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Thread: Big ideas for *really* rural communities

  1. #1
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    Big ideas for *really* rural communities

    We are tasked with working in a rural community that has few assets, not even enough to put together an agritourism map with the area cooperative extension folk.

    I need some ideas of things that people have seen elsewhere that I might suggest to citizen groups in this community as projects they would support. I'm trolling through 'best practice' sorts of websites to try and find something, anything that is a project that was successful elsewhere and might transfer here.

    BTW - there is interest in hunting by the people who live there and those outside the area. I was thinking of maybe putting together an initiative to build a community-owned and operated hunting lodge. That would be seasonal, though, and it would be great to have something that is year round.

    Any and all ideas welcome.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Rural Micropolitan Possibilities

    First, I've got to give the disclaimer that I'm not a planner. The following is an idea that has not yet been tried, but it is for a rural, micropolitan city with surrounding smaller towns that are more economically challenged than is the hub city. The smaller towns in the county that surround the larger hub city may be more similar to the community with which you are working. My post is "Model Sustainable/Hydrogen City" under the "Post carbon cities" thread in the "Environmental Planning" forum. Or see this link http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=32512 I've been trying to get opinions here from the forums as to whether the project would work.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Yeah....

    I like the hunting lodge idea, as long as they have someone to maintain and run the lodge and startup funds to get it going. Multiple lodges in the long term could be good, depending on the size of the County.

    Find five or six already existing ideas and float them in front of the community to see what might work for the area. If there is no budget and no resources, why not steal the best ideas from around the country and do this on a shoestring budget The top ideas could be put out for bids and licensed throught the county as part of a tourism based approach, or you could simply recruit a local operator, depending on what the event/activity ends up being.

    I've heard that 1/2 marathons are a BIG deal right now and draw people from all over the place.....
    4 wheel drive tours?
    Tours of any interesting places
    Find a working farm that is willing to do the bed and breakfast/farm thing
    Nature tours
    Fishing tournaments
    and of course, since I'm in Arizona, couldn't forget to mention the swap meet
    Skilled Adoxographer

  4. #4
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Farmer's markets are a trend. Would work well if there was a population center not too far away. Not a stand-alone draw, but tied into some of the things already mentioned a farmer's market could be an attraction.

    A festival featuring local art, music, or a local product. "Come to Podunk - The ***** Capital of the World!" My city touts itself as The Best Small Arts Town. We also have the Last Chance Stampede, which is the yearly rodeo and county fair. Rodeos are a big deal in Montana (who woulda thunk it, huh?). Even an event that only runs for a few days a year can be a big boost to the local merchants.

    Sad to say, but another trend and can be profitable to a rural community - PRISONS. Whether private-run or government-run. With about a million people in some form of the penal system, it is a growth industry. Creates good paying jobs. Motels and restaurants benefit from the patronage of those visiting the inmates. It is one that needs careful research and planning to work.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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  5. #5
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    This sounds like a really interesting project. The one suggestion that I would have is to present projects that the whole community can take part in. While a hunting lodge is a nice idea, it is likely something that the entire community won’t be able to connect with as I am sure that not everyone hunts or cares about hunting.

    The rural community I live in began a community project about 5-years ago. To give you a history, the community used to have a small family owned grocery store about 5-years ago. At that time the owner retired and no one stepped up to take over the business so the grocery store closed. This led to s situation where community members needed to drive 25 minutes to the next town that had a grocery store, which was difficult especially for the elderly population.

    So the community stepped up to the task and opened a new cooperative grocery store that was owned and operated by the community. The store had your basic needs, including a place to sit and gather and it was really something that everyone could get involved in as unlike hunting, everyone likes to eat.

    I’m sure there was a market analysis completed to look at the viability of such a venture and because of the low and sparse population, the viability of a grocery store probably showed that the business would not survive. Thus, it was developed as a community cooperative and more so as a community centerpiece which in theory would encourage locals to patronize their locally owned cooperative store.

    I recall in the beginning there was a requirement to reach a certain number of committed members with an initial membership fee of $100.00. They reached their goal and the store opened. For 5-years the store struggled asking for more and more financial support from its members and it finally closed just this last weekend.

