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Sweet Home, Oregon
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May 30, 2012     The New Era Paper
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May 30, 2012
 

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11  Era - May 30, 2012 COMMUNITV OPINION Page 5 Seven's a good point to stop and take stock- Seven is a big deal for a lot of people. In many cultures, seven is considered a lucky number. In the Bible. it is anumber that signifies completeness and it appears in that regard from the beginning to end. In religions and cultures with roots outside the Western world it's sig- nificant. It's also the number of years my family's lived in Sweet Home and been involved with The New Era. Hard to believe, but it's true. The big anniversary was actu- ally April 1 but we've been so in- volved in discussing various issues on this page over the succeeding weeks that I haven't been able to de- vote space to reflecting on the real- ity of it all. Time does fly. It doesn't seem that long ago that we rolled into Sweet Home with a van full of our stuff and committed ourselves to running your local newspaper It's been quite a ride. Anniversaries are important, I think, because they provide an op- portunity to remember the process and events that have gotten us to where we are now. whether it be a marriage or the founding of an organization or institution, or the number of years since we graduated from school, or some other big date in our lives. So on that note. let me briefly reflect on where we've been over the last seven years here in Sweet Home. I think it's particularly im- portant to do so. given the tough stretch our community has been through in the last nine months: se- rious financial problems, the arrests of two teachers, a crime wave. the burning of a historic school and the Post Office in Cascadia, etc. But here's the good news: A lot of positive things have happened and that's what I want to remember right now. I said "briefly" above, but the list is actually pretty tong. So bear with me as I take a look. SHARE: To me, the most sig- nificant single thing that's happened in Sweet Home since my arrival was the establishment of SHARE - the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort. It started in 2008 after, you may recall, downtown renewal ex- perts Pam Silbernagel of the Oregon Cascade West Council of Govern- ments and Vicki Dugger, executive director of the Oregon Downtown Association, gave us the back of their hands in an analysis of Sweet Home's business district, describ- ing it as "'worn, blighted and un- healthy." Oh, and they passed us over for a grant that would have given us their assistance for a year of vork to revitalize our downtown, awarding the aid to Newport, Toledo, Leba- non and Philomath. Sweet Home's response has been impressive because it got legs and kept going. The community took umbrage to Dugger's and Sil- bemagel's analysis and local leaders set up a meeting to come up with our own plan of actiom More than 100 people showed up to brainstorm and that led to two more meetings, each with more attendees than the last. What came out of that was SHARE. In four years SHARE, which has become the economic develop- ment ann for SHEDG (Sweet Home Economic Development Group), Notes From The Newsroom i Scott Swanson Publisher has used funds generated by the Oregon Jamboree to issue grants to downtown business owners (includ- ing The New Era) to improve their exteriors with new paint, new signs. facades and more. The results are significant. It has also hired Brian Hoffman. as economic development director. The process of economic develop- ment is generally a slow. deliberate one. but if we look at .the merchan- dising strategies being employed by an increasing number of our down- town stores, results are there. To be honest, the one store I remember that really stood out the most seven years ago in ts efforts to attract walk-in customers - sidewalk signs, creative window displays, come-on's - was Seamingly Cre- ative, the quilting and sewing shop in the 1200 block of Main Street. Look at the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Main now. and Long Street as well. Shops and restaurants are more attractive, welcoming, with creative displays, ambiance and more marketing savvy. Hoffman lS one of the reasons that has happened and more will happen. Business owners are realiz- ing that he knows what he's talking about and he can steer them toward greater success. So, despite the crummy eco- nomic times we live in, Sweet Home's business district is sig- nificantly different than it was four years ago, let alone seven. We've still got a long way to go to reach our potential as a bedroom and tourism community strategical- ly located in the kind of place people without lakes and rivers and moun- tains plan their vacations around, but we've made a lot of progress - on our own. I've often wondered what Silbernagel and Dugger would say now. Volunteerism: Before I arrived in Sweet Home to live and work, my predecessor, Alex Paul,made sure I understood the level of public com- mitment to this community. I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that volunteerism is stronger here than any other place I've ever lived. When someone genuinely needs help, help is usually on the way. The most recent classic re- cent example is the house built a few years ago for Dirrell Harper. former Sweet Home High School star athlete who is confined to a wheelchair due to a physical condi- tion and whose manufactured home was damaged when a tree fell on it during, a storm. Volunteers. led by Mike Melcher and Ron Moore. used the insurance money to build him a new house, donating materials, time and money. Hundreds help out each year at the Oregon Jamboree. which is what makes that event run. The paid staff are just there to make sure things are ready for the volunteers, many of them from right here in Sweet Home, to ,step in and provide the muscle. Particularly in a recession, vol- unteers keep things moving. Junia Calhoon, supervisor at the Sweet Home pool. offered to forego her salary and work as a volunteer to keep the pool open. Since that wasn't legal, she worked on a life- guard's salary. Volunteers keep the Main Street median looking fresh during the tourist season. They clean up the trash that other people thoughtlessly toss onto our streets. They prepare and serve supper to the needy sev- eral nights a week at the Methodist Church. The list is too long here to go into any more specifics, but you get the picture. Outdoors: The Linn County Parks and Recreation Department. led by Brian Carroll. has had a very positive impact on Sweet Home. for which we are. and should be. thank- ful. Things were going well when I arrived, but in the last seven years River Bend County Park was estab- lished east of town. the county has taken over management of the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds along Highway 20 and it has taken over management of Clear Lake Resort. where it has made significant im- provements. Oh. and the parks department has become economically self- supporting. Those are significant things. Good things happening in the Sweet Home Ranger District too. After a period of several years, dur- ing which you sometimes almost forgot the U.S. Forest