We know at least a few of the reasons why rural communities go into decline. In eastern Washington, technology has radically improved agricultural efficiency at the cost of manual labor jobs. Technology, in the form of trucks and automobiles, has also replaced the railroad that once connected the dots of towns in a web of mutual trade and support. When the on-farm jobs disappeared, the commercial support base in small communities did, too. Banks, cafes, repair shops closed, leaving town after town with decrepit central cores. Brain drain takes young people to urban areas in search of employment—and the vicious cycle becomes a death spiral.
Standing on the beach at Smokiam Park, I dip my hand in the lake. The water is soft, slippery, almost squishy feeling. It’s full of sodium carbonate—washing soda. It’s a tiny lake, and on its southern beach is Soap Lake, a town experiencing a little renaissance.
Locals credit Washington State University’s Rural Communities Design Initiative for assisting their town of 1,500 in the eastern Washington scablands with improvement efforts. Soap Lake declined from fame and modest prosperity to a near ghost town but has recently rediscovered its pulse.
“Smokiam” is a Tsincayuse word that means “healing waters,” so maybe the sense of … » More …
The most complex chemistry lab on the planet is growing in your neighborhood. There might be a tree in your own backyard, cranking out chemicals as it converts sunlight to food, wards off pests, and circulates water and nutrients through it roots, branches, and leaves.
So diverse is the chemical compendium produced by trees that we get aspirin (willow bark is a natural source of salicylic acid and has been used to treat pain since ancient times), the ink Leonardo used in his notebooks (from leaf galls produced by wasp larvae), and natural antibacterials (the fiber in cedar chips is used to make hospital gowns).
Over the past three decades, many of the nation’s most depressed rural communities have vied to host new prisons, hoping that economic benefits would follow.
The trend grew in the early 1990s when an average of three 500-bed prisons opened around the country each week. Small towns courted new correctional facilities, sometimes offering free land or discounted municipal services to tempt them, believing they would get returns in new jobs and money.
But now they may be thinking differently about prisons, thanks to research led by Washington State University sociologist Gregory Hooks.
“We found no evidence that prison expansion has stimulated economic growth,” Hooks says … » More …
If you drive for 45 minutes up the back road from Goldendale toward Trout Lake in Klickitat County, you’ll pass through Glenwood, set in its scenic valley at the base of Mount Adams, where the pastures begin to give way to pine trees, some 35 miles north of the Columbia River.
If you pass through in June, you might catch the local rodeo, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year over Father’s Day. Maybe you’ll stop at The Shade Tree for gas, that being the name of the biggest business in town, a combination hotel/cafe/gas station/convenience store. There’s a post office and a small grocery, and … » More …