    At any rate, grocery store story aside, if it is to be a community project, it needs to be something useful for the entire community. At least that is my opinion. If you are looking to draw people to the community and it is a grocery store—make it stand out by offering products and services that no other grocery store has to offer—like fresh game meat from your hunting lodge—complete with grills out back. Grill you own (insert here)! You won’t see me there though unless I can grill some green pepper and zucchini .

    Let us know what you finally choose for your project.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Joliet, Montana is a really small and aging town that pulled together and built a community center - they've got a library, a health clinic, and a big meeting area that gets used for weddings, breakfasts, etc. Pretty inspiring little place, and I think they've got a webpage.

    One of the most inspiring places I've been to is Rapelje, Montana, population 100. Several years ago the only restaurant in town shut down and, in the words of one of the locals I met there, they didn't even have a place to sit around and complain in anymore. So they bought the restaurant. turned it into a coop. Next, they started hosting little events - a 24 hour mountain bike ride, a prairie dog shooting contest, etc. - that brought a few people in and caught some money. Mostly, though, it was just tremendously inspiring to the few folks left. One guy told me, "we might not grow anymore, but at least we're going to die with dignity". Pretty cool place, and likely some of the same dynamics you're encountering. You can probably find an article or two online.

  7. #7
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    Normally I'd go with the "broad-based" approach to development

    ... the problem here, as I've been told and as best I can tell, is that the residents don't believe their community needs developing. Despite widespread poverty (probably 20%+), an aging population, and a failing economy the residents just don't care to do something different. And honestly, they're a pissed-off group of people waiting for one more failure to complain about and they're certain we are it.

    We deal with a lot of communities and all of them have some of this to some degree but this one is shot through with poor attitudes SO ... we're going with choosing a project, having it attract support, making it sustainable, and hoping the town sees that we actually want to help.

    I really like the coop general store BTW -- I have wanted to do that in a community but noone has needed it/expressed interest just yet. May actually be paying a visit to one in Saranac Lake, NY this summer if I can swing it.

    So, I like the ideas so far ... I just need something more "top down" that can be implemented. And hey, if a rodeo does it for one community then maybe the hunting can become something for this community AND provide a community center while we're at it.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I think it's important, then, for the project to benefit the existing residents and not necessarily to bring in new people - they sound like what's in it for us types...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    In northern New Mexico's Rio Arriba County, there emerged in, I think, the 1980s a very successful model in a very remote area that has both revived a traditional economy and stemmed the flow of young people out of the area. I don't know how much applies to your situation, but this is a great success story.

    Traditionally (ie. before the US government came to NM, but after the Spanish were well established), the economy of this area was built on herding Churro sheep. After the US government came in, they took control of many communal grazing lands, and the wool economy became more automated and moved away from the Churro type of wool which does not work as well in machine spinning and has an inconsistent color.

    As part of a university project to try and provide a model for preventing outmigration and addressing poverty, the communities (particularly Los Ojos and Tierra Amarilla) worked to revive the traditional activities of sheep herding, wool spinning and weaving. They have built it into quite a successful enterprise and you can link to the cooperatively run general store place where they sell handmade wool, woven products and provide demonstrations for visitors (http://www.handweavers.com/links.htm). The economy is partly built on tourism, but not entirely. Here are a few things that have made this approach work:

    They sell lambs to high end Santa Fe restaurants and lambs and grown sheep via tele-auction that allows them to reach national buyers. Thus they can get the most value for one of their products, even though they are geographically isolated.

    The general store is cooperatively owned and run. It features work by member-artisans and also a space where expensive equipment used for dying and other processing is collectively owned and open for use by all members.

    They handmade yarns, hand dye them and weave rugs and other textiles. The Churro sheep wool, as a handmade product, has tremendous value these days. Also, this particular area devised some weaving forms that are unique to the area, lending some authentic "clout" to their work. This recent development initiative has revived this tradition.

    They created a "sheep bank." If I participated, for example, I might get 4 sheep with a nominal fee. Within the next year, I must breed my sheep and return 4 lambs to the flock, plus some more for "interest." This is how I can start a new flock for myself.

