Quality of Life is Important in Grant County

Posted on May 27, 2016

Japanese Gardens"Grant County's ideal central location in Washington State, its diverse landscape, and over 300 days of beautiful sunshine makes it an easily accessible attraction filled with opportunities for fun and sport," says Bev Shuford of the Grant County Tourism Board. "There are rich farm lands, abundance of water with 144 lakes and habitat making home to a diverse and abundant bird population. Those are just some of the factors that enhance our quality of life in Grant County," Shuford adds.

Raymond Gravelle, mayor of Soap Lake, says that quality of life in a small town is "being able to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. To feel safe in your home and in parks. That's why I moved here from Seattle ten years ago."

Gravelle says that while Soap Lake has been in decline for decades, it has made improvements over the past four and a half years. A new police chief was brought in to enhance the safety of the community which, according to Gravelle, had "remarkable results in citizens feeling safer and reduced crime."

The city of Soap Lake held town hall meetings and found the citizens wanted the downtown area revitalized. Now, after spending $2.4 million, Soap Lake has a "new" downtown, Gravelle says. And now the city is working on improving parks and has formed a parks and recreation committee which is holding public meetings to get citizen input. They sent out a survey in three languages with the help of the Grant County Health District, and received 172 responses. From that the city has developed a 52 page park plan that Gravelle says is "nothing short of spectacular." The city is now working on applying for grants to pay for the plan.

Also, Gravelle adds, there are plans to improve the town's sewer and storm water system. "No glamor or sizzle but it's been ignored for decades," Gravelle says. "If your toilet doesn't flush," it hurts your quality of life, he adds.

Gravelle says that the "historic mineral lake" is a draw to Soap Lake and its "healing waters are famous world-wide." The waters are claimed to help with skin conditions such as eczema, Gravelle says. Two hotels in towns have bathtubs with two sets of faucets, he explains, one of which brings in water from the lake so people can soak in the waters in the privacy of their hotel room. There is also hiking and nature walking in the area and the Audubon Society recognizes the Soap Lake area as a significant bird watching site. Then he adds about the geology and beauty. "it's a unique area. It's all in one spot." And, Gravelle adds, the people are "very friendly" and Soap Lake is a "welcoming community."

I think the pace of life in a smaller town is a big draw," Ray Towry, Recreation, Tourism, and Public Relations Director for the City of Ephrata, says. "The ability to know your community leads to a sense of security," Towry adds.

Towry says that the open space is another benefit of living in a small town. He says bigger cities are trying to make open space that smaller towns naturally have.

In Ephrata, Towry says the mayor and the city council have made a commitment to public safety and infrastructure to improve the quality of life. The city has replaced eighty percent of the water lines, for example. Also, the city is committed to parks and recreation, Towry adds. It helps fund activities for the senior center and after school programs for kids. The city operates sports facilities and helps with everything from ballet to flag football. "It's designed to bring the community together as much as possible," Towry explains. He hopes the next infrastructure the city tackles is improvements to parks and recreational facilities.

Ephrata is also working to enhance public safety. There are steps being taken to purchase a new rescue vehicle and to upgrade equipment for the fire department to give it "the safest equipment possible," Towry adds. The police department hired two new officers and is now at full capacity.

Next, Towry says, are the parks, trails, and the recreation center. "Beezley Hill is just a hidden gem," Towry says. A grassroots biking community is working to improve and develop trails there. "Phenomenal trails," Towry says. "It's close yet challenging and so easy to get to."

"From outdoor open space, facilities, to great schools to the fastest internet in the world," Ephrata has it all, Towry says. In addition, there's fishing twenty to thirty minutes away and hunting right outside of town, Towry explains. "What the Basin has to offer people is just phenomenal."

Spencer Griggs, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Moses Lake, says quality of life "means a lot of things to a lot of people." He adds that Moses Lake provides a great quality of life with its available water recreation and twenty-five parks. "An active lifestyle is what we're all about," Griggs says. He points out that Moses Lake has the Spring Festival, the Farmers Market, and the Fourth of July celebration. "In small towns, quality of life seems to hinge on an active parks and recreation department," Griggs explains.

