When the votes were counted in December for “Top Ten Stories of the Year,” the Methow Headwaters campaign landed No. 1, as it had in 2017. It came in No. 2 in 2018. Our community joined as never before to achieve a special Congressional land designation on over 340,000 acres of our National Forest. This forever precludes an industrial scale open pit copper mine on Flagg Mountain, looming right above Mazama. Wow!
Thank you for acknowledging this victory and for your role in making it happen, defying the odds in a very difficult national political environment.
Why did it work so well?
Regardless of party or political persuasion, we focused on what we cherish. The message was simple — safeguard the health of our watershed and the economy that sustains us. The campaign was built on trust, cooperation and the notion that speaking together for what we value is the best approach to winning hearts and minds.
There’s another important reason — advocacy is part of the DNA of people in the Methow Valley. The groundwork was laid decades ago. Methow Headwaters must be understood in the context of the history of this place. In the mid 1970s, the Methow faced an existential question. Would an international destination ski resort, initially proposed by the Aspen Ski Corporation, and the dramatic and rapid change it would bring, be in keeping with our vision of community and our natural environment? After 25 years, that issue was resolved, and the outcome has profoundly shaped the Methow. Regardless of where one stood on the ski area, the controversy inspired a local culture of advocacy which has grown over the decades. It revealed the extraordinary power of people who cherish place and community and are willing to persist against big odds for as long as it takes.
Let us also step back to heed a reminder, beautifully delivered by Methow descendant, Mark Miller, at the final public meeting on Methow Headwaters in November 2018. He said:
“It’s important to stop and look at generations of impact on decisions that are made today. The purity of this valley, this land shapes who we are in the future, not just the Indian people, but all of us collectively.”
He points directly to the question — now what?
Profound influences are rapidly shaping our future in a manner that can only be described as another defining crossroads. Everywhere, people are seeing rapid change around us — most notably a growing population of residents and visitors, and the increased demand this places on our natural world and rural character. Add a changing and unpredictable climate to the mix and we now squarely face the most profound question of our time: “How will we protect the irreplaceable qualities of this land and our community?”
First, we must define the very things we want to protect. Some are measurable: clean air to breathe; enough cool water in the river for fish, recreation, and our survival; seeing the bright stars at night; and hearing the whispers of nature as we fall asleep at night. Others are less tangible: a tight-knit village that comes together to celebrate milestones — and confront challenges; an economy that avoids gentrification experienced by other destination recreation towns; and a place that values human diversity regardless of background, income, or heritage.
Important initiatives are taking place right now to identify and protect these values. Local leaders have formed a Climate Action Task Force to pinpoint the greatest threats from climate change and the steps needed to prepare. Okanogan County is in the midst of revising its comprehensive plan. While “comprehensive planning” may incite a yawn, this is arguably among the most important planning efforts we must engage in now. Our comprehensive plan presents a vision for the future, with long-range goals and objectives for all activities that involve local government. Other important visioning efforts are underway: the Methow Watershed Council’s Water 2066, Methow Trails’ thoughtful recreation planning, and many others.
There’s no shortage of opportunity to apply your talent and expertise to help shape the future of this valley we love. Choose where you will engage! Resolve to be a part of the solution, not just for this year, but for the decade ahead. Let 2020 kick off a decade of powerful citizen participation — led and inspired by our valley’s youth — for our community and our democracy!
Jasmine Minbashian is executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council. Maggie Coon is the board chair of the Methow Valley Citizens Council.