    They negotiated with the BLM to have grazing access to areas that historically been communal grazing lands. The small 1/4 acre plots they ended up with after the government took the common lands were inadequate for grazing anything more than 1 or 2 sheep per household.

    They also established a lending bank among community members. They make micro-loans for small enterprise start-ups. Since the money is from members of the community, applicants must go before a community board and pitch their idea. Those on the board (the community lenders) help that person devise an effective small business plan based on their experiences. They have an interest to make sure the project is successful because they want to see a return on their investment.

    Personally, I think the cooperatively run hunting lodge or general store are both intriguing ideas. Its not so much about the hunting, I think (although that might be a viable tourist draw and maybe could build on local knowledge of the fauna, animal migration patterns, etc.), but providing a setting for learning a variety of useful skills. Regardless of the killing of animals, there are still contracts to sign, money to handle, upkeep and maintenance on the building, etc. All of these are useful skills to cultivate and therein lies the wider value of such a project.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    An inspiring example from Wahday...

    I would try somethign alogn those lines of revaluing the rural heritage of the place. There is a solid, growign demand for authenticity and quality in products, especially food and clothing. To that, one can associate the experience (agritourism). Also, going less mechanical / more organic is labor-intensive, which is good for employment (as long as you can charge a premium for the product, obviously).
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  11. #11
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    Shared-Use Kitchen

    Have you thought about a shared-use commercial kitchen? They are a wonderful asset for a poor, rural community. I helped a small town in Tennessee start one, and now they are producing everything from jams, jellies, and hot pepper sauces to soaps, goat cheese, and baked goods. The idea is that the kitchen is certified to commercial standards, and people are able to reserve time there in order to prepare marketable goods.

    You can find many resources on the web for more information, and here's a nice example of one in operation:
    http://www.yorkcountyshelterprograms...nity%20Kitchen

  12. #12
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    If the community seems opposed to the idea of development, what about helping them with some farmland conservation or land preservation along with some of the other ideas of a services-centered facility? Maybe take a survey of the local residents to determine what types of services they would like or need. Then propose to customize the general store/coop around their needs. It might work to win them over--kind of like a neighborhood planning charrette.

  13. #13
    Not really my area of expertise, but based on growing up in rural parts of England (unlikely to be anywhere near as rural as this location!) here are some suggestions:
    1. With the lodge suggestion, maybe combine that with a nature reserve idea. This is not counter productive, as the animal populations will need to be controlled to make sure there is no overgrazing, etc. I don't know enough about the area to be able to suggest exactly how it's done with respect to infrastructure (fencing, lodges, observation points, etc), but the key point is to persuade the locals that they are all the wardens/people working to preserve the area. The ultimate would be to have your own record centre, something like this, to go with the lodge/reserve centre where everyone shares what they've seen. The nature conservation conditions don't just have to apply to woodland, it can also be used to cover the farmlands - provided you can find a good source of advice for the community.
    2. Encouraging traditional crafts and activities. The key to this bit is to remember that not all traditional events are what you'd expect (forex, Uppies and Downies is pretty much a five hour long scrum for three matches in a row over Easter), it doesn't have to be in the exact original form, and it can be used to encourage a community identity. If you also go with the lodge idea, then forest (slowly lapsing British definition) crafts - not necessarily just woodland! - might be a good selling point to the locals.
    3. Fairs can take a while to get going but can bring in interest for particular products (other fruits fo your hunting/nature reserve?). Tie the traditional local traditions and crafts into the event to give the locals even more buy-in. Maybe insist that stall holders or interests from outside the community match up with the theme. If you can keep it going for a decade, expect it to run and run - barring major mishaps - because you've got your fan base sorted. It doesn't just have to be an annual event, either, it could be biannual, quarterly or even monthly if finance and fan base allow. Always ask your visitors how often they think it should run. If they have an interest, it's viable!
    Of course, some things are more necessary than others. If the community doesn't have provision of basic needs such as groceries, then the grocery store is a good idea. But you need to make sure that you can compete with the nearest outlets and keep it going - make sure it's supplying exactly what the locals want! This is one of the reasons that rural Post Offices are closing in the UK. They are set up to make a fair amount of profit (as you'd expect) on top of the cost price, but as they can't buy in the quantities that large stores can, they charge a lot more than the nearest supermarket. This is made worse by their insistance that they have to have a similarly wide range as a supermarket. Most locals then ignore the shop side of the Post Office in favour of cheaper supplies, so the whole thing becomes a concern that cannot support itself. If you decide to go with the basics - say milk, eggs, bread, local (seasonal) food produce, small supply of toiletries, etc, with more exotic being ordered in as requested - things might be easier.

