The North Fork Heart & Soul Project would like to thank everyone from the North Fork Valley (and beyond) who participated in the past two years. We solicited your feedback at public events, in focus groups, in interviews, online, and in one-on-one conversations.
Our mission was simple: to try to understand what matters most to the people of the North Fork Valley and to try to encourage conversations about the things that matter most to the folks who live here. "When a community takes the time to get to know itself, it gains a sense of identity and purpose that informs decisions and planning."
So what were the results? A lot of people talked and expressed themselves. In fact, we got comments from over 1,500 people. We got pictures from kids, notes in email and we listened to thousands of you in informal conversations. We analyzed the information and distilled it down to five core values that mattered most.
We support that the North Fork Valley has a rich history, from the days of the "nuche," the Ute indigenous people, to the settlement by Enos Hotchkiss and Samuel Wade, the growth of orchards, the work in the coal mines, digging the irrigation ditches to nourish the land. The history also includes how the community dealt with floods, fires and mine closures. It is about the influence of public lands and private property. It includes the time of the "rainbow people" and the migration of "baby boomers."
We stand today on the bridge between the past and the future. What will be the history that we create?
Looking into the mirror of the North Fork Valley, we see what makes us strong and what divides us. On the surface, we value the beauty of our lands and water the most. Our physical environment is important to us for the view sheds, for our recreation, for hunting, and as a way to make a living. Our strong respect for our water is deeply imbedded in our heritage, our lifestyles and economy. We fear those things that threaten the landscape and our clean water.
Our sense of community and the small rural towns is next in importance. These are the centers of our social lives and businesses. We enjoy friendly and welcoming people and the chance to gather for festivals, fairs, church events and performances. Yet, there are many divisions — old timer/newcomer; hippie/redneck; miner/farmer; liberal/conservative, and more.
A steady economy is important to our community, although we aren't quite there yet. We would like to see our young people stay, but job opportunities are not here to entice them. The traditional industries such as coal mining, ranching and farming remain strong parts of our community but are struggling. New wealth is seen coming from retirees, workers who can telecommute and in service industries. Many see opportunities in specialty food products, wineries, renewable energy and creative industries. Meanwhile the "Main Street" businesses try to provide basic necessities for the population and there are a number of empty storefronts in our downtowns.
Freedom and independence reflect a "code of the West" where living on the land, independent thinking and rugged individualism reign. We allow for a diversity of occupations and lifestyles. With freedom comes personal responsibility and consideration for our neighbors. As our population grows, the need for rules needs to be considered and while some oppose rules and regulations, others welcome them.
So where do we go from here? Who has a crystal ball that will tell us where our future lies? We can get stuck in the belief that we are in another "bust" and can decide that "the end is near." Or, we can be the strong, determined people who honor the heritage of this land and we can find ways to make our economy and our lifestyle work. The choice is ours. We are living in interesting times. Which direction do you choose?
To see many of the results of the Heart & Soul Project go to the website www.northforkheartsoul.com.