This letter first appeared in the Waitsburg Times on May 5, 2021. By Terry Lawhead

To the editor,

There are sudden dramatic changes and there are slowly moving changes. Both affect the overall temperament of the citizens of a community. The first challenge brought about by change is to come together and talk with each other. It is never simple but always important.

Residents of the towns of Malden and Pine City, located in northern Whitman County, experienced a sudden devastating change last August when a wind-driven fire burned their homes to the ground. The event, and its consequences, are literally unimaginable to those of us far removed but remarkable healing resilience and progress is being made daily.

Residents of Dayton and Waitsburg are witnessing the steady but slower-moving kinds of changes in the proposed Touchet Valley Trail that would produce a new fun and safe way for us, and visitors to our region, to move between our towns. Our changes, and the different potential outcomes, are affected by a dynamic mix of both local and national trends. This mix, with inevitable friction but thankfully absent of the tragic drama of the fire, has produced important opportunities for decisions and action.

Malden-Pine City elected officials and residents, most of whom had to relocate to nearby towns because literally nothing was left, are deeply engaged with numerous partners in long-term recovery efforts exploring innovative strategies to finance and rebuild public infrastructure, buildings, and private homes. The list of choices is as long as the challenges and include new technologies in septic systems, renewable energy, architectural design, and construction materials. The urgent priority is to get people back into housing before winter comes. There is a lot to be done and everybody is working at it. Sudden changes, and the trauma associated with them, are demanding. Local leadership is smart, effective, and downright heroic.

The Touchet Valley Trail has different pressures operating at a different pace but also with some commonalities. Local, regional, and national work-family trends have been affected by the pandemic, and will continue to be so, and many people are re-examining their circumstances realizing working from home is a real option now. What is being called the Zoom Boom has allowed urban and suburban professionals to consider choosing to find a new home in smaller towns and raising families in appealing ways they never thought possible. Such folks would bring a new diversity of occupations and a growth in unique social and recreational activities.

Hard-working people in Malden-Pine City and Dayton-Waitsburg aren’t wanting uncontrollable rapid growth and national data trackers following investments and movements of people aren’t expecting it. Cities and suburbia will still be with us. But data is revealing huge expenditures in home building, recreational equipment, digital technologies enabling more home-based jobs and upgrading fiber optics and unprecedented wireless communication to make those jobs competitive. Small town life, with appropriate enhanced amenities, are appealing to many.

Devasting changes are unwelcome. Steady thoughtful consideration, when possible, wins the day. Communities that invest in themselves, either due to sudden changes or in response to the impact of new trends that make people reconsider their feelings about how and where they want to live, can create an agreed upon future benefitting all. Let’s keep talking and exploring the quickly moving options we have before us.

Terry Lawhead

Waitsburg, Wash.