Monday, August 15, 2011

Mountaindale...Where Are We Going? How Do We Get There?

In Sunday's paper, front page, was an article about the declining population of our area in these turbulent financial times. They gave various reasons, chief among them being lack of jobs (opportunity), rising gas prices making commuting more expensive, and declining property values making other counties closer into New York city more appealing for various reasons, including a shorter commute. Obviously, such a trend downward is disturbing for the small towns and hamlets that dot Sullivan County, would suggest harder times are not only upon us, but threatening to get worse. A vicious downward spiral as our population base dwindles, with it our ability to meet our own obligations as a community...fewer people means the rest of us have to pick up an ever increasing amount of responsibility, have to pay higher taxes, and at some point our government has to accept the fact that they have to learn to live with less, which in turn means the cutting of services we have gotten used to.

So the question becomes, where are we going as a community here in Mountaindale, and in a larger sense, the Town of Fallsburg and Sullivan County, and how are we going to get there? What can we do to make lemons into lemonade, what can we do too position ourselves for better tomorrows, rather than accepting a fate that is unacceptable for all of us? Before we answer that question, perhaps it is best to first look backwards, look at our history, the roller coaster ride that has been our county for a very long time, the good times rolling in for a period, then vanishing as hard times once again come knocking on our door. There seeming to be a lack of a long range plan to bring economic stability and growth to our community, a plan that would eliminate the roller coaster ride that for almost 200 years has been Sullivan county's history.

Are there lessons to be learned from our past? In that ancient history, in the naming of our county...which was named after a general that was just passing through, can we find clues to a sustainable future rooted in shared long term goals aimed at making our county a place to come to, rather than a place to pass through along the way to somewhere else? Looking at the infighting that transpired in choosing Monticello as our county seat back in the early 1800's, looking at how that infighting flared back up when in 1844 a fire destroyed much of Monticello, one could posture that a big part of our problems are perhaps self created, our own inability to get along and work towards common goals hurting our county's forward growth. Even in our voting for public officials we remain divided, the county flip flopping between the two parties, as sometimes we find ourselves governed by Democrats, at other times governed by Republicans depending on how the wind is blowing in any given election year.

According to the 2000 Census, the county's per capita income was under $19,000 and over 16 percent of our citizens were living at or below the poverty level. Surely almost 200 years since our county court house was built (1814), we can do better than that, can come up with a plan to bring prosperity to the citizens that choose to call Sullivan County home? Does our county have a master plan for building a sustainable, viable economy for its citizens, or instead are we shooting from the hip, jumping on whatever happens to come traveling down the road in our direction, the latest being the false promises of jobs and riches if we allow the Natural Gas industry to come in and use Hydraulic Fracturing to extract the natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale that runs underneath the 997 square miles of land that makes up our geographical footprint.

One thing seems prosper from future development, you have to be prepared for it, have to make plans today to leverage what you have to position yourself for that future. Here in Mountaindale NY, we are sitting at such a crossroads, have the opportunity today to leverage what we have to position ourselves for tomorrow. The general consensus in our small hamlet is that we are a growing business and arts community, and that is a good visioning statement, a concise sentence that clearly states where we want to go...question is, how do we get there, and what assets do we have in our community to get us to where we want to be, what can we leverage to bring people here to live, work and recreate?

We have some significant assets as a community. First, we are only eight miles from what is fast becoming a major Interstate as Route 17 goes through a transition to becoming a major interstate highway. We have a entrance to the "Rails to Trails", and if negotiations now underway are successful, Mountaindale is going to be the anchor of a major biking/hiking corridor that will run from our little hamlet over to Liberty, and for those challenging themselves, back again. Just outside of town, we have a beautiful public park complete with swimming pool, and campsites that can be rented by the day, or for the entire summer season. We also have a beautiful downtown area, with many of the buildings already renovated and ready for occupants.

These significant community assets have the potential to bring people into our community, but once they are here, what do we have to offer them, what services and goods can we offer that would see them spending more time and more money in our small hamlet? What can we do as a community to leverage our assets and resources in bringing some much needed economic renewal to our area? What can we do to attract to our community the stores and businesses needed to make us a destination, rather than a place people pass through on their way from point A to point B? What can we offer potential businesses, what can we say to convince them that locating here in our hamlet is a good gamble on the future?

Finding the answers we need requires community consensus, and consensus can only occur if we have open dialogue that involves all those citizens who are stakeholders, who will be impacted (either negatively or positively) by the course set as we steer toward the future. Building that road to a prosperous future needs consensus, but it needs more than that...what are each of us as individuals, and as a collective group willing to do to get us where we want to go? It is easy to say, "We want a convenience store in our hamlet", but what are each of us willing to contribute toward that goal becoming a reality, and if we convince a business person to open up such a store, what are we each willing to do to see them successful in that venture?

Life it is said does not exist in a is postured here that economic renewal and revitalization also does not exist in a vacuum, and that our road to the future lays in learning how to partner with other communities to get to where we want to go. As example, look at our "Rails to Trails" and the future potential it holds if a 18.1 mile continuous corridor from Mountaindale to Liberty becomes a reality...wouldn't it make sense to see our two communities partner together to work on the development of this shared asset? Working together, pooling our efforts and our resources would make sense, and it might also make it easier to find the necessary working capital to build infrastructure today as we prepare for tomorrow. What about all the communities in-between these two points...can we find a way to create a working group to develop this very valuable asset in a way that brings benefits to every community along the route, a win win for every town and hamlet along the way?

Success, be it big or small does not just happen, success does not come find you, but instead you have to go out and find it, make it happen. Success takes planning, hard work, and dedication to the goals needing accomplished to make it happen. Mountaindale and to a large extent Sullivan county finds itself at a crossroads, and we need to decide where we are going, and how we are going to get there. It is suggested here, that our small hamlet should consider a series of public meetings, consider holding another visioning workshop to answer these two simple questions, to lay out a road map that spells out where we are going, and how we plan to get there...the future we leave our children depends on it. Let us follow the advice of Chevy Chase who in Caddy Shack as Ty Webb gave the following sage advice, "See your future, be your future". Let us as a community see our future, and take the necessary steps to attain it.