Connecting Communities One Step At A Time

Dubois through Casper, WY

We encountered two milestones between Jackson and Dubois, WY: we crossed the Continental Divide at over 9,500 feet and the following morning saw our first snow! Quickly after our arrival in Dubois, we met with Mayor Twila Blakeman, who shared a number of community success stories. We learned how an arts convention center was created from a combination of a bond, individual donations, and grants; a new library, assisted living facility and fitness center, and new fire hall have been built from donations and grants. The following morning, we had a conversation with High School Principal and Superintendent Dr. Gerry Nolan. Dr. Nolan expressed his ongoing desire to implement novel teaching technologies and strategies into classrooms and discussed how the small class sizes allow for highly individualized learning plans.

Our next meetings took place in Riverton, where we spoke with Director of Special (Education) Services Dallas Myers and Police Captain Todd Byerly. Mr. Myers helped us understand more about the state and local education systems, while Captain Byerly described a number of police-led community programs, including Shop with a Cop, business alliance officers, and one that focuses on caring for drug-endangered children in the area.

We took a break from road running and followed the Western Heritage Trail out of Riverton towards Shoshoni, on our way to Casper. Upon arriving in town, we met with Captain Steven Freel and Detective J. Hatcher at the police department. Under the leadership of Chief Wetzel, the department is undergoing a number of changes, including a track-based training system wherein officers are trained in specialized fields such as crime prevention, fire arms, or intelligence. Additionally, a new dispatch facility with advanced equipment and versatile space aims to improve the speed and efficiency with which police, fire, and EMT can respond to emergencies. A new community initiative is the formation of a ‘PAL’, or police athletic league; the owner of a local boxing gym proposed the creation of a Casper PAL where police officers can train with and mentor kids from the community, and the officers we spoke with are clearly excited about the opportunity.

Adam was able to meet with City Council member Bob Hopkins, who generously offered to let us park at his house for the evening. We were treated to wonderful conversation with Bob and his wife Jeanie that evening. The following morning, we met with Jeanie and Barbara Maguire, both former school teachers, where the discussion ranged from successful teaching techniques to testing. Ms. Maguire also works with teachers working towards becoming National Board Certified. We learned about an prior initiative passed down from the district school superintendent where teachers were asked to ‘dream their dream’ and develop their ideal classroom and school. Out of the many proposals submitted by teachers, 3 novel classroom designs were implemented in local schools and many of the ideas remain to this day including mixed-grade classrooms.

Our final meeting in Casper was with Mayor Paul Meyer, who not only described the ‘boom and bust’ cycle of Wyoming’s energy-based economy but also expressed an earnest desire to see a shift in policy to concurrently protect the state’s natural resources. As we began running south towards Laramie, we encountered heavy wind and saw many wind turbines-an indication that alternative energy sources have already become important in the state.

Eastern Idaho

After a successful set of meetings with community leaders in Boise, ID, we set off towards Idaho Falls. We ran along the Oregon Trail, passed through the towns of Fairfield and Carey, and after a few days found ourselves…in space? We had a wonderful afternoon and evening at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve where we met Ranger Lennie, became Junior (or rather Lunar) Rangers, and took in the ‘weird and scenic landscapes’.

We enjoyed a restful night in Arco before visiting EBR-1. In 1951, this nuclear power plant became the first in the world to produce electricity. The facility (decommissioned in 1964) now houses an informative walk-through tour, and we were delighted to learn some historical science in the middle of a 25 mile run.

We reached our first stop light in 200 miles on the outskirts of Idaho Falls. Although we ran into town on Labor Day, we were fortunate to have a conversation with Mayor Rebecca Casper. Mayor Casper described a recent energy summit she organized that aimed to convene leaders from the region to discuss new energy technologies and policies. She also told us about the city’s recently opened Compass school.

The last two days in Idaho were comprised of us running on tight shoulders on Route 26. Farmland eventually gave way to towering trees that provided shade and bird sightings along an uphill climb that followed the Snake River. We crossed into Wyoming on September 4—our third state!

Oregon Community Success Stories

In this blog post, we have accumulated many of the examples occurring across Oregon.  As we pass through each state, we will summarize the community success stories we hear about through our conversations and post them on


Oregon’s Bottle Bill passed in 1971 as the first of its kind in the United States. Former Oregon State Legislator Paul Hanneman, who drafted the original bill in 1969, shared that the bill’s original intent was to clean up the bottles and cans people would litter about; it only later became instrumental in increased recycling rates. While many states have bottle clean-up or recycling programs, only 10 states plus Guam have passed bottle bills.  There have been attempts to pass a national bottle bill but with little success, and states would do well to move forward on their own program.

The Beach Bill passed the Oregon Legislature in 1967, four years before the bottle bill.  This legislation was the first of its kind and established public ownership of Oregon’s beaches.  The bill built upon a law form 1913 passed by the Oregon Legislature that declared all coastal beaches in Oregon a state highway.  Today, the Oregon beaches remain open to the public and are one of the state’s greatest tourist attractions.

View of Mt. Hood from run route along highway 26, July 2014

Warm Springs, OR:

The town of Warm Springs is the seat of the Reservation, made up of Paiute, Warm Springs and Wasco Indian Tribes. A Tribal Council comprised of tribal representatives is charged with community decision making.  Using their “tribal strength” in decision making gives everyone a chance to talk “ in the old long-house village tradition” produces very successful results in Warm Springs.  Community members and leaders stressed the importance of preserving their cultural heritage and natural resources.

The Warm Springs K-8 Academy opened its doors this fall after a two-year process with strong support from the Tribal Council. The school was jointly funded through federal grants and a local bond (passed on a second attempt). The Academy strives to strengthen ties to native tribal culture, but also serves a practical purpose to reduce commuting time to nearby Madras and provide a safe, community-invested place that encourages children to stay in and graduate from school.

