The Same Boat in Silverton

By Mark Christensen

It is early November in the quaint town of Silverton, Oregon. It has been dumping buckets of rain for several weeks now and Silver Creek is raging. Yet, despite the torrential precipitation of the past several weeks, November 3 is a crisp, sunny day. I am driving to Silverton from Salem, about a 10-mile drive through some of the most productive farmland in the world. The Community Development Director of Silverton is expecting me at 3:00 p.m. and I am not quite sure what to anticipate.

I reached out to meet Jason for a supplemental project I had been envisioning. The project is essentially an economic development/ Main Street advertisement project in which local business directory maps would be transformed into user-friendly, accessible web maps. The project donned on me as a way to increase economic vitality in a fast and effective way. I reached out to a few City Managers to see who would be interested in meeting me and discussing the potential project. Silverton’s city manager responded, assigning Jason, the Community Development Director, to coordinate a meeting with me.

I pull up to 306 S. Water Street in Silverton about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Those who know me understand I can be a little too punctual. I walk upstairs to the Community Development Office and let them know Jason is expecting me. Of course, because I am still about 15 minutes early even after wondering around the block, I have to wait a few minutes. Jason walks out and introduces himself to me and it is clear we are in the same boat. We do not know what to expect.

We go into his office and begin our chat. I introduce myself, my background, and the RARE program in general as I go through the work I will be doing for Marion County Community Services and SEDCOR. I explain another project I have been planning to undergo if there is community interest, the Story Maps. Jason’s countenance changes with each passing sentence. The pressure in the air is starting to dissipate as it becomes clear I am here to help and the project may benefit the current business directory system in place for downtown Silverton. We had been in the same boat of not knowing what to expect, but, after about 5 minutes in the office, we jumped ship to sail into collaboration.

We leave Jason’s office to stroll the beautiful streets of downtown Silverton. Downtown is adjacent to Silver Creek, which provides a magnificent backdrop to many restaurant and café patios. As we walk across the covered pedestrian bridge and through the streets, Jason is telling me all the great things the community has done over the past several years. Redevelopment and urban renewal, murals, and vibrant parks can be found in Silverton’s core, and Jason knows the story behind every block. We take to Jason’s car to drive around the striking community. Jason’s knowledge proves to transcend the boundaries of the downtown district. We investigate the new subdivisions of the periphery, observe the foundations of Silverton’s economy, and venture to the Oregon Garden to see the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Pacific Northwest. At the end of our tour, Jason hands me the current business directory map, and I assure him that we will be in touch.

Although there have sense been slight technical difficulties in the story mapping process coupled with my primary project of Business Retention and Expansion gaining momentum, I will always consider my meeting with Jason to be a quintessential RARE experience. The meeting taught me:

  • Oregon is a beautiful place with unique communities
  • You are new to the Oregon experience, but people are open to you and your ideas
  • Oregonians care about their communities and will work to make them better
  • Getting out into the communities will require some initiative
  • Rural means some much more than low populations

Every RARE participant experiences something different in his or her respective placement. I can say without a doubt that my position at county level government in the Capitol City is much different from Will Wright’s position at the Lakeview Community Partnership. Nevertheless, I truly believe everybody who participates in Resource Assistance for Rural Environments is in the same boat and will find a Jason that cares and knows about his community and is ready to jump ship into collaboration.

A bit about Mark Christensen:

  • B.A. in Geography/Environment and Natural Resources – University of Wyoming
  • People may be surprised when they learn that I like viewing planning documents in my free me! I enjoy seeing how a community would like to grow, seeing goals a community sets, and reviewing the quality of life the community strives for!
  • My most significant accomplishment is putting myself through my undergraduate education. Through countless scholarship applications and hours of work, I achieved my goal of graduating debt free!

Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website:

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