Can we withstand an invasion of WalMartians?

Guest Columnist

Every 42 hours another town loses to WalMartians: are we next?

OK, maybe “loses” is inaccurate. Some places welcome megastores, believing that they create jobs, offer convenience and turn red city budgets into black. My educated guess is that if they knocked on the Valley’s door, the voices of protest would be loud enough to wake Josiah Merritt from the grave.

Think our communities have what it takes to fend off the WalMartians? Think our leaders can work as a team to find alternative revenue sources so we don’t have to sell out to hyper-consumerism? Think individuals in our region are passionate enough about preserving our natural character?

I do. Despite seemingly contrasting views on political candidates, downtown characters, casino impacts, neighborhood CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions), park amenities and school district boundaries, it’s safe to say that we Valleyites (Valleyinians, Vallsters, Vallerinos?) all agree on one thing: we cherish the natural beauty around us and we desperately, desperately want to preserve it.

We want Snoqualmie Falls to keep falling. We want Mount Si to keep prompting contented sighs. We want Rattlesnake Ledge to keep tempting us with the fruits of a steep climb. We want the Preston-Snoqualmie Trail to keep pressing us to run just one … more… mile. We want our farmers to keep growing and our rivers to keep flowing.

But people who study city economics and growth management know that to protect these gifts from the big boxes and accompanying sprawl, we’ve got to find alternative ways to stay financially independent and prosperous. Many of these smarties have identified an approach called “eco-tourism” as a key weapon in the never-ending fight against Stupid Growth. Eco-tourism involves using the natural amenities around us to attract visitors, and then steering those visitors to our existing businesses. For example, the Bradys take Tiger to Rattlesnake Lake for some fetch, then stop at Gordy’s for ribs and the Ace Hardware for more tennis balls before they drive back to their home in West Seattle.

The Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce wholeheartedly embraces this concept. We see it as “clean money,” because our communities don’t have to worry about schooling or housing the visitors: they come in, support our businesses and cities via the taxes on those goods, and they go away. As part of the Chamber’s commitment to that concept, we’re moving forward with several projects that will persuade recreators to spend money here when they’re done with their activities.

Individuals can get in on this movement to protect our natural habitat too, by volunteering to help maintain and enhance the outdoor recreation that brings so many tourists to this area (and by chatting up our local restaurants and shops to other volunteers!). The Washington Trails Association (wta.org), the Mountains to Sound Greenway (mtsgreenway.org), and King County (metrokc.gov/parks/volunt/volevents.htm) all hold work parties to maintain and enhance recreational areas, including Mount Si, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail, Rattlesnake Ledge and the Three Forks area. Kids are allowed to perform certain tasks, with an adult’s consent. Check Web sites for times and more information.

What else can citizens do to help support and protect our nature-based economy? You can buy fresh produce in the summer at North Bend’s farmers market (held at the Mount Si Senior Center). You can invite your non-Valley friends out for a day of hiking and eating, or get them to ride in the chamber’s annual Tour de Peaks Bike Ride with you. You can talk up Fall City Days, Alpine Days and Railroad Days – even volunteer for those events. And of course, you can eat and shop locally, to support the “small boxes” that are already here.

The cities that have successfully warded off the big boxes have been unified and passionate about preserving their character. Let us not wait until WalWolf is at the door; let’s collaborate now to strengthen our region’s economic vitality via eco-tourism -a much, much more appealing way to fund our communities.

Jennifer Lynham is president of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached via e-mail at jennifer@lynhamink.com.