Monday, September 20, 2010

report from the west part 4 and wrap up

Snoqualmie, Washington
Just east of Seattle is the gorgeous Snoqualmie Falls. As nice as it is, how do you attract a steady stream of tourists to a somewhat out-of-the-way area in the middle of so many other great tourist destinations? The beauty of the waterfall is not sufficient. There's lots of other great spots. Thus, Snoqualmie has taken a combined approach to attracting tourists.

Many years ago, a power company installed a hydro plant at the falls. It did not destroy the falls in doing so. The hydro plant is not really even noticeable. But the company that runs the hydro plant is either voluntarily helping maintain the park around the falls or has been convinced by the town or the regulatory agency to do so. I’m not sure which is the case, but the result is a very nice, well-kept, very inviting park around the falls. And there’s no entry fee.

A fancy hotel on the falls actually adds to the charm of the park. It’s not a wilderness experience, but neither is it tacky like the area around some other famous waterfall that will remain nameless.

For those interested in the history and culture of the area, a series of interpretive signs provides that information.

The park is a few miles off the freeway, but a very attractive boulevard invites people to make that drive.

So even if you have what should be a good tourist destination, you can't be successful by sitting back and letting it attract on its own. You still have to do some placemaking.

Dubois, Wyoming
Coming back from Yellowstone National Park and on the way to Ft. Collins, Colorado, we stopped overnight in Dubois, Wyoming. Dubois is in central Wyoming on US287. We lived in Ft. Collins for several years in the mid 80s to mid 90s and often went to Yellowstone via US287.

My recollection from back then was that Dubois was a small ranching town slowly drying up. Either my recollections are incorrect or Dubois has successfully transitioned to a more prosperous town that takes advantage of tourism. It’s a nice, small town that incorporates the traditional economy with the newer economics of the west (i.e., recreationalists) . We stayed in a nice motor court and had breakfast at the café next door. A Prius still sporting an Obama bumper sticker was parked next to a dual-axle F-250 with a bumper sticker that made a decidedly more conservative point. In the café, I cannot say that retired ranchers and kayakers were necessarily chumming it up, but there did seem to be a more welcoming atmosphere than one sometimes finds in other small towns that don’t like tourists for some reason.

As Dubois seemed to show, blending the traditional and newer economies is not about turning the place over to newcomers and forgetting about the existing economy. It’s about making room for both. I think back to when I lived in Colorado and sympathized with the resistance to the Californians. In the late 80s there was an influx of Californians. Prices of property soared, places were becoming gentrified and those Californians and their attitude!

The west has changed, in some places beyond recognition even from the early 1990s. One can fight change or one can be in a position to have to adapt to change. Sometimes change can be made into something good. (Indeed some places that could use some invigoration have been bypassed.)

Just as there’s been a change from Old to New West, up here in the North we're seeing a change from Old to New North. Some places up here have worked to bring out the good features such a change can bring while conserving the good features of the Old North. Other places still need to reach out to facilitate some of that positive change and not be left behind. Other places where the New North economy isn’t coming any time soon have another direction to take. Some planners have studied the transition that occurred in the west and offer lessons for us to learn. We just need to pay attention to them.

SIDEBAR: How many New Wests have there been?
Let’s see…I’m not a historian, but it seems to me that there was the transition from an Old West of trappers and traders to a New West of the railroad, mining, timber and ranching barons. Then there was a transition to a New West of families and more permanent towns and the amenities that come with that (with the Native Americans losing at each of these transitions).

Most recently there was the transition to the New West of affluent recreationalists, knowledge workers, and strong environmental regulations. As things changed, some economies prospered, other economies and the towns they supported faded. Can we from the past and figure out how to adapt to change and incorporate change for broader prosperity?

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