To be really “cool,” Polk County has to be “smart”

Published 8:54 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2013

To the editor:
White water kayaking in the mighty Green River, zip-lining down 1,000 feet through the lush/ pristine intact forest of the Green River Gorge, sport-fishing for Trout, Bass or Muskies in our waterways, hiking or biking over our steep mountain slopes and foothills…
The world famous Green River Narrows kayaking competition happens in Polk County because of a uniquely  formed 5ft. (narrow) rock crevice that the entire river squeezes through and the upcoming “Green River Games”(bike, trails  and paddle board races) is going to happen in Polk County because of our pristine 14K acre Gamelands Forest and Green River that runs by it. And now, to top it all off, we stand to reap untold amounts of tourism related revenues from the (anticipated) success of the “White Oak Equestrian Development” with its  international level competitive horse events, arenas, hotel, homes, winery, vineyards, spa, etc. coming to Polk County because of our rural, rolling, pastoral setting  in the foothills.
All of this is happening in our very own Polk County – economic  success for us because of our rural, natural resources and their power to draw the multitudes of outdoor lovers/recreational sports adventure seekers.
Libbie Johnson, director of Economic and Tourism Development Commission, points out (Bulletin, May 15 edition), impressive annual state contributions coming from the outdoor/recreational industry sector; $19 billion in spending, 191,500 jobs supported, $5.6 billion in wages and $1.3 billion generated in local state taxes. And she’s  right that Polk County has got the “cool” factor  in the “calling cards” our natural resources provide which attract all these adventure seekers in the first place, but how “cool” are we really, if we are not smart enough to know that we have to care for, protect and manage these God-given natural assets so that they last and we can continue to prosper  because of them?
Will anglers come to our waterways if we have only suffocated fish in them? Will the Green River Games or The Gorge Zip Line attract participants and tourists if the forest, trails, steep slopes and river aren’t pristine, intact or protected?
Will the huge, clean water needs of the future White Oak Equestrian Development with its international events be readily supplied by our Polk County’s Lake Adger reservoir that has been filling up with unchecked sediment loads for the past 88 years?
I don’t mean to be a party pooper but there is a looming disconnect here that needs to be worked on and realigned. These valuable natural assets in Polk County are not inexhaustible, immune to deterioration or able to just manage themselves (without us intervening). All of us shareholders need to participate in developing an active plan to protect and responsibly manage our natural resources, because it seems as if we are counting on them to drive our very economy and future.
Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, as there are some very successful planning models and strategies out there which dovetail nicely with Polk County’s needs. The Nature Conservancy offers a straight-forward conservation/ businesslike approach that speaks to the “Aha” moment; when taking care of or “investing” in your environment, you get something very tangible in return – it takes care of you.
For example the “green infrastructure” (forests, grass/plant buffers and natural flood plains) protect water quality from sediment pollution better and cheaper than anything else man made, so let’s enhance or restore this along our Green River and Lake Adger waterways.
Strategies to pay for this conservation/protection need to be explored but basically, all of us resource users (including recreational users) need to pay forward for this protective/restorative work so that we can be sure all of our needs from it will be sustained. No one government entity or environmental  non-profit can fund all these projects so let’s share in its cost.
Also, there is no water resource commission, no water/environmental advisory board, no watershed plan, no shareholders discussions, no passing of any protective ordinances or policies and no public watershed education offerings.
The Green River Watershed Alliance, Isothermal Planning & Development and Altamont Environmental Inc. are midway into the process of their grant work to Assess the Green River and Lake Adger in Polk County. This represents the important first step in developing any Green River Watershed Plan. From here many shareholders need to begin some “blue skies” planning discussions.
Let’s start working on this ASAP as it is becoming more and more evident every day that this protection, restoration and enhancement of Polk County’s natural resources are indeed critical to our present and future economic success.
– Sky Conard, Lake Adger

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