Arlington, Darrington headed to finals in competition

ARLINGTON — They have 15 minutes.

It’s not much time to sum up the work their communities have done over the past three years.

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel are headed to Colorado for the final round of the America’s Best Communities competition. On Wednesday, they’ll present the work done so far on projects outlined in a Community Revitalization Plan for the Stillaguamish Valley. They hope to highlight a few that showcase the resilience of the people here and the relationships they’ve built.

Work on the revitalization plan started not long after the deadly Oso mudslide in 2014. Local leaders were encouraged not only to turn their attention to immediate recovery needs, but to start thinking about how to make the communities stronger in the long run. Economic struggles had plagued much of the valley for years before the disaster.

The work done over the past few years has given locals pride and a sense of place, Rankin said.

“I don’t think that’s ever been gone, but it’s been lacking,” he said. “This is a beautiful place, but we’ve had our issues.”

Now, there are new education and engagement programs for young people, and more support for small businesses. Arlington and Darrington have rolled out pop-up parks and new wireless internet hot spots.

Darrington recently opened a coworkers space, where remote workers and students can share technology and office supplies. Arlington has wrapped up a plan for a makerspace that is expected to house manufacturing and business equipment so entrepreneurs can share and test ideas.

Roads have been upgraded, trails expanded and studies launched to look toward other infrastructure needs, including the possible paving of the gravel portion of the Mountain Loop Highway. Efforts to bring in new employers are under way, focused on Arlington’s industrial center and the outdoor industries, including recreation and timber, that have been the backbone of Darrington’s economy.

The Stilly Valley is one of eight finalists in the national competition, which started three years ago with 138 contestants from 27 states. Competitors have been judged on creating plans and starting projects to improve their local economies and quality of life. For the finals, they’ll be judged on what they’ve accomplished, how well they’ve involved their communities, and the local and regional benefits of their work.

The winning community gets $3 million.

“I’m so looking forward to presenting the work of hundreds of people — tens of thousands of hours — to the judges,” Tolbert said.

She wants to stress how important partnerships have been between the city, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and volunteers. She plans to talk about the makerspace, the city’s active youth council and work to spruce up downtown, fill storefronts and keep small businesses in Arlington.

Rankin is focusing on the coworkers space and the Glacier Peak Institute, an educational organization that teaches students by connecting them to their surroundings. Instructors do outdoor lessons with elementary students and have trips with older kids who learn about environmental science and the outdoor recreation industry, among other topics.

Rankin and Tolbert are confident in their team’s chances in this contest.

“I think that the heart of this valley, when we set our mind to accomplish something, not only do we accomplish it, we exceed the expectation,” Rankin said.

Tolbert estimates that programs and projects related to the revitalization plan have brought in more than $90 million in investments over the past three years, including grants and state funding for major road construction and money directed toward trails, parks and education.

“No matter what happens in Colorado, I feel like we’ve already won,” Tolbert said. “We’ve proven that if you come together, you can change your community.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Watch

The America’s Best Communities winners announcement is scheduled to be live-streamed at 4 p.m. Wednesday at 110 E Third St. in Arlington. It also can be viewed online at facebook.com/pg/Americas BestCommunities.

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