The Tiki Torch Zumbathon, an event that raised money to build a handicap-accessible treehouse along the Saranac River Trail, drew more than 100 people to the City Beach June 29.
PLATTSBURGH — Once upon a time, there was a sleepy mountain town in Colorado called Boulder.
One day, the townspeople decided it was time to put their community on the map.
So they took action, redefined Boulder as a magnet for culture, arts and recreation, and stoked their city’s economic engine.
“Plattsburgh is no Boulder, Colorado, but Boulder wasn’t always like that, either,” said Colin Read, an economist and interim chair of the economics and finance faculty at Plattsburgh State.
Read included Boulder in a list of cities throughout the country that have made major changes, changes that have nurtured economic growth. Among them were Austin, Texas; Eugene, Oregon and Burlington, Vermont.
“Each of those communities has created an identity for themselves, and we should look to them for inspiration,” Read said.
Change usually requires a catalyst, and for Read it was an economic study he conducted in 2008 on the future of Plattsburgh.
The results showed that young and middle-aged people are leaving the area at a steady rate.
By 2030 there will be a shortage of almost 4,000 employees and 10,000 residents in the county, adding to the loss of 5,000 residents in the past 20 years, the study showed.
But there is a solution — staunch the flow of departure by keeping or attracting at least 3,000 families to the area by 2040.
“I’m an economist, so I worry about this sort of thing,” Read said. “If we know this, we can’t afford not to act on it.”
And that’s exactly what Read did, but he wasn’t alone.
When Read began holding meetings under the moniker Vision 2040 to discuss options for revitalizing the community, he was unaware that others were also meeting informally for the same purpose.
In 2009, the two groups began collaborating under one banner—Vision 2 Action.
“The effort is to show there is vision and conversion to action,” said Bob Smith, chairman of Vision 2 Action. “We want to make this a vibrant community and show people that they can be a part of this greater force to make change.”
Smith has been involved from day one and said that V2A, with the help of the Clinton County Development Corporation, was set up to facilitate conversations between individuals and grassroots organizations on how to bring people to Plattsburgh, and keep them there.
Evaluating projects that were close to completion was the first step.
“Sometimes when you take on a new project, it can seem overwhelming,” Smith said. “What we’ve done is identify specific things that are close to a positive tipping point so we can help finish them and build momentum.”
Two years ago, the Saranac River Trail could only be seen as a blue print, carefully drawn from the minds of those who had envisioned it.
Through volunteerism, fund raising and community involvement, V2A has helped the first phase of the much-used river trail become a reality, and has also raised money for ongoing repairs to the Strand Theatre.
More recently, on June 29, the inaugural “Take Pride in Plattsburgh Tiki Torch Zumbathon Fundraiser” at the City Beach attracted more than 100 participants to raise money to build a handicap-accessible treehouse along the river trail.
Local zumba instructor and V2A member Ashley Cousens helped lead the movements of the participating zumba-holics, who were accompanied by thumping music, flickering tiki torches and a bonfire for making
Cousens was wearing her workout attire and standing barefoot in the sand when she made a sweeping motion toward Lake Champlain with her arm.
“Just look at this beach, it’s beautiful,” she said. “What other area has this? We need to invest in our community and attract people to the area.”
To that end, V2A has identified four things they believe are important to the community, and to drawing young families to the region: arts, recreation, transportation and education.
This year, V2A has held two well-attended community discussions to bring people together to explore options to make Plattsburgh a destination for arts and recreation.
Each event was followed up at a later date by a discussion session on Mountain Lake PBS.
On July 24, the third event, a community discussion on transportation, will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum in Plattsburgh. It will be hosted by Bruce Carlin, chair of V2A’s transportation task force, and is open to the public.
The meeting will be conducted in a round-robin format, consisting of five, 15-minute presentations, with a question and comment session following each.
“The idea is to come up with no- to low-cost projects that will promote bicycling and walking in the area,” Carlin said. “Those two things are great for you, the environment and tourism.”
To promote bicycling, V2A has launched a website, nybikerack.com, that has a bike rack locator map to make it easy to find bike racks throughout Plattsburgh.
The site also has information on a bike rack design contest. Entrants in three age groups can send in designs for North Country-themed ornamental decorations, which will adorn the tops of bike racks in the region.
Contest winners will be announced at the meeting.
The racks will be built by Jeffords Steel, and businesses sponsoring a rack will have its location appear on the website’s map.
“We don’t want to dig up roads to make room for bikes, we just want biking to be considered when new projects happen,” Carlin said. “By enhancing these things in our community, we can recruit new people to our area.”
For more information, visit ncvision2action.org.