Letter from the Editor

Monday, February 7, 2005

Awaysis: Choose your mountain wisely

Katherine Bates had always wanted to climb herself a mountain. She could have waited for the urge to safely pass by, or chosen an easy, safe, do-able little hill. Most people would.

Undoubtedly, plenty of people told Katherine that she couldn't do it, shouldn't do; that it was taking too big a chance, and that it wasn't even very smart to try it.

But Katherine wanted to climb a mountain big enough to make a difference, and so started climbing. More on that later.

It strikes me that Awaysis may be Storm Lake's mountain. It's a big climb for a community of our size, but then again, you could say we're halfway there already. There will be those who would like to let the opportunity safely pass us by, or to choose a smaller peak.

The bond issue vote on Tuesday will tell us whether we have the nerve to proceed, or whether we will just let the urge pass.

Perhaps it's not the mountain as much as the spirit to climb that is important. In community terms these days, you are either moving forward, or you're falling behind. The few communities that are taking action to improve quality of life, economics and vitality will have an opportunity to thrive. The rest will slowly keep on aging, shrinking, and perhaps, slowly dying.

There was a time when local leaders thought chasing smokestacks was the way to climb the mountain of development, overlooking the fact that we had the ultimate tool for cleaner, friendlier, family-based progress blessed upon us all the while - the wonderful glacial lake and its emerald lakefront. Utilized and preserved wisely, it will attract and delight families from all over, encouraging new business and new residents. Awaysis seeks to leverage our natural resource gifts into growth without harming them - and that is a promise we must hold it to.

I'm not about to tell you that Project Awaysis is a perfect plan. I can tell you that if we decide to sit around and wait for "perfect," they'll be chiseling "Still Waiting" on our headstones, and another generation of young families will be lost. There is no "perfect," yet the opportunity we have is the greatest that this community's people have seen in many years - and apparently the best Vision Iowa has seen this state produce.

We have heard from some who are afraid of Awaysis, or choose to pick out one element or another from a vast plan to oppose, and it makes sense to hear all sides. Skepticism is a valuable art. Without it, we wouldn't hear that wise and inescapable all-blanketing warning, "When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is..."

Sometimes true, but on the other hand, no mountain would ever get climbed if we never imagined, never thought big.

Awaysis is not just about dollars, it is a major change in direction and philosophy for Storm Lake. It can't be taken lightly, and all who are eligible to vote should be encouraged to do so, no matter how they intend to cast that ballot. If a community issue of this mountainous status can't move voters to the polls, I can't imagine what ever would.

And when voters get there, they should keep in mind that $3.5 million - not an expensive project or a heavy debt as bond issues go - brings $8 million from the state, as well as likely money from other outside and private sources. We stand to be spending a little in property taxes to gain a lot - a lot that can improve tourism and quality of life for the community.

And guess what? If voters don't favor Awaysis, they are still going to need to replace a badly outdated pool - perhaps at more cost than their $3.5 million share of the entire destination park.

Would we really, to save under $60 a year for the average homeowner, risk turning away an $8 million gift? I can't imagine so. Especially when such development gives us the opportunity to increase our own property values and better our tax base as visitors kick into the local pot.

This bond issue is not a negative deal. Storm Lakers can and should be expected to pay a small portion of the costs of their own improvements. If it were total handout, the community would not feel the necessary engagement and investment in it.

Also, our responsibilities do not end with the bond issue vote, or even with completion of the Awaysis projects. If approved, it will be up to the community to properly market itself and its new attractions into further growth and opportunity. And the best source of marketing ever is people loving and talking up their own community. Storm Lake's image to the outside world is already vastly improved over just a couple of years ago, and we have the opportunity to build on that to become Iowa's gem.

This is just a beginning of this promising mountain.

Oh, and by the way, our friend Katherine Bates made the arduous climb up her chosen challenge, Pikes Peak, in 1893, when it was a wild and unconquered place that the skeptics said the woman couldn't and shouldn't go.

When she got to the very top - and she didn't quit until she did get there - she was so inspired that she sat down and wrote a little something to celebrate all that was spread out before her, because sometimes you only really get the good view from the top of your rock, whatever it may be.

Katherine's "America the Beautiful" written that day continues to motivate us down here in the flatlands 112 years later.

If she had waited for the urge to pass, or been satisfied with an easier hill, we might have gotten "America the Okay."

Cast your vote Tuesday. Go climb your mountain, if you have the nerve.