    Late addition:
    How about something like this? Thinking more viewing point than full-scale observatory, unless you know a university that's looking for a site.
    Last edited by Journeymouse; 25 Apr 2008 at 5:50 AM.
    Glorious Technicolor, Breath-Taking CinemaScope and Stereophonic Sound!

  14. #14
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Hide some geocaches in some of the more interesting parts of the community. It will being folks in just to find them and is cheap. Another plus is if you set them up correctly you can log just who is your market audience.

    www.geocaching.org
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  15. #15
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    [QUOTE= But you need to make sure that you can compete with the nearest outlets and keep it going - make sure it's supplying exactly what the locals want! [/QUOTE]


    That's a good point. When the grocery coop in my community first opened it provided an outlet for the sale of local produce and also carried organic foods. The local produce disappeared and the price of the organic food options (or anything for that matter) was too high. The next community over had an conventional grocery store with far lower prices and cheap organic food. Then the other way down the road (albeit a 25 minute drive), the first super wal-mart in the county opened. It was curtains for the local coop after that. The only way that I could see this coop surviving is if they were able to provide exactly what the community wanted and they served some kind of niche. Unfortunately the store did not provide what I wanted and was basically loaded with beer and chips and rather conventional foods laced with red dye no. 3. If I wanted that I could have just gone to the local BP c-store. In a previous post I joked about grilling wild game as a niche, it needs to be considered. I have no doubt that if the local coop in my community retooled itself to find a niche that not only worked for the community but also attracted visitors, it would have worked.

    As a side note, the grocery store in my community was usually staffed by sullen teenagers. Down the road in the next community there is a general store/ice cream shop with an outside sitting area and weekly farmers market in a grassy area (note: the niche here), that does quite well. The clerk always asks, "How ya doing Honey!". I mean really-- where would you do to get a bite to eat. A place with sullen teenagers or a place where they call you Honey.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    community-owned store

    During my cross-country trip last Summer, I met with some folks in Ely, Nevada (population about 5,000) who helped develop a community-owned general merchandise store. It used to be a J.C. Penney's. For a bit more detail, take a look at my post, Coming Together. Coming Back. They emulated what had been done in a Wyoming town.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Phillipsburg, Montana, is held out as an example of a small community with a thriving downtown. If you google it you should be able to locate a few stories that tell its history of rejuvination.
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  18. #18
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    More Research

    It's a good idea to find something that the community is already interrested in; this way you are not trying something totally different than what they are used to. But i think you should do more research about the community and find more assets. I am sure there is something besides hunting, since it's a seasonal thing...
    but it's already drawing people in and if you create more incentives and marketing ideas and some complimentary activities, you can boost their enthousiasm.

    I think you are on the right track, although you can look around for different ideas that worked somewhere else but it is also very beneficial and less costly to find something from within the community that you can build your project upon.

    Good Luck!!!

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by centralpark View post
    We are tasked with working in a rural community that has few assets
    Interesting contributions above. Since I read the first post I was curious about your project setup, why this was being done. Who is paying for this and who really needs to be satisfied at the end?

  20. #20
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    Potential Tool

    Dear Dan:

    The organization I work for, the Sierra Business Council, has published a toolkit for sustainable rural economic development, called Investing for Prosperity. It is about three years old now but still quit relevant. It is available on the publications link at www.sbcouncil.org

    The toolkit was designed specifically for a region of small communities, most of the more than 150 communities in the Sierra are small, between 300-3000 people, with only a few towns larger than that.

    The key strategies are 1) capitalize on existing assets 2) cultivate innovation and economic diversity 3) create long term social capital and 4) catalyze community partnerships. Each strategy identifies 3-4 tactics to achieve the objectives and provides case studies of communities implementing the solutions.

