H O R I Z O N S
7 years of effort and $2.5 million later, 49 Idaho small towns
benefit from UI Extension’s Horizons program
by Travis Mason-Bushman
WITH HELP FROM University of Idaho Extension’s Horizons program, some 10,000 Idahoans banded together in 49 rural towns to build a more prosperous future. Empowered by Horizon’s training in leadership, organization, and communication, ordinary people are making extraordinary contributions to their communities. Even former cynics now agree: Horizons works!
Cascade mayor: From skeptic to enthusiast
“At first I was skeptical—I thought Horizons was just another gimmick, another meeting I had to go to,” Cascade Mayor Dick Carter said. “It turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened in our community.”
Young kayakers at Cascade’s new Kelly’s Whitewater Park consult with four-time world freestyle kayak champ Eric Jackson (in orange). It’s a Homedown Throwdown, where young kayakers show off their freestyle moves.
Photo by Dan Gallagher, The Long Valley Advocate.
In his and 48 other towns, 18-month-long poverty-fighting programs developed and funded by the Northwest Area Foundation launched transformations. Beginning in 2003, Idaho towns with 5,000 or fewer residents and a poverty level above 10 percent could apply. “Rigorous participation standards required at least 15 percent of residents to participate in the visioning process,” said program director Debbie Gray, Moscow.
During conversations, each town’s residents examined poverty where they live; next came community visioning. UI Extension staff around the state asked a seemingly simple question: What do you want your town to be in the future?
After visioning came action
Steering committees found ways their communities could reach—or at least move toward—their goals. Coaches, often county UI Extension educators, worked alongside each community, providing help on how to navigate complex political and cultural minefields; build relationships with state, federal, and private partners; write grants; manage conflict; and more. Seed grants of $10,000 helped each town develop infrastructure.
Here’s what happened in three towns.
Cascade’s new whitewater park
Hard-hit by changing timber economics, Cascade’s Horizons participants sought a new area focus: Tourism. Seizing a long-simmering proposal to establish a whitewater kayaking center along the nearby Payette River, UI students and faculty worked with residents to draft regional recreation plans. Town residents found a benefactor to fund a multimillion-dollar kayak park.
Officially opened in June 2010, Cascade’s Kelly’s Whitewater Park, cornerstone of a larger park, is already drawing enthusiasts from around the nation. “The whitewater park had been chugging along for years, but Horizons came along and put a great big engine in it to get it done,” Carter said.
For Plummer, an upgraded library
Plummer’s 70-year-old library was woefully undersized and poorly equipped for the Information Age. Efforts to fund a new facility failed at the ballot box in 2007. But, empowered by Horizons, residents worked with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, spread the message, and registered new voters. Back up for a vote in 2008, the library bond passed with overwhelming support.
“The new library will raise the level of learning and achievement in our community,” Tribal Director of Education Chris Meyer said. “I’m grateful for the Horizons experience. The relationships built, the impact that it’s had on our communities and our people. Those things can’t be overstated.”
RESULTS FROM 7 YEARS OF HORIZONS PROGRAMS in small Idaho towns include (above from left) a flourishing kayak park in Cascade, economic development in Arco, increased regional identity for Shoshone, and new van service to medical and other appointments for Riggins.
Photos by Bill Loftus and Christy Fallen
Renewed identity for Ririe
Ririe residents worried about losing their community’s unique identity. Changing population demographics and growth outside traditional town limits meant connections among townspeople were fading.
To reverse the trend, Horizons revived an annual community celebration, expanded reach of the city’s monthly newsletter, and, with the school district, launched adult education classes. “The first step to kicking poverty is to make people aware of issues. Then we can start taking care of each other,” said steering committee member Annika Davey. “Even small steps can bring back our sense of pride in our community.”
What’s next for Horizons towns?
Project manager Debbie Gray is particularly impressed with, “the depth of commitment shown by local residents to the future of their towns. It’s inspiring to see what people that care so much about their community are willing and able to accomplish.”
UI Extension staff will continue supporting Horizons communities with a menu of trainings such as leadership development, grant writing, and a statewide rural conference.
Most importantly, work being done by Horizons participants will hopefully continue. As Lava Hot Springs steering committee member Tim Frymire put it:
“With Horizons, we’re growing together, learning how to solve problems, and making our town a better place to live.”
Contact Debbie Gray firstname.lastname@example.org Learn more about Idaho Horizons http://www.extension.uidaho.edu/horizons/
Note: Travis Mason-Bushman graduated with a UI journalism degree in 2010 and stayed in Moscow to help write a booklet summarizing Idaho’s Horizons program.