Crook County is actually a progressive community
During the 30 years that I have lived in Prineville / Crook County, I have often heard it referred to as a "conservative" place. Yet, all around us I see evidence of not only a progressive history, but a progressive present.
I don't mean to use the words "progressive" and "conservative" in a political context, but rather a more practical understanding of these words. By "conservative," I mean that tendency to hold onto things as they have been with a preference for not changing or in fact going back to the old ways of doing things. By "progressive," I mean that tendency to look forward and change the present in anticipation of the future.
The history of Prineville and Crook County are anything but conservative. The creation of the County by separating from Wasco County in 1882 was a forward-looking action to create more self-governance so that we could create our own future ?— the very definition of a progressive act. The establishment of Prineville as a city in 1880, making it the first city in a huge area of not only Central Oregon, but much of the eastern side of the state, was a forward-looking act that allowed us to mutually create things like a police force, jail, courts, fire department, and city planning. We see that vision literally in concrete today as our downtown streets are extra wide (to allow wagons to easily turn), and as we have a well-planned town. From this beginning, we have a host of progressive acts that followed.
By 1918, Prineville and Crook County faced a crisis. We could go on as we were as a side show to the development of Central Oregon, or we could work together to set our own course and provide for future generations. We came together to build the railroad out to O'Neil Junction to keep the timber jobs here and to expand them, and we built the Ochoco Irrigation System, including the Ochoco Reservoir, to enhance farming and create generations of jobs.
While these were, at their core, pragmatic acts, they were clearly progressive acts. The conservative decision would have been to stick to our traditional way of life and not waste our time, money, and energy on dams and tracks. In Oregon's history, we see many towns that took the conservative position when faced with these problems, places like Gunter, Valsetz, and Kinzua — which no longer exist.
Over the years, a host of further progressive decisions has been made. We have more space in our parks (per person) than nearly every town in the US. While our current swimming pool leaks, its very existence speaks to a desire to make our community better. Rather than just have a fairgrounds like every other county, we added the Crooked River Roundup and the annual horse races, which brought in money to maintain the facilities. We have promoted the diversification of our business community, and welcomed new businesses. The huge Les Schwab infrastructure in our community, along with the more recent Facebook and Apple facilities, have brought millions of dollars to our small community — because we looked forward and set aside land and brought in water, sewer, and electrical power in advance of these projects. A truly conservative community would have done none of this, but a community acting together did all of this.
During the years I have lived here, we continue on a progressive path. The very fact of my living in Prineville / Crook County started with the creation of Rimrock Trails, where I had the honor of being the first employee. While most conservative communities would reject a residential treatment facility for teenagers with problems, this community embraced our youth and created by its efforts a facility that not only served our youth, but those from a 10-county area. In the 30 years that Rimrock Trails has been in Prineville, it has brought millions of dollars to the community through staff salary and local purchases.
But aside from my personal story, I have observed a continued progressive focus. When our school buildings needed expansion and upkeep, this community passed a bond to build a new high school and remodel all the other buildings at a time when the entire state was limiting funding for education. Our long-term transportation plans dating from the 1950s came into focus with the building out of Ninth Street and its new bridge over Ochoco Creek to reach the Madras Highway. Since the flood in the late 1990s, we have now rebuilt every bridge over the Crooked River and Ochoco Creek. We passed a library measure to build one of the most impressive small-town libraries in the state, at a time when some Oregon counties were shutting down all library services. We built a golf course as a creative way to deal with treated sewage water and earn revenue to offset sewage treatment costs. We took that lesson a step further and built a marshland out of our sewage treatment ponds off of the O'Neil Highway and made it into a park, saving millions of dollars for generations to come. We've even put solar power on the roofs of government buildings. The city has purchased part of Barnes Butte for current and future recreational uses. Every single act I note is forward looking with a long-term benefit to the community.
So, you see my problem ... Nearly everyone here says that this community is conservative, but I see no evidence of this in what we actually do. All you have to do is look around rural Oregon and you will see what being a "conservative" place really means — sad small towns where all the youth move away. While I don't like the traffic, clearly our community isn't a dying backwater. And I have more than just a feeling that we'll do something about that traffic.
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