Service was even present in town. new District Ranger Cindy Glick has arrived to lead her staff into a more active role in the the development of efforts to increase tourism and use of the .for- est resources east of Sweet Home. She's also bringing the staff back to a more active role in public affairs, which will help communi- cation and understanding between the community and the agency Last month, the Chamber of Commerce held its monthly After Hours mixer at the ranger station. Sports: In a small town like Sweet Home, sports - particularly at the high school level - are impor- tant. They provide an avenue for community identity that few other activities can. In the last seven years, Sweet Home has won more than 20 state trophies (including eight team cham- pionships), not to mention multiple individual state titles, in track, wres- tling, swimming, cross-country and cheer. Even if you're not a sports fan. it's nice to see that local kids are taking their God-given abilities and doing something positive with them. At last count, 14 ex-Huskies have competed in sports at the col- lege level this year and several more are expected to join them by next fall. Two. Dakotah Keys in the decathlon, and Jayce Calhoon in swimming, have qualified for the Olympic Trials this year. " Education: Other than the cre- ation of Sweet Home Charter School and the closing of Crawfordsville School. there have not been mo- mentous changes in local education. Unfortunately, a lot of the changes that have occurred haven't been that great, thanks to the economy. But one has: the GEAR-UP pro- gram. While we're still in the tod- dler stages with this thing, I've been pretty impressed with the progress that has been made in at least getting kids to think about life beyond high school and what their options are. Exercise: When I arrived in Sweet Home I wasn't the only run- ner in town. but I was one of what seemed to be a very few. Post-high school, there seemed to be little in- terest outside of a few die-hard mar- athon-type. Well, how things have changed. It's amazing. Almost at all hours, literally, I can't drive or run in town without seeing someone out jog- ging, usually m pairs or more. I think much of the credit for this goes to the existence and in- fluence of Steelhead Strength and Fitness gym, which opened fight before we here at The New Era held the first of two New Year weight loss contests. Then. more recently, the Elite Performance Academy has opened, which has contributed fur- ther. Whether or not you're into it. exercise is good for both body and mind. and it's good for our com- munity. You don't have to be rich to run. We have regular teams training and competing in the Hood to Coast and Portland to Coast (high school) relays, and people have just seized the gauntlet and. literally, run with it. Cougars - Whoops, probably don't want to go there. Suffice to say they seem a lot more numerous and "friendly" than they did seven years ago. So. having reflected on the past. the natural next step is to think ahead. If I'm still sitting at this desk seven years from now. what would I like to see then? Here are a few thoughts: A bustling downtown full of business people who are attuned to what customers want and are com- mitted to doing what it takes to be successful, particularly offering goods and services that work for both residents and visitors. A steady flow of visitors who come here and spend money here because they enjoy the beauty our area offers and they value the recep- tion they get from local residents and businesses.-who make them feel welcome and who are committed to serve them in a professional, friend- ly manner. On a similar note, I think it's imperative that the 380 acres of land previously owned by Western States Land Reliance Trust. which was foreclosed at the end of 2010 by Linn County, be developed in a manner that benefits the community it's located in - Sweet Home. That will likely include a va- riety of uses - industrial, commer- cial, recreational and maybe resi- dential, although the property to the east could still become the high-end residential community its develop- ers have dreamed of. Black Butte benefitted Sis- ters in many ways. These proper- ties could make a big difference for Sweet Home. Yes, they could spell some changes for us. but if those changes mean jobs and local pros- perity, those are good changes. Jobs. Businesses. most of them probably small, that produce goods and services that are viable in the community or outside, that aren't entirely dependent on the whims of legislators and judges who are easily swayed by junk science and popular thinking that runs contrary to what the real needs are in rural, forested communities such as ours. Forests. Intelligent manage- .ment of the Willamette National Forest- thinning of overgrown units and the creation of liveable habitat for wildlife such as deer and elk and bears, whichare just as important as spotted owls. I'd like to see the forest man- aged and governed by people who understand it, or who understand the value of listening to the folks who work and recreate in it every day, because they're the ones who really understand what's going on there. Judges, particularly those who re- spond to the "Green" contingent that seems to have figured out how to make a living battling communi- ties they don't even live in, don't understand that. An even more active residen- tial community - people who are in- volved, who share their talents, who are committed to making Sweet Home a better place to live. Education. The efforts to steer local kids to bigger and bet- ter things should continue. College isn't what it once was and it may not be for everybody, but it still is the door to success in many fields. Taking kids. particularly those from low-education, low-income backz grounds, and helping them be pro- ductive, successful people, is a plus and if local efforts to do that pay off. we all are richer. Character. There are many people of exceptional character m Sweet Home, but as I monitor the activities of our local police offi- cers, I realize that lack of such can be a big problem. Local churches. schools, clubs and individuals - ideally, parents - can help develop character in our youngsters, which will benefit us all and make Sweet Home an even better place to live II Editorial From page 4 can provide to fund city operations (or Fire and Ambulance District or School District or Cemetery District) appear to be dwindling. That doesn't leave much room to increase public expenditures. This proposal really had nothing to do with sending a message to the community, as some folks suggested. It had to do with being frugal at a time when resources are becoming scarce. That scarcity isn't likely to go away any time soon. City employees need to face the reality many other residents. including- other local public emplyees, live with daily: that things are bad economically. The assumption that the funding faucet can simply be turned on to provide wage increases at will is far from the truth. Yes, we believe that the council did the fight thing in honoring its commitment. But city employees and their union leaders need to consider, if things do not improve economically in the near future, whether they are spending their political capital wisely in .accepting raises while everyone else is hurting.