Main Street USA is not what it once was, at least not here in the North Country, where empty store fronts are not uncommon, and neither are weather-pocked roads and sidewalks. Some of our towns and villages are faring better than others, but the worst of the bunch seem forlorn and resigned to a steady decline.
In life there are always choices. We could sit idle and watch gravity steal the siding from our downtown buildings and winter claim another small business. We could shake our collective fist at the government and demand action in the form of fewer taxes, more growth and a brilliant, fool-proof solution to our economic quagmire.
Whether we fight the grave injustices that surround us from the comfort of our sagging couches or from the steps of city hall, we’re still here, and we still need help.
Or do we?
There might be a better way, one that could provide a guiding light for us, our neighbors and future generations everywhere.
Two local groups, Vision 2 Action and Revitalize Keeseville, have already begun the discussion, and they need all the support they can get.
Earlier this year, V2A embarked on its mission of providing a common ground for various grassroots organizations to come together and discuss ways to bring people to Plattsburgh and keep them there. The plan was to begin by tackling projects close to completion and then move on to other low- to no-cost projects. Raising money to renovate the Strand Theatre, opening the Saranac River Trail and initiating a bike rack program are some of the group’s accomplishments.
To make things happen, V2A has held four meetings which have covered ideas to improve recreation, transportation, art and education in the area. The education discussion began with a round-table talk on Mountain Lake PBS on Oct. 11 and was followed by a community forum on Oct. 18. On Oct. 25, at 8 p.m., the public is encouraged to participate in a special live call-in edition of Mountain Lake Journal on Mountain Lake PBS. The discussion will focus on how education is a vital factor in strengthening our economy and sustaining a quality of life in our community.
Just south of Plattsburgh, Revitalize Keeseville is celebrating its one-year mark this month and according to Steven Engelhart, the group’s unofficial leader, the biggest thing they’ve accomplished is “a positive change in attitude” in Keeseville, and that’s huge. But the group has seen more tangible results, too. As a result of the meetings, the village now has a weekly farmers’ market in the summer, the downtown is undergoing major renovations, in part by property owners who attend Revitalize meetings, and the civic center is on the cusp of making a comeback. Keeseville’s Mayor Dale Holderman also attends the meetings and is in full support of the grassroots group, whose momentum has only gained since the first meeting.
It is certainly a new path to embark upon, one where communities become actively engaged in their own growth, where people turn off their televisions and begin discussing, and solving, issues that are sitting right on their doorsteps. It takes courage, co-operation and inspiration to enact change, and that change never comes without risks. But it is a greater risk to remain stagnant and wait for our elected officials to change things for us.
Maybe if we stop expecting help, and start helping ourselves, we can begin to see real progress in our communities. Just imagine a North Country filled with thriving towns and villages that represent the people who live in them, not the politicians who represent them. The good news is, it isn’t just a pipe dream—it is happening here, it is happening now, and, most importantly, it is actually working.
To become involved with V2A, visit ncvision2action.org.
The next Revitalize Keeseville meeting will be held at the Grange Hall on Main Street in Keeseville on Oct. 24 at 5 p.m.
For more information, call Steven Engelhart at 834-9328.
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