Reflections on community building in the Applegate Valley

AGA Board and Staff retreat, March 2023.

A Greater Applegate’s board and staff unite under a shared vision for the region and nurture a unified community identity. Photo: A Greater Applegate

500 square miles, three counties, two states, no cities

Near the Oregon-California border, the winding Applegate River carves out the Applegate Valley. State highway 238 follows the tributary’s course on its way to join with the Rogue River. Unincorporated communities dot the path through the watershed, its 500 square miles spreading across three counties and two states. Community builders and organizations that call this rural expanse home are subject to different state and county regulations, yet with little representation in any of them.

Prior to forming A Greater Applegate, the area’s leading community building organization, the complicated overlap of geography and government agencies challenged residents’ sense of a shared identity and made advocating for their needs difficult. The area lacked health clinics, public transportation, public services, reliable internet and cell phone service, and had little voice in land use.

“People in Oregon don’t know where the Applegate is — and particularly people who might be making decisions about us.”

“People in Oregon don’t know where the Applegate is — and particularly people who might be making decisions about us,” shares community builder Seth Kaplan. “Just by creating this effort and being an organization called A Greater Applegate, all kinds of opportunities opened up.”

Now after seven years of community building investments organized around Connections, Capacity, Community-led Action and Community Building Culture, A Greater Applegate has become the mechanism for residents to test new ideas and organize around community needs. A Greater Applegate serves as a quasi-governmental body for the collection of places dispersed through the valley, providing a way for county, state, and federal entities to connect with local residents’ needs and concerns.

“There was a lot we had to do to overcome the reasonable doubts of people who hadn’t seen a lot of resources coming toward them.”

“There was a lot we had to do to overcome the reasonable doubts of people who hadn’t seen a lot of resources coming toward them,” Kaplan continues.

United under a shared vision, A Greater Applegate nurtures a unified identity, strengthens the area’s “neighborhoods” (watersheds), and develops networks for artists, nonprofits, and businesses.

This video recounts lessons learned over their time as the area’s primary community building organization, imbued with the pride of two long-time community builders in the Applegate Valley region. Listen for inspiration, familiarity, and the comfort of knowing that while community building takes time — it’s worth it. 

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