitalization plan laid out last week for ABC judges. Following in August 2017, finalists will be evaluated on the impacts and outcomes of their plans, and three winners will be announced; third place awarded $1 million, second place awarded $2 million and the first-place community awarded $3 million to further apply to their efforts.
Making their pitch and detailing their plan to judges this week in Durham were Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and Bob Drewel, former Snohomish County executive and now senior adviser to Washington State University’s president at WSU North Puget Sound Everett.
In making their pitch, the trio has not played on sympathies stemming from the Oso landslide in 2014. Drewel told judges: “The landslide was not the cause of our economic struggles, but it became the catalyst for a solution,” explaining how the decades-long downturn in the timber industry has hobbled the valley’s economy.
The region already had started work on an economic redevelopment plan for the North Stillaguamish Valley, with assistance from Economic Alliance Snohomish County and others, including WSU, before entering with 138 others in the competition. The two communities highlighted parts of that redevelopment plan that address the areas of infrastructure, industries and employment, community and workforce development, resilience and sustainability, community improvements and rural innovation.
Among the ideas that Tolbert and Rankin, speaking by phone from Durham, said seemed to impress judges were:
- Installation of Wi-Fi hot spots for public Internet connection in both Arlington and Darrington;
- Creation of a mobile tool-lending library to encourage improvements and maintenance at homes and businesses;
- Purchase of scientific equipment for the Glacier Peak Institute, founded in Darrington after the Oso landslide to give students practical experience in environmental science;
- Establishment of youth councils in Arlington and Darrington to encourage the involvement of youths in the communities and help them develop the skills to address the problems they see;
- Development of an outdoor recreation plan for the valley to promote the region’s attractions; and
- Completion of the 27-mile Whitehorse Trail along the North Stillaguamish River, and celebrating its opening with a memorial bike ride in March 2017 to mark the third anniversary of the Oso landslide.
“I think the Glacier Peak Institute, the education facet, the rural innovation strategy, that speaks a lot to what we’re doing,” Rankin said. “Those types of strategies are bringing rural innovation. We’re looking to inspire occupations and jobs in advanced tech and advanced manufacturing and bring that to the table.”
Both mayors praised Drewel’s presentation to judges, and Drewel returned the appreciation, pointing to the leadership shown by Rankin and Tolbert, and how each reflects the strength of their communities.
“They’ve shown resilience and a balance of sustainability. In that cause they are well matched. This is the most resilient community I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,” Drewel said.
Regardless of how Darrington and Arlington finish in the competition, the grand prize will be the realization of a plan for revitalization and redevelopment that will foster much stronger communities throughout the valley.
Other communities might not have responded to adversity and disaster as well as Arlington, Darrington, Oso and the North Stillaguamish Valley have.
“Other people might have rolled up the streets and given up. Nobody here said that,” Drewel said.