Rural small towns are often home to idyllic landscapes and are stewards to their surroundings. What’s always at stake is their ability to preserve or improve the quality of life there. And, their needs vary from those of more urban areas based on their size, geography and the layout of public and private lands that surround them.

“Rural communities are facing unique challenges as their demographics and economics change with the world,” said Jeremy Grimm, Livability Opportunity Responsibility (LOR) Foundation’s newest program officer, located in Sandpoint. “Often, rural communities are not prepared or don’t have the resources to adapt to the changes they are facing, and sometimes, the livability of a place is degraded or jeopardized due to growth. Locally, this might take the form of more limited access to the lake or national forest due to development, despite the proximity of these public places.”

The board members of the LOR Foundation recognized the unique challenges that so many small towns are experiencing and made it their mission to support community-driven solutions in small towns across the Intermountain West. The foundation, headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming, was formed back in 2007 by wife and husband, Amy Wyss and Ed Jaramillo. Since then, they have been expanding LOR’s reach in the vicinities of Taos, New Mexico; San Luis Valley, Colorado; select towns in Montana and the Greater Sandpoint Area. LOR handpicked each town for their existing community involvement.

“LOR looks for areas with strong social capital and with organizations who want to work together. The Sandpoint area was a natural fit with more than 100 nonprofits in the Greater Sandpoint Area to work with,” Grimm said. He oversees the communities of Dover, Ponderay and Kootenai.

Over the summer, LOR announced the distribution of $1.5 million in grants to 15 rural communities and partners, including Kaniksu Land Trust Sandpoint. Each partner received $100,000 for various projects submitted typically involving water conservation, access to public lands and recreation.

“In Sandpoint, as we grow and see an influx of new residents, what will become of and how will growth impact the livability of this place? These are questions and issues we care about. We’re here to listen to local government and residents and seek ways to help find solutions to pressing challenges,” Grimm said.

Keeping the pulse of rural communities going

LOR representatives like Grimm are the eyes and ears of the Foundation in their respective communities. While the needs of every rural community are different, LOR focuses on supporting a broad array of efforts that address livability, such as environmental conservation and recreational access to the natural surroundings, resilient economies and local capacity to address similar issues.

They support initiatives for clean water, ranging from insightful development, storm-water contamination, invasive species, reducing pollution and how to respond to threats such as wildfires and train derailment disasters. They then work with organizations dealing with these issues by providing technical expertise or finding subject matter experts, studies, public relations or providing direct financial assistance.

LOR has previously been involved in recreational projects such as the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail and their effort to acquire more than 1.5 miles of shoreline land between Sandpoint and Ponderay. They’ve also been involved with the Ponderay Neighbor Day event which helps to build community spirit. They are also assisting the City of Sandpoint with a storm-water improvement design at Farmins Landing and are working with the Pend Oreille Pedalers to enhance area bike trails.

LOR is helping the Kaniksu Land Trust acquire the Pine Street Woods, a 200-acre plot of community forest west of Sandpoint using a $600,000 grant it awarded the group. In Ponderay, they assisted the city in acquiring the 6-acre Harbison property, which the town hopes will serve as an access point for a future railroad underpass connection to the Bay Trail.

Other projects with LOR include the Clagstone Meadows Conservation Project, which resulted in permanent access through a conservation easement on over 13,000 acres of Stimson Lumber Company land in southern Bonner County.

“LOR works differently than many philanthropic foundations,” Grimm said. “We desire to have genuine partnerships and ongoing relationships at the local level and as a result, strive to have the Foundation’s resources put directly into local communities rather than focusing on large national efforts.”

In listening mode

LOR gets involved in community improvement projects by first listening as opposed to imposing their views on how rural towns should carry out their goals.

“Right now, I’m in listening mode to understand the issues the community is dealing with—clean water, community design—anything that focuses on a community’s livability to maintain the quality of life people have historically enjoyed,” Grimm said. “We’re not a top-down foundation that dictates the way things should happen. We’re here to listen and help the needs the community has.”

Once specific issues are identified, LOR assists organizations through funding, manpower or providing expertise. However, organizations don’t have to wait to be noticed. LOR is open to proposals. Every quarter, the board reviews opportunities and how their resources may best serve the communities where they are currently active. Assistance may come in the form of studies or bringing on board experts who will facilitate the means to achieve a goal. Every community has different goals too—some focus on recreational projects, others on the environment and conservation, and some on economic resiliency.

“Anyone can propose a project or notify us of a challenge they are facing. We’ll work with any issue regarding livability, which might include exploring ways to develop a recreation center, supporting an arts community or helping seniors,” Grimm explained. “The Foundation feels that the livability of these small towns shouldn’t just be for the privileged but should be for a broad spectrum of people who shouldn’t be negatively impacted by change brought about by growth, or have their quality of life degraded.”

Rural communities, particularly tourist-centric ones, are at risk for losing their identity and diversity as they attract new residents. A town’s identity adds to the quality of life it provides for a diverse population. The towns of Vail and Aspen, Colorado, for instance, have become elite, exclusive destinations that might have become more inclusive and maintained their authenticity had they been more thoughtful and inclusive during their transformations.

“A community can lose its identity and authenticity, and by then, it’s too late,” Grimm said. “We want to work with lots of partners to address issues before it’s too late.”

LOR identifies where they can support communities, eventually stepping away from the issues once initial hurdles are resolved. There’s no set date for moving out of the Greater Sandpoint Area until they have identified where and how they can support the community and see that it has a greater capacity for organization and self-support.

As Grimm said, “The goal is to work in a community for a time and leave it with a positive momentum.”

For more information about the LOR Foundation, visit LORFoundation.org.

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