Stilly Valley’s communities taking charge of their future

ARLINGTON — Leaders, business owners, neighbors and volunteers in the Stillaguamish Valley are pushing toward goals outlined in a plan for strengthening the economy after the 2014 Oso mudslide.

In August, the Puget Sound Regional Council chose the North Stillaguamish Valley Economic Redevelopment Plan for a Vision 2040 Award. The award recognizes projects that help create a stable future as population increases. The council helps draft policy decisions on growth management for Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties.

The 152-page plan walks through proposals to improve infrastructure, employment, community spaces and resilience. It focuses on Arlington, Darrington and the communities in between, including Oso.

The award shows that the Stilly Valley plan could be a model for recovery, said Glenn Coil, senior manager of public policy and research at Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

The strength of the plan isn’t in the ink or paper. It’s in the people who have run with it, Coil said.

“I’m a professional planner and you do a lot of plans and a lot of times those plans just sit on the shelf,” he said. “But with this one, even as we were working on it things were happening.”

The redevelopment plan has been distilled into a shorter Community Revitalization Plan for the America’s Best Communities contest. It earned Arlington and Darrington a spot in the finals and a chance at a $3 million prize.

Projects from the plan are being rolled out this summer.

A consultant was hired with money the cities won in the America’s Best Communities semifinals to walk the downtowns and note what could make them more appealing. She talked with business owners about changes that could be made before holiday shopping.

“Small business owners can have a tough go of it sometimes,” Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert said. “Smaller businesses are typically born of a passion to do something, so we wanted to see what resources we could put behind these small businesses.”

That includes workshops and one-on-one coaching. Volunteer projects are planned to repaint chipped light poles and remove rust from garbage cans. A community tool chest is in the works so shop owners could borrow supplies such as pressure washers or special cleaning equipment. The goal is to make downtown an alluring spot for visitors and shoppers.

“Small communities have to have a heart and soul,” Tolbert said. “They have to have a center.”

In Darrington, Mayor Dan Rankin is working with state and federal experts on bringing in new wood products to revive the timber industry. The Darrington Collaborative is working with the U.S. Forest Service on expanding access and forest jobs. The Glacier Peak Institute, focused on hands-on learning, has been taking students into the woods and out on the rivers this summer.

There also is a pilot project to put an internet hot spot near Old School Park and to track its use. Eventually, the goal is to have a “coworkers space,” which would be a downtown office for remote workers.

“We thought we’d try to get them migrated from their spare room to an office space here in town so they can collaborate with each other,” Rankin said. “We also want to have a center for education where young people can have access to high speed internet to pursue their thoughts and dreams.”

Arlington and Darrington started youth councils so teens can have a voice in government.

They’ve tested “pop-up parks” to talk about where people want permanent small parks, as simple as a couple of benches and flowers to brighten up main streets and industrial areas. Businesses or organizations interested in hosting a pop-up park can email recreation@arlingtonwa.gov.

“This is such an amazing community in that everybody we ask or call upon is stepping forward,” Tolbert said. “You can’t even begin and end where to thank people.”

The redevelopment plan is an ambitious one, Rankin said.

“That ambition was not a Band-Aid,” he said. “This plan, a lot of the strategies aren’t for today or tomorrow morning … It’s a year or two years or five years, even 10 years from now. That’s why it’s such an important document. It gave us this road map that is not about getting through the aftermath of the slide, it’s about getting through the aftermath of the slide and carrying that momentum forward.”

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

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