As we report in this weeks edition, the Wallowa County Planning Commission rejected an application by the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium for a conditional use permit to designate a community trail connecting the cities of Joseph and Enterprise. While we were ultimately disappointed in the decision, we don’t dismiss the very real concerns of those opposed to the initiative.
Rural communities are struggling in this country. They typically lag economically compared to their urban counterparts and often realize less political power.
Industry tends to be less diversified so when markets evolve rural communities are stuck with the daunting task of finding, establishing and maintaining new industry without losing their cultural identity or the nostalgia of the past that has held them together for generations.
Wallowa County, with its unique set of challenges, is no different. But one thing that can be said about rural communities like ours is that studies show that they tend to be more entrepreneurial than urban communities. Innovation and creativity surely aren’t exclusive to metropolises. And the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium has shown an immense amount of creativity, planning and community value with a plan that we believe will help our community forge the urban/rural divide.
Across the nation we see the success of similar projects. Healthy, happy people with venues that bring people together tend to form strong and united communities and economies.
Communities that have developed similar initiatives tend to see economic gains, healthier residents and increased property values, among other benefits.
Furthermore, infrastructural developments can be one of the most impactful ways for rural communities to catch up. By rejecting this proposal, Wallowa County could be closing doors — or at least neglecting to seize opportunities at a time where strong efforts at both the State and Federal levels of government are working hard to provide occasion and momentum for rural communities to realize economic and cultural stability.
However, none of this is to say that there aren’t very valid concerns with the project. While Wallowa County does need to show innovation and creativity to remain viable and vibrant, it can’t do so at the expense of our neighbors and it shouldn’t do so at the expense of the long-lasting heart of industry in Wallowa County: agriculture.
Increased traffic on the trail certainly has the potential to disrupt the farms and ranches that it runs through. Those in support of the trail need to listen to the concerns of those opposed. The Joseph Branch Trail Consortium pledges its members and volunteers as caretakers to maintain the integrity of the trail. We applaud the initiative but it’s not a small task. Can a sustainable system of maintaining the trail be guaranteed for years to come without relying on our already strained public employees? What about privacy and security concerns?
Our hope is that through a show of our rural grit and our innovative and entrepreneurial spirit we can both achieve our goals and be responsive to our neighbors’ concerns.
The future of the trail is uncertain. Perhaps there’s room for common ground… for compromise. But however this unfolds we need to move forward as one community.