Winning state and federal approval and funds for a state-of-the-art Water-mixing Cooling System aims to reverse the fish die-off from river warming caused by regional dams. This technology is being tested on Lake Billy Chinook and at the Pelton and Round Butte Dams.  These and other measures are focused on preserving the reservation’s air, water and land for future generations.

New Warm Springs K-8 Academy, August 2014

Prineville, OR:

The Police Department has been leading the way on several community programs in Prineville.  A few years ago, a standing mailbox was acquired from the post office and installed in front of the police station as red medication and drug drop-off mailbox. This allows people to responsibly dispose of unneeded medications or drugs.  After a few years they have collected over one ton of medications and just last year enough medication was dropped off to cover the surface of two football fields.

Over time, many homes in the town had accumulated large amounts of trash and excess items.  In partnership with a local garbage company (donating a dumpster), Habitat for Humanity (donating a trailer), the county (discounting dumping fees), and many neighborhood and police volunteers (donating their time), the station organized neighborhood garbage clean-up days. Neighborhoods quickly became cleaner, safer and more pleasing places to inhabit.

The police station practices indirect crime reduction techniques including changing the timing of sprinklers in the city park and trimming bushes to expose areas where people would congregate to drink or do drugs.  These small changes helped make parks safer and drug free zones.

Prineville is in the center of a region known for its extreme fire danger.  This summer was one of the worst on record for Oregon and Washington.  The Prineville fire department has become a regional leader in fire fighting training programs offered to early- and mid-career individuals.  This not only capitalizes on a regional need by creating jobs for locals, but also meets an important challenge head on – protecting the region’s people and natural resources.

Adam running across railroad bridge, entering Prineville, July 2014

John Day, OR:

The Malheur National Forest contains 1.7 million acres in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon.  For decades, there was disagreement on how to utilize the forest’s many natural resources.  Faced with an environmental stalemate, a stalled economy, and the growing threat of catastrophic wildfire, local citizens formed a collaborative group to seek a new approach to forest management and problem solving.  The Blue Mountains Forest Partners, comprised of loggers, foresters, environmentalists, government officials, and private landowners, put aside their considerable differences to focus on forest and community health.  The agreements made over the past eight years have formed the foundation for large landscape improvement projects now being implemented across the national forest.

Once mired in costly litigation, the Malheur Forest is now at the forefront of an accelerated restoration program that aims to make the forest more resilient to fire and disease while also supporting the economy of hard-hit, remote communities.  Government, environmental and industry representatives credit the citizen collaboratives (now two of them) for that turnaround.  In addition, John Day’s last operating sawmill, destined for closure just two years ago, has begun hiring people to add a second shift while also exploring new renewable biomass projects.  Other local companies are hiring workers to perform forest work, including tree thinning, planting, watershed restoration, and fire fuels removal.

Adam and Ashley with Mayor Ron Lundbom and City Manager Peggy Gray, July 2014

Nyssa / Adrian, OR:

The Adrian High School’s Glean team provides a way for students to engage with their local farming community.  Specifically, students volunteer to pick up potatoes and onions left on the fields after the harvesters have passed through.  This extra food, which would have otherwise rotted in the fields, is then donated to local food banks and neighboring towns.

Adam and Ashley with Adrian High School Principal Purnell, July 2014

Exiting Oregon, Entering Idaho

Our time spent with the Bowns family just south of Nyssa was a memorable end to our journey through Oregon. The Bowns operate a large onion, potato and sugar beet farm and have a beautiful home that they graciously opened to us for the evening.

Annie Bowns drove us to the K-8 and high schools in nearby Adrian, where we were able to speak with Principals Ellsworth and Purnell, respectively. We learned a great deal about how small rural schools were impacted by the recent recession, evolving demographics, and implementation of the Common Core standards. It is clear that small rural schools face a number of unique challenges not always observed in their urban counterparts; for example, Principal Purnell is responsible for teaching three classes during the school day in addition to his administrative role. That evening, we enjoyed a family dinner and even picked some of our own potatoes and onions from the farm after seeing them loaded into semi-trucks.

The next day, we were excited to reach a milestone: crossing into another state, Idaho! We ran to Caldwell, ID and during the afternoon enjoyed a conversation with Caldwell Fire Chief Mark Wendelsdorf, who gave us insight to the city. Adam and I later walked around the town and understood what the Chief meant by an ongoing town restoration.

We transitioned from farm to suburb to city as we ran from Caldwell to Boise. Our first meeting in Boise was with South Jr. High School physical science teacher Aaron McKinnon. Mr. McKinnon’s passion and talent for teaching were immediately apparent, and we enjoyed a lengthy conversation ranging from teaching science to education policy. We learned about the disparity between the performance of Boise schools versus that of rural Idaho schools, which we again discussed with Boise district school superintendent Dr. Donald Coberly the following day.

We enjoyed pancakes and conversation with Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson, Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, and United Way Treasure Valley CEO Nora Carpenter at a United Way Flapjack Feed in downtown. After learning about important community-driven initiatives such as a recently established suicide hotline, we met with City Council members TJ Thompson and Elaine Clegg. Mr. Thompson is working hard to increase healthy habits in childcare (including decreased media time and increased physical activity), and Ms. Clegg is a strong advocate for integrated transportation and ‘complete street’ initiatives.

Adam’s dad, Richard, met us in Boise, and today Adam and I enjoyed our first joint run since Prineville. We encountered some hilly and rough trail-like terrain and even ran along the Oregon Trail over the 25 miles we covered. We now head on a northern route towards Idaho Falls.