McKenzie River Valley Improving Infrastructure and Community Vitality

McKenzie River Valley Photo
                                                                                                                   Photo Credit Mike Shaw

The McKenzie River Valley is best known for its natural beauty. Home to Clear Lake and the Terwilliger Hot Springs, this unincorporated area is building community capacity by developing resources, engaging more volunteers and encouraging tourism. Ashley Adelman, a participant in the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps program, is working with the communities to help the economy grow and encourage improvements to essential infrastructure.


Before we get into what Ms. Adelman has accomplished within this community, let’s first talk about RARE. Resource Assistance for Rural Environments is an AmeriCorps program that the University of Oregon’s Community Center administers. The program and Oregon communities utilize a diverse group of funders to work on an equally diverse series of projects.


RARE’s mission is to “increase the capacity of rural communities to improve their economic, social, and environmental conditions, through the assistance of a trained graduate-level participant.” This is what Ms. Adelman is working to accomplish within the McKenzie River Valley.


A native Oregonian born in Salem, Ashley‘s family has lived in Oregon for five generations. Growing up in our great state, she found her love for the outdoors and all of the adventures Oregon has to offer. She received concurrent Bachelor of Science degrees in Environmental Studies and Planning & Public Policy and Management (PPPM) from the University of Oregon. There, she learned about the RARE program while researching courses and opportunities offered by the PPPM Department. The position provides her an opportunity to give back to her home state and work with small communities. She began serving with RARE in September of 2015.  


A big part of Ms. Adelman’s position with RARE is listening to the community and discovering what will make the McKenzie River Valley more sustainable. Originally hired by the McKenzie River Action Team, a community group that formed following the Alumni Celebration of the Ford Institute Leadership Program, Ashley worked with the team to incorporate projects into local organizations. In this light, Ms. Adelman works with organizations like the McKenzie Community Development Corporation, the McKenzie River Chamber of Commerce, and many others. Part of her goal is to help local people get involved with organizations that give back to the community.


RARE covers a wide variety of projects, which means Ms. Adelman has worked with the McKenzie River communities on many different undertakings, including improving much-needed infrastructure. One infrastructure challenge that the McKenzie River Valley has sought to overcome is wastewater management. Many businesses in the community of Blue River have limited ability to thrive due to small lot sizes and dependence on septic systems. This issue is one that, once addressed, will be a boon to the economy. It’s also a high dollar project and needs more community support. Ms. Adelman is working with the community as they identify ways to address infrastructure and community needs. Additional staff support from Lane County Land Management and Rural Community Assistance Corporation are helping to provide technical assistance on the project. While the wastewater project is incomplete, it is in progress.


Broadband improvements are another large infrastructure project Ms. Adelman is working on.  Businesses, students, schools, and those living in the McKenzie River Valley all need fast Internet speeds for various reasons, from paying bills to doing school work. However, the broadband infrastructure is very limited. Community members connected with presenters and attendees at a rural broadband workshop in Bend hosted by Oregon Rural Development Council. Through these connections, the McKenzie River Valley moved to the top of the CenturyLink's list for improvements through the Connect America Fund Phase II support. Funds were approved for this project in August of 2015, and fiber optic lines are being laid.


As plans move forward with infrastructure and other community projects, Ms. Adelman is looking ahead to streamline community outreach in the McKenzie River Valley. This will benefit residents of the area by providing community engagement opportunities and helping local organizations find the right volunteer for every development and outreach project.


Ms. Adelman has also helped increase local tourism by assisting in planning the McKenzie Frenzy, an event to showcase the outdoor recreation opportunities in the McKenzie River Valley. This year's event celebrated the grand reopening on the O'Leary Loop Trail. The trail was rehabilitated due to a collaborative effort from numerous organizations and groups. Upon reopening, mountain bike enthusiasts from around the state rode the trail and said they would be coming back. The McKenzie Frenzy is set to be an annual event and planning is beginning for next year!


The McKenzie Frenzy is not the only annual event. 2017 should also see a return of the Wooden Boat Show, Lavender Festival, Chainsaw and Arts Festival, and the Walterville Fair & Waddle. All of these events bring tourists  and dollars into the McKenzie River area and encourage community participation. Wastewater, Broadband, and tourism events like the McKenzie Frenzy  are just a couple examples of the great synergy happening in the McKenzie River Valley since the community action team brought in Ashley and RARE. We are excited to see what else 2016 and 2017 will bring for the McKenzie River Valley!