SALEM, Ohio – Noble County residents are getting the chance to direct their communities into the future.
The goals of the Sustainable Communities Program, a pilot project by the Ohio State University Extension, are to create a shared vision of Noble County’s long-term future, find ways to measure success and to implement projects which move the county in the direction citizens have chosen.
“We want Noble County residents to take a look at where they want their county to be in 50 years,” said Bill Grunkemeyer, program leader for community development and community economic development for OSU Extension. “We are asking them what they want for their grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.”
Noble County was chosen because of its small size and the willingness of the leadership to work with Extension, said Grunkemeyer.
The process of building a sustainable community was broken into five steps. The first step is to build a governance body called the Futures Council. Organizations in the county were asked to support this program and to send representatives to act on the council. Twenty-seven organizations in the county joined the effort including the chamber of commerce, Noble County Farm Bureau, township councils, OSU Extension and others.
“We realized with the joining of all these organizations that we had real support in Noble County. Community leaders want to ensure Noble County’s future,” said Grunkemeyer.
The second step in the process is to build a community vision. Visioning sessions were held in public places such as churches, schools, townships and other places people feel comfortable gathering.
During these sessions, citizens were asked what they valued most about their community and what they hope their community will become. These were listed as treasures and rainbows. About 700 Noble County citizens were reached during these sessions, according to Mike Lloyd, Noble County Extension agent.
“Many agreed that recreational activities and job opportunities were two of the most important ‘rainbows’ for the county,” said Myra Moss, district specialist, Extension community economic development. “Treasures were keeping the rural nature of the county and the strong religious background. Noble County was also recognized as a safe place to raise children and for its good education system.”
Step three will consist of resident volunteers working with identified public and private organizations to develop indicators of success.
“As issues arise in the communities, these indicators will give leaders clear guidelines as to what the community wants,” said Grunkemeyer.
Projects selected through the visioning process will be implemented based on the priorities set by the community in step four of the process.
“Task forces will be set up, pairing interested volunteers with public and county employees to see that the rainbows are reached,” said Grunkemeyer.
Step five will be to revisit the action plan in two years and evaluate the progress and revise and update activities as needed.
Moss and Lloyd see no major roadblocks to reaching the goals set by the program. Moss attributed this belief to the collective enthusiasm she has met from all age groups and sectors of the different communities.
“It is so interesting to see how excited the high school seniors are about being involved in this community. We want them to come back to their communities after college and, with their input, we can make that possible,” said Moss.
“Although everyone has individual concerns that may not be met through this program, many, from high school seniors to senior citizens have similar visions for the future of Noble County.”
Grunkemeyer says he believes that biggest obstacle to the program’s success is communicating the ideas to the communities.
“It’s hard to know what medium to use when trying to reach the people of Noble County. We don’t want to leave anyone out in the cold,” said Grunkemeyer.
Not everyone is convinced the program will benefit them. Jason Feldner, treasurer of the Noble County Farm Bureau and high school teacher, worries the visioning sessions allowed special interest groups to be heard over other voices in the community.
“There is a group of people that tried to have members at every visioning session. These people say they are against factory farming, but if you read their literature, they’re against farming all together,” said Feldner.
“There are already too many regulations and neighbor controls for farmers to contend with. We don’t need this to be an opportunity for more to be created.”
Moss says officials are aware of the situation and it has been taken into consideration. She says farmers shouldn’t be concerned because the rural-based life of the county is important to most residents.
“Overall it sounds like a good program, but I’m not convinced anything will ever come of it,” said Feldner. “A member of our (farm bureau) board says OSU tried something like this in the ’70s and it is still sitting in a drawer somewhere. I guess you could call me a skeptic.”
However, OSU officials are hopeful and have already started another program in Pickaway County.
For more information on the program, call the Noble County Extension office at 740-732-2381.