By: Dan Rankin, Mayor of Darrington
October 2015 The town of Darrington is in my soul. My grandfather settled in the valley in 1920. My father was raised skiing and hiking the mountains. I was raised fishing the same creeks as my grandfather.
My children and I now explore the same mushroom patches, following generational history. Nestled in the North Cascades among peaks, timber and wildlife, our lives in Darrington have depended upon the forest for our livelihood. In addition to serving as the town’s mayor, I own and operate a one-man saw mill. Our community has always been synonymous with logging. The timber industry, including local loggers, Hampton Mill workers and Forest Service Staff, continues to be the foundation for local employment.
Local loggers and residents stepped up after the devastating Oso landslide killed 43 neighbors, friends and loved ones, isolating our town from population centers and threatening our summer recreation season. It was speculated the road would not reopen for over a year. The community rallied to search for our missing, return heirlooms caked in mud, clear road access and clean up debris tirelessly for days, weeks and months. Our hearts and landscape are still recovering.
The events on March 22, 2014 changed all of us profoundly. After the slide, our task at hand was to implement a vision to keep Darrington’s history, community and economy strong for current and future generations. While logging is still a critical part of our local economy, so too is outdoor recreation.
In the weeks following the slide, Senator Patty Murray responded to my request for help by ensuring that summer recreation seekers and sightseers would understand that Darrington was still open for business. She convened a group of conservation and recreation organizations to work with Darrington, Snohomish County and the Forest Service to help market the upcoming recreation season. Many of us met each other for the first time at that meeting and the results were surprising and much appreciated.
Conservation and recreation groups, including Washington Wild, developed a “Destination Darrington” map highlighting nearby recreational opportunities, worked with REI and Outdoor Research to distribute the maps to thousands of people and helped with social and traditional media promotions for local businesses in town. As a result, we saw the most visitors in a decade. Additionally, a lot of energy and attention was focused on developing new recreational opportunities near Darrington like the opening of the Suiattle Road, implementation of the Whitehorse Trail and additional mountain bike opportunities near town.
Relationships grew and deepened as local efforts to initiate a STEM education program focused on reconnecting Darrington’s youth with their wild backyard. With support from conservation and recreation groups, local teachers and mentorship from Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, our local Glacier Peak Institute took shape. Since then, the STEM program has been awarded grant funding and has offered a number of outings. A rafting trip with high school students sampling water quality on the Sauk River attracted media articles in the Everett Herald and the Seattle Times.
In addition to boosting outdoor recreation and opportunities for our youth, working with the conservation and recreation community has led to finding common ground in other areas. On July 10, 2015, local Darrington leaders, conservation and recreation organizations, Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Patty Murray and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene launched the Darrington Collaborative. The effort is focused on developing projects to improve ecological diversity and forest health, while creating sustainable jobs in the forests near Darrington.
Darrington has always been fiercely independent and driven by a strong sense of local pride and spirit which has served it well. After the slide, the level of support and common goals we shared with conservation and recreation groups from “down below” was crucial to the success of these initiatives. While we undoubtedly don’t agree on everything, we have seized the opportunity to walk forward on common ground into a future beneficial to all.
Dan Rankin is currently serving a four year term as Mayor of Darrington and served on Town Council for eight years prior.