Amid the gloom, some very bright spots for Sweet Home

It’s always interesting to look at the yearly review of the news we publish each New Year.

There are incidents of violence and tragedy, of rancor and divisiveness. But there are also stories about people who help each other in time of need, of accomplishments, of achievements, of happy events.

2013 was a tough year, particularly on a national level. It seemed, as one writer has put it, like most of the year was “an endless story of violence, deceit, discord, divisiveness and anxiety.”

But locally, some good things have happened and they are worth bearing in mind as we launch into 2014.

One of them, which we’ve touched on several times over the past year or two on this page, is the increasing collaboration that has turned the heads of people, who have clout, toward our community. The outside world has gotten interested in Sweet Home.

As we’ve noted in recent news stories and commentary, it really started a few years ago with the All Lands Collaborative forestland development project between the U.S. Forest Service and Cascade Timber Consulting in the Soda Fork area.

That helped generate interest from the governor’s office in creating a Solutions Team made up of representatives from a wide variety of federal, state and local agencies to focus on creating a community forest east of Sweet Home. The purpose of the community forest is to provide recreation and wood products dollars for the community – jobs.

That, in turn, has helped Sweet Home qualify for a livability assessment by the Federal Highway Administration, which has begun in the last month.

Most of this has happened in the last year, and it could turn out to be really good for Sweet Home.

Associated with some of the above is the future of the Cascadia Post Office. It appears now that the best chance Cascadia residents have of regaining local over-the-counter or post office box service will be if the community forest takes shape and a post office facility can somehow be incorporated into it.

The departure of SHEDG Economic Development Director Brian Hoffman earlier this year was a real disappointment to many involved in the effort to make things better here. Brian’s contributions to Sweet Home weren’t always the kind you could easily quantify, but there is no question among those who paid any attention at all that he provided quiet but decisive leadership and coordination of volunteer energy that was lacking before his arrival and is lacking now.

The good news is that the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort (SHARE), begun in 2008, continues in his absence – nearly six years now, but without that full-time, focused coordination, progress has slowed – though it has not stopped.

A real positive has been the arrival of Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) “intern” Laura Goodrich, who has brought energy and vision to the community forest project and various efforts SHARE has been involved in. The quotation marks around “intern” are there because even though her position has been referred to as such, the functionality of what she’s doing goes far beyond that. It’s kind of a “sky’s the limit” scenario, with all the needs Sweet Home has for economic development.

Though her time in Sweet Home may be limited – it’s a one-year program funded through the county, the city and the U.S. Forest Service, she has been able to pick up where Hoffman left off and provide some of the feet-on-the-ground activity that has been missing since he left. More on that down the road.

As our report on page 1 of today’s issue indicates, a lot is happening, too, with local parks. Recreation potential is growing for east Linn County and a lot of effort has gone into planning and preparing for that. The community forest is a direct result of those efforts, or the latest manifestation of them, depending on how you look at it.

The bottom line is that this may not seem to mean much to those of us who get up at 3 in the morning to cut timber or who drive to Salem to work because no jobs exist locally. As we’ve noted in the past, tourism may not bring the big bucks that lumber does, but visitors spend money and when they come, there’s opportunity.

Some have already started trying to cash in on that. We have several well-set-up antique businesses in Sweet Home that did not exist at this time last year, at least not in the format they do now. Demand for goods and services will create jobs.

In addition to new businesses, buildings have been painted, including two downtown churches, since last year. The Christmas card display effort is taking off. Good stuff is happening.

Yes, the world is not looking too good right now outside our borders, but there’s a lot happening in Sweet Home that’s could be very positive. Some of it is “out-of-the-box” type of potential, things that might not fit cleanly into our comfort zone because we’re used to things the way they’ve been for years. But that’s the way potential works: Sometimes it opens up new opportunities that we might not have thought of.

Happy new year to our readers and our community! We’re praying that it will be a great one for Sweet Home.