Students Come Up With Three Candidates
RIDGWAY – A project to identify possible sister cities, with similar attributes and values to Ridgway’s, took a step forward last week as three Ridgway High School students presented their research before Town Council.
It was in fact Councilor Jim Kavanaugh who proposed the idea a year and a half ago. Together with fellow councilors Jason Gunning and Rick Weaver, he advocated for a link to “like-minded towns that share some things in common” with Ridgway. Things like small size and mountain geography, economies and arts. By establishing sister-city relationships, “We can promote correspondence, understanding, even exchanges,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh and Gunning, a teacher at Ridgway Secondary School, enlisted the services of middle school geography students to narrow the search, and expand their sense of a wider world.
A first screening of candidates in Central America last year ran into a “snag,” Kavanaugh said, “because the six candidate cities were so small they didn’t have good access to the Internet” and thus couldn’t be contacted.
The presentation last week summed up a more successful second screening.
Three RHS juniors, friends and soccer teammates, did the Web research. Abel Lannan started things off with a PowerPoint portrait of Constanza, Dominican Republic. “The population is about 5,000, and the elevation is 4,000 feet,” Lannan said, “a little lower than Ridgway, but it’s still a good place.”
Photos showed a green valley about five miles long surrounded by verdant mountain ridges. Waterfalls cascaded from the high ground.
“It gets about 30 inches of rain a year,” Lannan said, about twice what Ridgway gets, but the appearance was strikingly similar.
The economy is primarily agriculture-based, he said, mainly produce farmed by Japanese immigrants and local Spanish speakers.
Lannan didn’t know whether Constanza was “very artsy.”
“It’s a cool place, though,” he concluded.
Next up was Tashi Hackett profiling an El Salvadoran town of 20,000 called La Palma. “Eighty-five percent of the economy there is sales of arts and crafts,” Hackett said.
“That connects in with our Creative District,” Gunning commented.
“And there’s agriculture, too,” Hackett went on. “They grow coffee. They’re in the mountains.
“As for the safety issue,” he said, “there has been war. Negotiations are still going on between government and the rebels.”
Kavanaugh, who has visited La Palma himself, added, “There are peace talks. That’s the direction they’re going in.”
Jack Middleton presented the third candidate, Monteverde, Costa Rica. “This is actually a place I’ve been to,” Middleton began. “I loved it. It’s a very fun place.
“It’s up in a cloud forest, which plays a huge roll in their economy. They’re going for a sustainable management of resources, and research. There’s a campus of the University of Georgia there.”
Middleton described Monteverde as a small city of 7,000 that is dependent primarily on dairy farming and tourism. And the research done on the cloud forest. The community was started 60 years ago by Quaker pacifists from the U.S. who refused to fight in the Korean War.
“Its all good stuff down there,” Middleton concluded. “They’re trying to keep what runs their economy alive.”
“How Americanized is it?” asked Councilor Ellen Hunter.
“There are a lot of bilingual speakers,” Middleton said. “But a lot of Costa Rican culture, too.”
“What’s the next step?” asked Mayor Pro Tem Eric Johnson, filling in for Mayor John Clark, who was traveling overseas.
Kavanaugh wanted to “get the [Ridgway] community engaged in the discussion.”
Gunning suggested, “We rank them, then go for contact.”
But Hunter disagreed: “I say we try to contact these towns first, find out their level of interest in this.”
And that’s how the consensus went: identify contacts in the three possible sister cities and gauge interest before quizzing constituents on their preferences.
Their part in the process complete, the three young men closed their laptops and sauntered out of the room – for now, high school and the Uncompahgre Valley and environs a big enough world for them.