It’s not always easy to have an ambitious vision for the greater good. That’s particularly true for governmental or quasi-governmental projects that require public support in the form of money as well as enthusiasm. Doubters and critics will have their say and, sometimes, their way. Genuine community participation practically guarantees that nothing will be controversy-free or go wholly unchallenged.
My observation over decades of watching high-minded, public-spirited proposals emerge, gain traction and reach fruition — or falter and die — is that the line between success and failure can be thin. Bad luck, bad timing, bad process — all can undermine the best-conceived ideas. Sometimes capricious events — natural or human-caused — may intervene.
It takes time, patience, persistence and a fair amount of good fortune to get things done. The Methow Valley has been the grateful beneficiary of that formula over the years. Many of our cherished community assets — the Winthrop Barn, the ball fields, Westernization, the Spring Creek Bridge, the Winthrop Rink, Wagner Memorial Pool, the Methow Valley Community Center, the Shafer Museum, the Methow Trails system, Methow Valley Conservancy easements, fish habitat restoration, a vibrant arts community, and others — are here because so many people worked so hard to make sure of it.
The work is always continuing. Because we are watching it in real-time, we see progress in slow-motion, which can be frustrating and enervating. It’s instructive to remember that the community assets cited above all went through the same slog of process before they became woven into the valley’s culture.
That historic context may help us view several current projects or proposals with the benefit of retrospection, experience and, let us hope, wisdom.
The highest-profile effort right now is the campaign to build a new public library in Winthrop. A nonprofit group, Friends of the Winthrop Library, is the driving force behind what we all can agree is a necessary improvement. The group has invested untold hours of volunteer time over the past year and a half, bringing the proposal to the architectural design stage. The financial aspect of the library proposal is buttressed by a combination of private donations, state funding and operational support pledged by the North Central Regional Library system.
Inevitably, as more details emerge, the library plan is drawing more scrutiny and questions, both philosophical and practical. That’s a good thing, and eventually should lead to community buy-in born of participation. As for the overall scheme, I say go for everything we can include now, rather than putting it off to an uncertain future. We’ll have one chance to build this, so let’s make it count. It’s not like the rink, which could be constructed in stages until funding became available for full-time ice equipment. There’s no such thing as a partial library.
Meanwhile, the Okanogan County Fire District 6 commissioners continue to push ahead with plans for a much-needed new fire station in Winthrop. It’s been a bumpy road over the past several years, with questions raised about the need for everything the district is proposing to include in the new building. Previous requests for public funding have been rejected.
One perception — fair or not — is that the proposed building is bigger than necessary, with more amenities than befit a fire hall. Are they being perseverant or stubborn? I really don’t know. But I don’t see any reason to go cheap on such an important facility, and after thinking about this a lot I am inclined to give the commissioners the benefit of the doubt on what the district’s firefighters require and deserve. What now seems like extravagance may look like well-thought-out necessity before long.
The biggest challenge looming on the near horizon is replacing the venerable Wagner Memorial Pool, whose useful life is nearly over. That will be a complicated and costly endeavor, so get ready for some serious work. Most of the people I talk to think that, if we’re going to have a new pool, it might as well be all-season. Like the libraries, the pool is a shared resource that all valley residents can take advantage of.
Obviously, my feeling about these undertakings is, “go big or go home” — build as much as you can as soon as you can, with all the resources the community can reasonably bring to bear. The world is full of short-changed projects that are obsolete the day they open. Too often, I’ve seen worthy ideas “pecked to death by ducks” — that is, argued over until opportunity has passed, or whittled down to a barely recognizable, inadequate husk of a project. If we’re going to do these things, let’s do them right. Methow Valley residents have had that attitude since the day they started arriving.