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America's Best Communities finale coming April 19


Photo courtesy of the city of Arlington

Arlington, Darrington and Snohomish County officials meet on April 5 to talk about the upcoming America's Best Communities finale on April 19.

Arlington and Darrington have been in the national America's Best Communities competition for about three years now and are one of eight finalists who will meet on April 19.

The final announcement of winners will take place that day in Denver, Colo.

The winner will receive $3 million. There is also a second-place prize of $2 million and a third-place prize of $1 million.

"We're very excited to go to the finale," said Arlington Mayor Tolbert. "We feel really good about the result of the initiatives we started, and the community engagement grew throughout the project."

For Darrington and Arlington, the work began in 2014 when they first applied.

Last year, the two communities presented 11 initiatives and were chosen as one of the eight finalists from across the country to receive $100,000 to implement their plans.

Bob Drewel, one of the local leaders involved in the project, said that the teams have "met or exceeded" on all of the plans presented, so he is optimistic heading into the finale.

At the same time he doesn't want to be overconfident, he said. "The other communities have strong stories to tell as well," he said.

Using the initial investment the communities were able to leverage an additional $91 million in projects, said Tolbert.

Those initiatives include bringing consultants downtown to help local businesses merchandise better.

Tolbert said it has helped improve the environment downtown and the city hopes to scale up that project across the entire city.

Another initiative, a "community tool chest," helps provide cleaning equipment to locals who can't afford them.

"This really gives them [businesses] further tools and access to help their curb appeal," said Tolbert.

The installation of two WiFi hotspots is meant to equalize internet access, said Tolbert.

Drewel recalls hearing stories such as "a young woman who was able to register for college because of one of these hotspots," he said.

Darrington and Arlington also have newly created youth councils as a result of the contest.

"It's exciting to see young people so invested in their city," said Tolbert.

One of the final projects from the competition was the Ride to Remember Oso, held on March 19, which helped honor the victims and anniversary of the slide.

Arlington and Darrington's participation in the contest actually grew out of their plans of how they were going to rebuild after the slide.

"There was a call to arms to make sure this wasn't a community defined by a tragedy," said Drewel.

Tolbert said that all of these initiatives will continue into the future.

"These will be launching points for us to continue improving the city," she said.

Arlington and Darrington will be continuing with a new "Stilly Valley Spirit" program after the competition that will serve as the next phase of growth.

Tolbert said she was proud of the partnership with Darrington that has grown throughout these years.

"People seem to have this belief that government agencies can't work together or get things done, but I think the work Arlington and Darrington have done disproves that," said Drewel.

If the two communities return with prize money Tolbert said she hopes to continue that partnership. "We want to continue with the same energy and engagement, and continue leveraging funds to improve those initiatives we've already started," she said.

She also wanted to thank the citizens, who put "tens of thousands of hours into this and really showed what people can do when they work together."


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