About 30 residents of southern Missouri’s Ripley County kicked off their “Strengthening Our Communities” project this week with a frank discussion about how to balance growing the local economic base with maintaining the character that draws people to the heart of the Current River.
The civic leaders and interested citizens hold dear the heritage of the river, protected as a national treasure for its wide, clean waters that draw paddlers and create a tourism base. They know some residents in Doniphan and the surrounding area would just as soon leave things as is. But they also want to stem the population losses in recent Census reports, and the loss of talented young people, by creating more jobs and opportunities.
That’s why a group of Ripley County leaders applied for the CFO’s new “Strengthening Our Communities” initiative in which two communities were selected for a 12- to 18-month strategic planning process that will yield a blueprint to move the community forward. The CFO is partnering with University Extension and the USDA Rural Development, which will guide Ripley County and a Joplin-area coalition through this planning process.
As they talked about their reasons for wanting to participate, the residents said they want to create a better environment for their kids and grandkids so they’ll consider staying around after high school, as well as improve the standard of living for those living in poverty and the high seasonal unemployment related to River tourism.
“We’ve got room for improvement,” said Russ French, an insurance agent who is helping coordinate the meetings. “We need to figure out how to maximize ourselves without stepping on toes.”
Mary Ann Curry, who is being honored as Doniphan’s Citizen of the Year this week, moved to the area from Los Angeles in 1974. She and her husband raised Charolais cattle, later moved to Arizona, and then returned to Doniphan in 1997 where they opened up an eight-lane bowling alley.
She said she personally went around to recruit participants for this week’s initial meeting for the project. She wants to see more join the effort because she thinks Doniphan has a lot going for it if it will make this effort.
The next meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m, Tuesday, Feb. 14, at the Chamber of Commerce office.