    Steve Frisch
    Sierra Business Council

  21. #21
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    none

    In the off season the lodge could serve the "discreet lovers" if you provide amenities such as hot tubs and privacy....discrete affairs know no season.

  22. #22

    Discover existing assets

    Interesting challenge - I work for an organization that does a lot with rural communities, but we focus on helping communities to discover and protect the assets they already have. While it may seem like the community doesn't have much going for it, there may be more than you think. A good first step is to try to discover what people love about the place. There are tons of inexpensive and simple ways to do that...Set up a photo contest. Put a giant map in the center of town and ask people to draw on their favorite places, or places where they have great memories. Do a survey. Create a town newsletter that lets people share stories. Have students collect stories from other people in town and hold a community celebration to share them. Once you discover the assets that are already there, you'll have an easier time figuring out what already works and where the gaps are. Good luck!

  23. #23
    Cyburbian joshking2's avatar
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    Hunting Lodge idea

    A hunting lodge is a great idea. My boss and his buddies pay a substanial amount of money to go hunting every year. And not grizzly bear or Caribou hunting but Pheasant hunting in Kansas. Why anyone would pay money and drive halfway across the country to shoot small birds is beyond me.
    Another idea that has worked much better than anyone expected is a community wine/piano bar in small remote town. The community formed an LLC and sold off shares for cash or supplies (couch, tables, paintings, etc.) to the residents. The entertainment and wait staff works for tips, and the food is catered in. The place has been open for almost a year and is packed 6 days a week from the moment it opened. The wine bar broke even this month and will turn a profit in the next two months.

  24. #24
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    This might be semi controversial depending on where you are... but bikers were a big source of revenue for a rural community where I once worked. And then once they started coming more frequently, landowners started turning their fields into race courses for events after harvest. What's more is that everyone (except the farmer's neighbors) loved it!

    Ooh, and because the area wasn't sufficiently equipped with enough hotel rooms, other landowners opened up their grounds for camping. Everything was done with temporary permits.

  25. #25
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    Activities

    The main idea that comes to my mind is developing a trail system that could be used by different types of users during different seasons, such as hunting 4 wheel driving, biking, hiking, snowmobiling or skiing if you get enough snow and then preserve natural amenities along the way and develop man made amenities as well.

    Examples would be like in ireland where you can road bike from castle to castle maybe in your case it would be a farm stay to farm stay, or bed and breakfast.

    You could develop a trail system such as in the west but on a smaller scale, like the Continental divide trail in wyoming where you can snowmobile on groomed trails and stay at lodges along the way http://www.sledwyoming.com/

    You could also develop a yurt system like in colorado (san juan yurts
    where there is a series of yurts along the trail system that people can hike between, bike, ride horses, and ski. http://sanjuanhuts.com/
    In many of these systems people can stay at one hut/lodge or move between different huts. Also might work well along rivers that could be floated for fishing, or other asset you might have.

    With these examples rather than being on forest service land, you would be on private land, maybe you use the existing road system, maybe you get easements through the property.

    I like the idea of producing specialty food items for the local sources, and then selling them in a coop or to outside users.
    Maybe consider doing farm internships you could partner with a regional college, there seems to be interest in people doing farm work, particularity people that want to get their own small farm (mother earth news), they could provide their labor for room and board for specified time.

    Depending on how much money is available for your projects, organizing events to bring people in maybe cheaper than building facilities.
    I don't know what kind of wildlife/birds you have but wildlife safaris, bird watching.
    There's an event in Lander, WY called the one shot antelope hunt, where tons of people come and you get one shot it builds relationships, brings in tourists, and funds wildlife management http://www.oneshotpastshooters.com/

    You also might consider a "hunting camp" in the sense of hunter and shooting education. People would pay to stay at the farm and learn skills over the course of a day or more. A lot of states game & fish departments or division of wildlife partner with ranch/farm type places to offer opportunities to young people and women interested in getting into the sport, but need education on firearm safety (hunter safety), field dressing game, tracking and locating animals, if it's birds dog training and opportunities to get dogs on birds and getting people into the field. http://gf.state.wy.us/services/news/...2/090202_2.asp

    There is also money in guiding hunters.

    Good Luck!

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