What Happens Next? Reflections from Program Director Julie Tate-Libby

Time flies! It’s hard to imagine that three years have passed since I started at TwispWorks. During this time, we’ve seen unprecedented change—a global pandemic, fire seasons that forced hundreds to evacuate, and more people moving to the Methow. Home prices are skyrocketing, the trails are crowded, and many people share the sense that things are changing forever.

I certainly did not anticipate these events when I started as Program Director, nor could I have imagined our community’s response and the outpouring of generosity that took place. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, TwispWorks facilitated the Small Business Emergency Grant, which, thanks to hundreds of generous donations from the community distributed over $138,000 to 77 businesses over the course of two years. We also participated in multiple advocacy projects including childcare, housing, and climate change initiatives, and we heard from over 1,000 residents who responded to the surveys we launched for A Comprehensive Economic Study of the Methow Valley I am proud to have been a part of these endeavors.

I also have mixed feelings about the future of the Methow. I moved here when I was 12 years old. We lived on a farm in Carlton, and I attended Liberty Bell High School. Back then, there was no Nordic ski program, and I had never heard of Methow Trails. Most people skied the fields or backwoods behind their houses in jeans. We couldn’t imagine paying for something so commonplace. The first fire season I remember was 1988, and after that, 1994. These were anomalies rather than the norm.

Over the years, I’ve left and returned many times. I’ve owned businesses and sold them, waited tables, cleaned houses, taught at our community college, and raised two daughters. My role at TwispWorks has been one of many hats in the Methow Valley, and my perspective is personal as well as professional. The landscape has changed since I was young. Most of my favorite places have burned. I don’t know that my daughters will be able to move back to the place they call home. We’re all aware of population growth, scarce water resources, climate instability, and the increasing divide between the haves and have-nots.

On the other hand, a tiny part of me is excited. Given the dialog and energy I’ve seen with affordable housing and the recent Rural Changes series that we are cohosting with the Methow Conservancy, I feel that anything is possible. With the community we have right now, we just might be able to enact the kind of change that could not only preserve the character of this place but could also serve as a model for other communities and other places.

If I could wave a magic wand and imagine anything for the Methow Valley, it would be this: Ten years from now, we would have a small but thriving economy based on locally sourced food and value-added products. Farms would become the prominent feature of the Valley floor. Tourists and residents alike would partake in farm tours and learn about food processing, canning, weeding, natural fertilizers, animal husbandry, and viticulture. A commuter trail for bikes and recreationalists would run from Carlton to Mazama. Local kids would hop on the trail to get to the next town. Volunteer groups and organizations would launch a full-scale rehabilitation plan to clean up the forests that have burned. Downed timber and invasive weeds would be cleared out and replaced t with native plants. Grocery stores would carry local meats, cheeses, and produce—affordable for any household. Electric charging stations would be the norm and not the anomaly, and people wouldn’t have to put 25,000 miles a year on their cars to commute to work. Tourists would visit, but not as many of them (there wouldn’t be 250 cars at Blue Lake trailhead). They’d learn about the place when they visited through volunteer days on the trail systems. All restaurants and cafes would adopt compostable utensils and paper products. Compost bins in town and along trails would be commonplace, along with recycling. We would have adequate elder housing with a strong workforce of young adults to care for them as they age in place, and a medical center for emergencies. We would have small, quality daycares in each town, and a population balanced in age and racial demographics.

There are many other details I could add to my wish list, and I’m sure I didn’t capture all of them. I bet you have a list of your own. If the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that change doesn’t have to be slow. If we could get most of the population to wear masks to help slow the spread Covid-19, we can certainly enact positive change to meet the needs of our time. Along with TwispWorks and other organizations, the Methow Valley is blessed with a unique combination of exceptionally talented people with the means and will to create a better future. I can’t wait to see what happens next.