After landslide, communities rewarded for resilience efforts

By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

ARLINGTON, Wash. – Two years after the deadly landslide that devastated the Oso, Wash., area, the towns of Darrington and Arlington were announced April 27 as finalists in the America’s Best Communities (ABC) competition, which is designed to inspire innovative solutions for community revitalization.

The two towns will share a $100,000 cash prize to begin implementing their community revitalization plan. In a year, they could win up to $3 million to help take their ideas from vision to reality.

The plan focuses on improving broadband communication, coping with natural disasters, workforce development and rural innovation, among other things. Learn more at

“Few communities have endured the challenges that have faced Arlington and Darrington,” said Bob Drewel, former Snohomish County executive and senior advisor to the president of Washington State University. “And fewer still have emerged with the same unity and determination as this remarkable and resilient community. Our community endured a tragedy, but tragedy will not define us. We are building a new future.”

The definition of resilience

America’s Best Communities leaders presented a cash prize to the Darrington/Arlington team: From left, Dave Shull, The Weather Channel; Bob Drewel, WSU; Paul Ellis, Arlington city administrator; Kathleen Abernathy, Frontier Communications; Vince Gill (in the hat), ABC competition spokesperson; Dan Rankin, Darrington mayor; Maggie Wilderotter, Frontier Communications; Barbara Tolbert, Arlington mayor; Robert B. Engel, CoBank; and Brian Neylon DISH Network.

On March 22, 2014, the most deadly natural landslide in U.S. history took 43 lives and destroyed 49 homes near Oso. It buried the highway connecting Arlington and Darrington and destroyed communication lines between the towns.

Like many other communities built around a single industry, the towns have struggled in the wake of the timber industry collapse of the 1980s.

“The landslide was not the cause of our economic struggles but it became a catalyst for a solution,” said Drewel, a resident of Arlington.

“I’m proud to be one of the ABC partners working with Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert and Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin,” he said. “Together we represent a community that defines the word ‘resilient.’”

Diverse support from WSU

WSU has become an enduring partner in a recovery process that has evolved into a community revitalization effort that’s gaining national attention.

“WSU has made it clear that we’re there for these communities,” said Martha Aitken with the WSU Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension “We’re an ongoing resource and a community partner.”

She is part of the WSU Mudslide Recovery Team that partnered with the two mayors who used the ABC competition as a way to engage community members to create the revitalization plan.

From youth programs to community economic development, WSU Extension in Snohomish County has been instrumental in linking up expertise from WSU in Pullman that touches on all of these areas, Aitken said.

WSU’s support began with the late President Elson S. Floyd offering tuition waivers to students impacted by the landslide. In addition to community economic development planning assistance, WSU Extension ran summer youth programs in Darrington, placed summer interns in both towns and organized community work parties.

The America’s Best Communities competition is sponsored by Frontier Communications, The Weather Channel, DISH Network and CoBank.


Martha Aitken, WSU Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension
Sylvia Kantor, WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences



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