Many towns in rural America are at a turning point.
The loss of retail outlets to the Internet and big box competition leaves them with two choices.
They can see things as an inevitable slide to a shrunken future, or they can see things as a challenge to maintain and improve the quality of life in their communities.
Winfield and Arkansas City have chosen the latter course, striving to make themselves more attractive to people of all ages. So have smaller towns in the county.
The big challenges for these communities are found in housing, day care, drug-abuse rehabilitation and retail specialization. Recreation, eating places, entertainment and downtown vitality also present challenges.
All of these challenges can be met, successfully.
Winfield and Arkansas City are busy meeting some of these challenges. The Burford Theater restoration stands out as the strongest example of a major local initiative.
Work on restoring the Marquee in Winfield is coming along.
We should remember that our efforts count. Both Winfield and Ark City have suffered big hits in the past and both have pulled themselves up by dint of the hard work and imagination of local citizens.
When Winfield’s downtown was starting to dry up in the 1970s, a grassroots effort to revitalize Main Street emerged. Resources were mobilized both locally and at the state level and the project took off.
When the State Hospital closed Sen. Greta Goodwin almost single handedly secured the Veterans Home on its campus.
When Ark City lost a refinery and a meat packing plant, local leaders turned their efforts to improving public schools for a diverse population and creating a walkway for better recreation. From there a new football stadium and baseball fields emerged.
City and industry leaders supported the creation and expansion of Creekstone, a replacement meat processor that is the city’s largest employer.
This is all to say that we have been here before.
Now young entrepreneurs are investing in downtown Winfield. Practically the whole town of Ark City has invested itself in the Burford project. Udall has a new water tower. Dexter and Burden have new local eating places.
It makes a difference whether citizens just sit back and talk about the inevitable, or jump in and do what they can to improve the quality of life in their community.
We’ve been there. We know what pays off.
Let’s take charge of our own future now and make our lives, and our children and grandchildren’s lives, as good as we can.