Leavenworth battle demonstrates need for dialogue, community vision
There is a serious rift in Leavenworth over a proposal to develop a $6 million adventure park — a fight that is raising critical questions about the future of the Upper Valley.
The argument is so incendiary and tempers so hot that it would be helpful to, once the dust settles, have a deep, community-wide dialogue and develop a shared vision for the future that is broadly supported. No shared vision exists today because of a lack of meaningful dialogue.
I sat in on part of a meeting conducted by Hearing Examiner Andy Kottkamp this week regarding the Leavenworth Adventure Park proposal. As a person committed to strengthening community, what I heard was deeply concerning. Community members are feeling ignored as the city continues to push the pedal to the metal on tourism growth. Kottkamp will make a decision on the challenge to the project next week.
A host of community members spoke in opposition to the proposal for fear that the project will increase already difficult traffic issues, have negative environmental consequences, increase noise, make parking even more difficult than it is today and damage the community’s quality of life.
Proponents spoke about the value of the adventure park for growing tourism and suggested that it should be allowed under the law. The Bavarian theme is Leavenworth, one argued.
The community of Leavenworth and the upper valley have benefitted enormously by becoming a destination tourist town. The community was on the ropes back in the 1960s when civic leaders adopted the theme.
But the question now is whether maximizing tourism will kill the community. What I heard community members say is that they want a sense of balance — that they support tourism and the business community but not at the expense of their sense of identity.
There are a number of philosophical questions that need to be reflected and answered, such as should the only measurements for community success be the number of tourists and the amount of money they spend?
Is there a balance to be struck between the success of the business community and the city’s quality of life? Will the town be a place where only the wealthy can live? What impact will endless tourism development have on local schools, the support programs for those in need, the ability of service workers and other professionals to find a place they can afford to live, etc.?
It was clear at the meeting that a lot of people in Leavenworth believe that city officials put too much emphasis on tourism and that community vibrancy has been given short shrift. Leavenworth has a rich tradition of people working together for the community, from the support for the schools, helping those in need and creating a community for people from all walks of life. Upper Valley MEND, the churches, Cascade Medical Center and other organizations are fighting an uphill battle to build the bonds of relationship upon which communities depend. Relationship are vital to community vitality.
A way through the minefield of acrimony must be found. Leavenworth desperately needs to have a facilitated conversation about the future — about what people value and how the business community and the community at large can coexist and work together.
The heart of Leavenworth is much bigger than just a town for tourists. Here’s hoping a balance can be found in which the businesses and the community thrive together.
The Art of Community Project is dedicated to fostering community building in North Central Washington. See all of the stories, photos and podcasts at artofcommunityncw.com