North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Arlington/Darrington fall short in America's Best Communities competition

 

Courtesy Photo

Former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, right, gives the Darrington and Arlington presentation in Denver, Colo., on April 19, along with Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, left and Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin, center.

Arlington and Darrington reached the top eight of the America's Best Communities competition, but no further, as the three winners were announced on April 19.

The eight finalists from across the country gathered in Denver, Colo., to make their final presentations to a panel of judges.

The competition was meant to energize small rural communities to innovate ways to revitalize themselves.

Arlington and Darrington came up with a plan of 11 initiatives that tackled a wide range of issues.

Former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert made their presentation on April 19 about the progress of those initiatives.

In the end, the two local communities were not one of the three winners chosen for the competition.

Tolbert said that the community still received a lot of energy from their work in the contest though.

"As we flew back from Denver I reflected on all that we had accomplished, particularly in the last year, and I have to say I am pretty proud of the work our citizens did," she said.

"I would've liked if we came home with a prize in the form of a check, but we still have a lot to show for our efforts in the contest," she said.

By advancing to this final stage the two communities had already received $145,000 in funding from the competition that was used to start their initiatives.

Tolbert talked about their work improving their downtown during the team's presentation.

"We're all attached to that downtown main street, it's where rural communities get their sense of place," she said.

"We sought to bring education to our businesses," she said.

Merchandising consultants helped those local stores in the downtown. "They provided small, inexpensive things they could to better merchandise their items," she said.

In Darrington, the Glacier Peak Institute provided a place for students to learn about practical science.

"Glacier Peak Institute is an outdoor STEM education center. Our classroom is the forest, the meadow," said Rankin during the presentation.

"It helps show students that science is all around them," he said.

In both Darrington and Arlington, youth councils were formed.

"We wanted the current leadership to be informed of what opportunities were needed for youth," said Tolbert.

"We have leaders available today that will lead us into our future," she said.

Other initiatives included work promoting pocket parks in the city, free Wi-Fi hotspots and promoting tourism.

Arlington and Darrington's plan for the contest was a result of the work after the March 22, 2014 Oso landslide.

The communities came up with a recovery plan and started on many of those goals through the competition.

"We're still a work in progress," said Drewel during the presentation.

"We're still following the plan that became our roadmap throughout the competition. Following that roadmap helped us overcome obstacles and focus on our long-term vision," he said.

"America's Best Communities gave us visibility so we would not just be known as a community in recovery, but one that is moving forward," he said.

Tolbert said that Arlington and Darrington don't plan to stop now that the competition is completed, and will continue with what they call "Stilly Valley Spirit," which will be further efforts to improve sustainability of businesses and the community.

She hopes to continue workforce development through a "maker space," which is a community center with tools for manufacturing.

A public meeting on April 25 will begin that process, she said.

She also hopes to begin a "wonderful collaboration with the schools to integrate workforce development," and allow students to learn "the skills that are going to be needed when they enter the workforce," at the maker space.

The curb appeal of the downtown has also been improved because of the competition, Tolbert said, and she hopes to continue that work elsewhere.

"I've been approached by two Smokey Point business leaders about how we get this program over there as well," she said.

Christopher Andersson

Arlington officials and locals watch in anticipation as the winners of the America's Best Communities are announced live on April 19. From left, Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Holocker, Rotary member Breanne Martin and Arlington City Council member Jan Schuette.

"We want to make Smokey Point feel more like Arlington," she said.

Equity in access to broadband internet is also a goal for the future.

"It keeps people informed and ensures that students can do their research and homework," said Tolbert. She said that city officials have some plans that they hope will increase competition and make internet more affordable for everyone.

Tolbert said that in Denver she talked to representatives from many of the other communities.

"I came back from the competition very inspired," Tolbert said. "There wasn't a community there that didn't have a strong story to tell."

She also hopes the engagement from citizens can continue as well.

"I've just been overwhelmed with the amount of phone calls from local leaders that I've received," said Tolbert. "And they say they are really proud of the work our citizens have done and that we should keep it up, and to me, that means we've already won."

 

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