Notes from Colleen’s Desk: Expanding our Horizons and Thinking Big

I am just back from my planned road trip to Eastern Oregon. It was six nights of nearly blissful camping with Rosie, if not for the raccoon that pillaged my campsite and hauled off her entire bag of dog treats, pesky mosquitoes, and one very early morning episode with the mole under my tent that had her dancing a jig. But gratefully, no snakes!

Of the nearly 1100 miles of road traveled, nearly 200 of those were on dusty gravel roads in pursuit of geological high desert wonders like sunstones in Plush, verdant mountain gorges at 8,500 feet in the Steens, and the not so easy to find Crack in the Ground (pictured) near Christmas Valley. While there may be layers of dust in the car for some time to come, I feel like the wide-open spaces, mountain top experiences and about 50 miles overall of solitary walks, cleared my head and gave way to bigger thinking.  The outdoors has that effect on me.

Howard Delano was a big thinker. The name may not be familiar to you, but he was largely responsible for securing funding to create a 50-mile National Byway through the Steens Mountains back in the 1950’s, now referred to as the loop road. Delano, a native Oregonian, spent 26 years with the Bureau of Land Management. He clearly saw a majestic asset in his own back yard and had a vision to not only protect the 500,000 acres of range land but preserve it to inspire locals and visitors from all over the world to expand their horizons and thinking.

Turns out that Southern Oregon has a few big thinkers, too, in tucked away places.

Leaders and citizens in the smallest of our region’s jurisdictions, Butte Falls, with just 435 citizens are expanding their horizons and working on a Community Forest Plan to purchase 430 acres surrounding their town. Their primary goals are forest sustainability, economic vitality, recreational diversity and more.

Mayor Linda Spencer (pictured) has been leading this visionary effort with forest chats over the last several months and I have been pleased to participate along with many other remarkable partners. This month we traveled up to Fredinburg Butte, a former fire lookout, to imagine what a mountain bike trail system might look like, and how this growing sport could lead to the attraction of visitors to the community and much needed economic vitality.

We’ve also met to talk about hiking trail networks, a community park at the falls, forest sustainability and fire resilience, and historical markers to commemorate the former mill site and railroad. The community is forging ahead, seemingly against some big odds – as they still need to raise sufficient funds to purchase the property. But they aren’t derailed by the obstacles, they are thinking big, bent on reviving and growing a former company town. Read more about their vision here – Butte Falls Community Forest Project – Oregon Solutions (orsolutions.org)

Over twenty years ago I had no idea what economic development was, yet I had somehow landed smack in the middle of some big thinkers, that were imagining a growing, thriving Southern Oregon.

I was on assignment then as an intern with Avista Utilities and I will never forget the experience nor the mentorship of my manager at the time.  She handed me a book one day about a seemingly obscure person named Jabez who lived in biblical times. He is mentioned in one verse, found in I Chronicles 4:10.  He prayed to God for expanded horizons, bigger thinking and opportunity to do good. And God granted Jabez his request.

This same prayer has been one of my own and as I meandered the high deserts and various mountain ranges last week, I was reminded of how that prayer has played itself out in my career thus far with SOREDI and my life overall. I have been truly blessed to serve Southern Oregon and work alongside incredible coworkers, board members and partners.

I am looking forward to sharing highlights of SOREDI’s work over the last year with many of you next week June 30 at our annual dinner at the Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. There is still room to register here – 2021 Annual Meeting – SOREDI

Despite the trials and tribulations of the past 18 months, this agency is still seeking to assist every jurisdiction in expanding its horizons and doing good, in alignment with our One Rogue Valley Strategy. There is great opportunity just around the corner and every day is a fresh start to pursue your big idea.

I hope you will continue to think big, engage in your own community, and surely visit the community next door. And, I am looking forward to sharing more stories of some big local thinking with you in the coming weeks.

Here’s to expanded horizons!

Colleen Padilla Executive Director

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