December 12, 2009 in Washington Voices

Building a city’s identity

Rockford wins award for development efforts
By The Spokesman-Review

Paul Sifford was the driving force for Rockford’s Rock Creek enhancement project.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

The small town of Rockford straddles Highways 278 and 27 and has fewer than 500 residents, but thousands of people regularly drive through on their way to the Coeur d’Alene Casino, Lake Coeur d’Alene or other small towns like Fairfield or Latah. With no school or grocery store, a town can struggle to form an identity.

But Rockford has worked hard to foster a sense of community, and that effort was recently rewarded with a Community Award from Inland Northwest Partners, a regional nonprofit economic development organization.

Part of the reason the town got the nod was its summer swim program, basketball and movies in the park, a community yard sale and community gardens that provide produce for the town’s summer farmers market. But the lion’s share of the praise was reserved for the Rock Creek enhancement project headed by former public works director Paul Sifford.

Sifford heard about grant money available from the Department of Ecology for the Hangman Creek watershed. Rock Creek, which is part of that watershed, runs right through town. Spring flooding and erosion have been ongoing issues affecting water quality. Sifford worked with the town’s engineers, the firm of Thomas Dean and Hoskins, to write a proposal for the grant money. After submitting the proposal and being rejected, the proposal was resubmitted.

“I got a hold of the man in charge of the money,” said Sifford. To show the town was dedicated to the project, a town hall meeting was held to ask for donations from the community to provide some matching money. In short order $11,000 was raised, nearly half of that from Avista.

Soon Sifford was notified that Rockford would be getting a grant for $850,000 to pay for erosion mitigation, a new water reservoir and water meters at recreation sites to conserve water. “It just goes to show you what a small town can do when everyone works together,” he said.

Sifford, who now works as a seed plant operator for CSR, proudly points to the work done on Rock Creek. Several hundred trees and other plants were planted along the creek and below the spring high water mark to provide shade for fish and slow the flow of water. Rolls of fabric were placed along a portion of the stream bank to control erosion. “Some years on a high flow we’d lose a foot of bank,” he said.

Not only was the Rock Creek project beneficial for the health of the creek, but as the trees mature the area will also look nicer. Making the town look nice enough to entice people to stop is one of Mayor-elect Micki Harnois’ goals. Work on sidewalks in the downtown area will start in the spring. She’d also like to add street lights with flower baskets to the town’s main street. “Our goal is capturing the small-townish feel that makes people want to stop,” she said.

The vast majority of people, however, just drive right through. Some people stop at the town’s antique mall, and there are a few restaurants for those who want to stop for a snack. But the list of what the town doesn’t have is longer. No pharmacy or medical clinic. No grocery store or community center. Harnois would like to see an ice cream shop and other commuter friendly businesses come to town.

But for right now Harnois is focusing on the attributes that produced the town’s award. The farmers’ market just finished its second year. It is supplied by three community gardens that also provide free produce for low-income residents. “It’s really a good cause all the way around,” she said.

The number of people attending the free summer movies in the park has been growing steadily. A group of residents is trying to get nonprofit status so they can raise money to build or buy a community center. A new Web site is under construction at

The community programs have been helped by the town’s participation in the Horizons leadership training program run by the Washington State University Extension Office and funded by the Northwest Area Foundation. The program provides training in fundraising, grant writing and community planning.

“It’s a cool little town,” Harnois said. “I thought it was an honor that we were presented the award.”

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