Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Kate Radford
Contributing Writer 

Lincoln featured in report on projects in four states connecting conservation, outdoor rec. with rural economic well-being


A recent white paper published by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Heart of the Rockies Initiative features Lincoln as a case study for ways rural communities and conservation organizations can work together to accomplish shared goals.

Published in May, "How Conservation and Recreation Groups Can Support Rural Communities" showcases four different rural western communities, including Aberdeen, S.D,.Montrose, Colo. and southeast Alaska.

Erin Farris-Olsen, the Rural Development Director for HOTR, said that she was originally approached by TRCP to discuss Lincoln as a case study for the white paper.

"We were just excited to be invited to contribute to it," said Farris-Olsen, adding, "We were specifically reached out to because they thought Lincoln would be a good case study." Ferris-Olsen acknowledged growing recognition among outside groups of how Lincoln has capitalized on local energy to accomplish projects, and they hope to be able to build that same energy in other communities.

As the project progressed, HOTR was invited to coauthor the document due to how well their work aligned with the premise of the paper.

"I think it's good to recognize that communities like Lincoln have a unique story that I think people are starting to understand better and (they) are looking to support communities like Lincoln. This paper is an example of how conservation partners are probably more eager than ever to see how they can support communities like Lincoln," said Farris-Olsen.

"The goal of HOTR's rural development program is to work with communities to better understand their needs, including how those needs align with conservation-and to connect those communities with relevant USDA Rural Development programs, state programs, and other sources of funding and support," the white paper explains.

"It was kind of a pilot program. We started out helping three communities: Lincoln, Choteau, and Troy," said Farris-Olsen.

The report documents how, over the course of a year, HOTR, local partners and Lincoln community leaders worked together to secure several grants, host community meetings to gather feedback about in-town trails and main street revitalization projects, launch an interactive trails map and earn access to additional funding opportunities through designation as the first unincorporated Montana Main Street Affiliate Community.

"After losing our primary industries--logging and mining--we had to reinvent ourselves. Outdoor recreation offers the opportunity for our businesses to keep their doors open and thrive in an ever-changing economy," said Laurie Richards, former President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Wheel Inn restaurant, said in a press release issued when the paper was published.

"These investments will have a direct economic impact: local businesses supporting the work have estimated that fostering more recreation tourism will sustain 42 jobs and create 20 new jobs, helping to advance Lincoln's vision of economic growth tied to their proximity to outstanding outdoor recreation," the report notes.

"There are resources available, state and federal partners that are eager to serve rural communities. Our vision is to scale that up by partnering with our local land trusts, looking at how land trusts can do more in other communities," said Farris-Olsen, noting that she's already had other communities request assistance. The program this year will include Manhattan, Salmon-Challis, Bitterroot and Thompson Falls, among others.

Farris-Olsen said these processes can feel slow and process fatigue can set in, but that this report demonstrates the recognition Lincoln receives externally, adding that Sculpture in the Wild was "a huge catalyzing entity for the community."

"[Lincoln] is a place with passionate and dedicated people. An underlying factor that needs to be there for success is community leadership, and I hope the Lincoln community takes a lot of pride being elevated as an example. A lot of folks see a lot of value in the work that's been done. I hope it encourages [the community] to keep going. Results are on the horizon," said Farris-Olsen.


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