"I think our parks are very unique," Griggs says, pointing out that Yonezawa Park has exercise stations. Two parks, including Blue Heron, have disk golf courses. There is the Surf and Slide Water Park and the art museum, he says, plus great ball parks that have hosted the Babe Ruth youth baseball world series three times. There are soccer fields and parks with boat launches and some with picnic shelters that are very popular. There are sixteen playgrounds and the skateboard park. And the city just added a dog park which is, according to Griggs, a safe place for dogs to socialize and get some exercise.

Griggs says economic development such as SGL coming to Moses Lake has "absolutely" helped with the quality of life there. The growth in population allows the city to qualify for more grants than they could before because some are dependent on demographics. Also there are more people to volunteer to be coaches or officials in youth programs.

"The desert has a unique beauty," Griggs says. And there are "wide open spaces and incredible waterways" available to residents. He says there are two places residents and visitors may not know about one being the Japanese Garden. "It's a unique facility," Griggs says. Because it's next to a wetland, a visitor can forget they are in downtown Moses Lake, Griggs explains. He also says a lot of people don't know about the Moses Lake Museum and Art Center.

For Peggy Nevsimal, Chamber Manager at the Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce, the "pros" of being an area with small towns are the "unlimited open spaces and to be outside." The spring, summer, and fall are lovely, Nevsimal says. "We all know each other and have a good neighbor support system," she adds. "Love the no traffic, wide open spaces," she says. "It's a kinder, gentler world."

The cons are the struggles of living in an area where to get what you want, you often have to travel to Moses Lake, Wenatchee, or Spokane. The total population of the Grand Coulee Dam area is about 4,000, according to Nevsimal, spread over four towns that each has their own mayor, city council and struggle with having their own identity. The four towns, Electric City, Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee, and Elmer City, are spread over four counties, also. The town of Coulee Dam itself is in three counties. Also, since the biggest employer is the Bureau of Reclamation, the towns also have to deal with the Federal government.

Nevsimal says each town tries to improve their parks but they also need "beautification" of their main streets.

The biggest draw, Nevsimal says, is the two lakes: Roosevelt and Banks Lakes that have year-round fishing. Also in winter, there are opportunities to spot eagles in the area.

In May there is the Colorama Rodeo which this year is celebrating its 60th year. And, Nevsimal says, on the Fourth of July, 15,000 people will visit the area for the fireworks show that are shot off the top of Grand Coulee Dam. "Definitely a sold-out town," she says.

Tim Snead, City Administrator for the City of Quincy, says quality of life has to do with "good infrastructure" such as water, sewer and roads. Also, Snead says, a good police department so the "community feels safe."

"We've been blessed with revenue," Snead adds, because of the data centers built in the city. That has allowed the city to enlarge parks, build a new library, and there are plans for a new recreation center for the youth. Also, the city is providing School Resource Officers to schools and a gang resistance program.

Quincy, Snead says, has a tradition of community volunteerism to help with beautification and youth sports. "It's just a neat community," he adds. "People step up and provide a neat quality of life in Quincy."

"What I like is how diversified we are," Snead adds. The primary economic driver is still agriculture, he explains, but now there's high tech, too. "Where agriculture meets technology," he says.

Snead adds that Grant County has lots of opportunity for hunting and fishing and more freshwater shoreline than any other county in the state.

Shuford of the Grant County Tourism Board says quality of life "means the same thing to the whole county" and that's growth and prosperity, employment, good schools for children, and the natural surroundings. She adds that the weather adds to the quality of life.

"Recreation is huge," Shuford adds. "We have everything here. Mother nature has been very good to us."

Shuford says that there are fifteen golf courses in Grant County, eleven wineries, and two breweries. And "we have great people," here she says.

The Tourism Board, which Shuford has been on since 2006, uses the revenue from the motel/hotel tax to advertise Grant County to bring in visitors. The board is also providing funds for information kiosks about the county. They are installing two per year. This year they want one in the Grand Coulee area and at the Grant County Fairgrounds. They also produce a tourism book.

Non-profits can ask the Tourism Board for grants money, Shuford says. The grants usually total $40,000. This helps local communities to advertise their events and get more people to them. "The arts are huge for people in Grant County," she says, and that "recreation has a huge impact to the county."

Shuford says economic diversification is good so there is the tax base to make improvements to the quality of life in the county. "I think quality of life is important. If you don't have that, what do you have?"