Solutions team is some good news to start new year

The Oregon Solutions Project team is under way and that’s good news as we head into a new year.

We’ve covered the process rather heavily in The New Era for one simple reason: This is really important for Sweet Home.

If this group can make a community forest happen, increasing opportunities for local residents and visitors to enjoy the South Santiam River and the forest that borders it, Sweet Home can benefit – big time.

As today’s page 1 story relates, team members on Monday were introduced to the “draft vision” that provides a roadmap of sorts to establishing a community forest stretching from Sweet Home to Cascadia.

There are many challenges, which is one reason why the governor apparently decided this would be a good spot to plug in his Oregon Solutions Team. The 25-some members of the team, representing a wide range of local, state and federal government interests, private landowners and others who have expertise or interest in the field of helping rural communities like ours develop their resources in a responsible way, have been called together to do exactly that.

Their goal is to make the forest pay, but at the same time to preserve it as the wonderful natural resource it is.

As stated in our story, the goal is to blend public and private lands to provide a connection between Sweet Home and the Santiam Wagon Road, effectively joining Sweet Home to the upper Cascades via the U.S. Forest Service trail system that is already in place.

We really like the fact that the intent here is to make the corridor, as the community forest is called, self-financing. We like the fact that there is a high degree of concern for private property ownership rights. That’s the way it needs to be if this is going to work. Vision, cooperation and innovation are key to making this happen..

Think of what can happen here. If visitors to Sweet Home could hike or bike all the way to the summit lakes – Fish Lake and Clear Lake, which are at the end of the Santiam Wagon Road, don’t you think they’re going to have needs that Sweet Home could provide? Food, lodging, equipment.

Think what could happen if the river were improved as a fishery, or as a kayaking destination, or as a place to hike and bike. That’s more food, lodging, equipment that will be in demand.

Think of what could happen if USFS Sweet Home District Ranger Cindy Glick’s stated goal of finding ways to make the forest economically helpful to the community was to be realized. Suddenly, jobs that have been missing since the 1990s would be available . Local residents might not have to work in Eugene or Albany.

Of course, if this community forest comes about, changes will come. The flow of visitors would increase. New people may relocate here, drawn by opportunity and recreation. Jobs may be available that aren’t here now.

Cynicism toward government, which many blame for the economic troubles that have dogged our community for two decades, may need to be tempered by the realization that the pendulum appears to be swinging our way.

It’s going to be an interesting story. We hope it’s good news for all of us.