“Remember when dial-up was the latest thing for internet access?” Maria Converse, who owns Methownet with her husband, Jeff Hardy, told the townhall meeting at the Mazama Community Club on Wednesday (July 12). It had snags and glitches, but when it connected, it was like magic to have the information highway at one’s fingertips.
Each generation of internet speed has improved, at least for most users. However, out here in the boonies, sometimes connections have been impossible or spotty. Until now. As Methow Valley residents are resourceful and always have their ear to the ground for new ways to improve and protect valley life, so it was when a grass roots partnership grew out of a few random conversations between Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC) General Manager Greg Mendonca and the Methownet owners.
Unserved or underserved areas lacking reliable high-speed internet were the target for federal grant money. No surprise that Lost River and other areas of Mazama fit the bill. Okanogan County Connect, a partnership of Okanogan OCEC and Methownet, applied for the grant and were awarded a whopping $12 million (second-most of five rural Washington counties receiving funds), a substantial portion of the $13.2 million project.
All you techies out there will understand the concept of fiber optic internet where data connection is carried by a cable filled with thin glass or plastic fibers. Data travel through the fibers as beams of light pulsed in a pattern. Lightning fast! (I’m still trying to figure out how Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.)
If you are an OCEC customer in the initial project area — from Winthrop to Lost River — you don’t want to miss the opportunity to have free installation of the new service. Backbone cable installed up the valley will then finger out cables to your doorstep. Equipment needed to hook up your computer will also be provided.
Signing up doesn’t mean a commitment at this point, but an assurance that you are on the list for the installation crew. There is a cut-off for sign up, so don’t procrastinate and miss the window. Check location and sign up at okanogancountyconnect.com.
Those outside of the project area may also indicate an interest by signing up. Future funding through grants depends upon community interest, which builds a case that the project will be successful, if funded. Two more community town halls are scheduled: July 19, 5 p.m. at the Twisp Valley Grange, and July 26, 3 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn.
Mazama now has TranGO bus service. How cool is that? You can ride from Mazama to Pateros, with stops in Winthrop, Twisp, Carlton and Methow, for $1. There are six scheduled pickup and returns Monday through Saturday. Down-valley folks, take a ride and have lunch in Mazama! Check the schedule at okanogantransit.com.
Baby boomers have not flamed out. If you have noticed all the activity around the baseball fields in Winthrop, those are hard-working Kiwanians, most in their 60s and 70s, out there digging, pulling, lifting, and hauling materials, as they continue work on a Family Activity Park. The park when completed will enhance the west entrance to Winthrop and provide an inviting place to stop for visitors and locals. Donations for this project are welcome. Go to winthropkiwanis.com/projects.
The Methow Valley Senior Center Thrift Store is another place to see a contingent of baby boomers hard at work. Shout out to all these volunteers who continue to serve our communities.
A story I heard: A couple visiting folks in Mazama went along with them on one of those upper valley hikes with breathtaking views. The wife — a retired nurse — observed another couple hiking and, as is her outgoing nature, said, “I think I know you. I’m Barbara so-and-so and maybe you were my patient. What is your name?” “Elizabeth Warren.” Yes, THAT Elizabeth Warren.
It wasn’t the first Methow experience for Warren. She was spotted at several locations in the valley in September 2019 when she was a Democratic presidential candidate taking a break from campaigning.