Ridgefield’s growth: It’s not ‘good’ or ‘bad’

Ken Vance Editorial Clarkcountytoday.com

Change in Clark County’s fastest-growing city is inevitable

When I think about small towns, naturally I think about the ones I’ve lived in. I was born in Prosser, WA, but at the time, my family actually lived in Grandview, which didn’t have a hospital for me to be delivered in.

My family made a couple of stops in my early years in other small towns in the Yakima Valley and Goldendale before settling into Carson prior to my fifth birthday. Thankfully, that was all the moving we would do. My parents found a hometown where they lived the rest of their lives and I stayed until I went off to college, eventually settling into Vancouver in 1986.

I certainly don’t consider Vancouver a small town. Clark County’s population is nearing half a million residents. But, I still consider myself a small town guy. It’s just part of my DNA.

I hope you take the time to read our two-part series about growth in the city of Ridgefield. The first part was published Thursday and the second part followed this morning.

My first impressions of Ridgefield came when I was in junior high and high school. Because of the proximity of my high school in Stevenson, our geographical rival was Columbia High School in White Salmon. But, because of a confluence of somewhat equally talented athletes at Stevenson and Ridgefield in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially in basketball, Ridgefield was our true rival.

When I was a senior, I will never forget our bus pulling up to Ridgefield High School for the second of the three games we would play against each other that year. Parents, fans and students were so concerned about getting a seat in Ridgefield’s small gym (at the time) that they had started lining up after school, several hours before my Bulldogs were set to tipoff against the Spudders.

The gym was filled to its capacity that night and they televised the game to an overflow crowd in the commons area. As was the case with each game the two teams played during that era, tensions were high that night. I still remember an elbow to the face I took from Ridgefield’s standout center Jim Renner, which I’m sure I deserved. I also remember Renner’s older brother getting escorted out of the gym by police after he came out of the stands to protest a referee’s call or non-call.

Ridgefield’s growth map shows close to 2,500 new homes slated to be built within the next six years, representing roughly 7,000 new people. That would nearly double the city’s current population by 2024. Photo by Mike Schultz
Ridgefield’s growth map shows close to 2,500 new homes slated to be built within the next six years, representing roughly 7,000 new people. That would nearly double the city’s current population by 2024. Photo by Mike Schultz

It’s safe to say, my impression of the city of Ridgefield then and now are much different. As an adult, I quickly grew to love this small town. How can one not become infatuated with it? The quaint little downtown just makes me feel at home. Business owners greet you with a welcoming sincerity that you only experience in small towns. The Old Liberty Theater is a true treasure as an entertainment and community venue. ClarkCountyToday.com videographer/photographer Mike Schultz spends so much time at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge that I swear he gets his mail there. Ridgefield’s Fourth of July Celebration is the best in Clark County in my opinion.

We’ve already heard from some of you who weren’t happy about the theme of our two-part series about growth taking place in Ridgefield. People in small towns want their towns to remain small. Growth is a dirty word in places like Ridgefield.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Hoosiers, based on the story of the 1954 Milan High School basketball team that won the Indiana state championship. The movie had the team located in the fictitious town of Hickory. One of the main characters was a teacher named Myra Fleener, who had escaped the small town for a while before returning. At one point in the movie, she tells the basketball coach, Norman Dale, a few things that she missed when she was away. “I missed knowin’ nothing changes. People never change. It makes you feel real solid.’’

I’m sure those people we’ve heard from that didn’t like the theme of our two-part series feel the same way. They don’t want Ridgefield to change. They want that solid feeling knowing Ridgefield and its residents won’t change.

Unfortunately for them, change is inevitable in Ridgefield. Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart told ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Chris Brown that “growth is not ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ Growth just is. Growth goes to places where you have a high quality of life.’’

That’s certainly true in Ridgefield’s case.

I don’t live in the city of Ridgefield and never have, even though I’ve thought about it often. It’s just never been on my beaten path, personally or professionally. So, it’s not my existence, my quality of life, that is at stake. There’s families who have farmed land in Ridgefield for the last 100 years. They have much more skin in the game than I do. Maybe I’m naive, but I’m eager to see how this wonderful small town is going to evolve over the next 20 years. I think Ridgefield has some thoughtful, talented, capable people who not only understand its history but how to preserve it, at least as much that is possible.

One of those people is Nathan McCann, superintendent of Ridgefield Public Schools.

“One of the things I love best about Ridgefield,” McCann said in today’s Part 2 story about Ridgefield’s growth, “is that no one here ever refers to us as a suburb of Vancouver or Portland. We are our own place, and as trite as it may sound, there’s a tremendous sense of ‘Spudder Pride’ here. Whether you were ever a Spudder yourself, or it’s just your kids coming through that are Spuds, or you’re maybe just a citizen who moved here without kids but you’ve bought into this real sense of community.”

I’m confident everyone involved in this process has bought into “this real sense of community.’’

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