It might sound like a rationalization, but Arlington, Darrington and the Stillaguamish River Valley that connects them didn’t have to come out on top at Wednesday’s announcement of America’s Best Communities competition to be winners.
Selected as one of eight semifinalists last year for the community revitalization competition from an initial pool of 138 entries, Arlington and Darrington’s joint entry fell short of earning one of the top three places, behind Huntington, West Virginia; Lake Havasu City, Nevada; and Statesboro, Georgia.
That’s not to say that the prize grants of $3 million to $1 million wouldn’t have been appreciated, as would have been the distinction of being named a winner. As a semifinalist, Darrington and Arlington share in $150,000 in grants from the competition’s organizers, but their prize is greater than that.
In participating in the competition, the north Snohomish County communities already have much to show for their efforts. And we’re not sure how the towns’ leaders, businesses, organizations and residents could have found place to display any more pride in their accomplishments than already shown.
And there’s more to come, promised Kristin Banfield, Arlington city spokeswoman, who headed up a live video viewing at the Arlington City Hall of the announcement from Denver, as reported Thursday by The Herald’s Kari Bray.
“We are not stopping,” Banfield said. “You can’t get in front of this train.”
Participation in the competition was borne out of the ongoing economic downturn in the region from a loss of logging jobs and the tragedy of the March 2014 landslide that killed 43 Oso residents south of Darrington and wiped away Highway 530, for months closing the main link between the two Stilly Valley communities. But community leaders who pursued the competition, including Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin, Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert and former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, never made this a play for sympathy, instead emphasizing the Stilly Valley’s strengths, innovation and resilience.
The centerpiece of the effort was the North Stillaguamish Valley Economic Redevelopment Plan, assembled through an effort of elected officials, county and state staff and business, economic and educational representatives, that outlined scores of projects to rebuild and expand infrastructure, support workforce development, enhance educational opportunities, quality of life and tourism and create and attract jobs.
Those projects, to date, have attracted more than $91 million in support from federal, state and local governments as well as private donations and countless volunteer hours, Tolbert estimated.
Among many accomplishments in just the three years since the effort began:
Darrington’s Glacier Peak Institute connects youths with in-the-field environmental and STEM education exercises. Among its programs, the institute is working with students from Darrington’s middle and high school students to develop a riverfront park along the wild and scenic Sauk River.
Darrington and Arlington have set up free Wi-Fi hotspots to improve internet access for businesses, residents and visitors, and Darrington opened a co-working office to provide reliable connections for students and local businesses. The office space proved its worth earlier this month when a mudslide again closed Highway 530 for five days.
Arlington in partnership with Marysville is building out and promoting a 4,091-acre manufacturing industrial area, now host to 170 companies and more than 4,600 jobs, with more to follow in the years to come.
Darrington continues its work with state and federal partners on projects to develop the capacity for new wood products and markets to revive the timber industry. And the Darrington Collaborative is working with the U.S. Forest Service to expand forest jobs.
Youth councils in both towns seek the ideas of each community’s youths, with the goal of getting them invested in their hometown and seeing the potential for returning and helping build their communities when they complete college or vocational training.
The Whitehorse Trail, a 27-mile pedestrian and bike trail that connects the two towns, reopened this spring after a mile-long section was lost in the 2014 landslide. The trail recently hosted a memorial Ride to Remember Oso to mark the third anniversary of the slide.
That’s in addition to highway and airport improvements and ongoing investments by the state in the region’s Boys &Girls Clubs, parks and recreational facilities, natural habitat and more.
Arlington and Darrington were winners long before Wednesday’s announcement, and both mayors have admitted as much. Residents of Snohomish County and the rest of the state can take pride in how both towns continue to meet the challenge before them to rebuild and revitalize the region.
That’s the grand prize.