A Town with a Vision

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(Black Butte keeps watch over The Lodge in Sisters, which opened this year on one of the town’s remaining parcels of undeveloped land. A senior housing facility, The Lodge exemplifies efforts to make Sisters “age-friendly,” one of the Sisters Country Vision project’s goals | Photo by TL Brown)

“Where are we going — and where do we want to be?” This essential question frames the discussion for Sisters Country Vision, a project sponsored by the City of Sisters in partnership with Deschutes County and the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council.

Extensive surveys and interviews were conducted to learn what Sisters area residents want from the small town that is their hub for education, community, tourism and commerce. Around 2,000 people participated. Folks were even invited to write on fabric squares, celebrating what they love about Sisters — resulting in a lovely quilt. This year, the conclusions of all this inquiry were published in the form of a vision plan and a booklet, laying out strategies and action plans.

Why undergo this laborious process? “I was a career CFO of large and mid-sized and entrepreneurial companies,” said Mayor Chuck Ryan. “From a financial standpoint, you always have to have a strategic outlook. The strong companies are really looking forward. They’re visionaries, they’re planning ahead.” After moving to Sisters, Ryan wanted local government to grow “more strategic and forward-looking. In concert with that, I wanted to build a strategic plan and know ahead of time what we need so we don’t get surprises down the road. That morphed into this visioning project.”

The vision plan’s ambitious slate of goals includes 20 strategies and about 80 action plans. Becoming a major Oregon hub for artisanal activity, with a maker’s district, is one goal. Strategy number five hopes to “Identify potential new parks, greenspaces and recreation sites and facilities in Sisters Country to meet the needs of a growing resident population and create new public amenities and visitor attractions, to recognize and honor the City of Sisters’ status as a Tree City, and develop Dark Skies program.”

Another goal is to promote an “age-friendly” city with resources for the elderly. Supporting the distinctive programming and community-based initiatives of Sisters School District is another. Number one on the list affects people of all ages: bringing an Urgent Care facility to town.

Does the vision plan have teeth? “It definitely has teeth,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “At the same time, we’re not going to accomplish everything.” One collaborator on the plan, Sisters Community Foundation co-founder Bill Hall, said it’s “better to be all-encompassing than to leave things out. If the town manages to get 75 percent of the actions done, then that’s great.”

The newly formed Vision Implementation Team and numerous public, private and nonprofit groups are currently working to “help make our vision a reality,” as stated on the project website at sistersvision.org. Ryan urges everyday citizens to volunteer.

“Look, the execution is going to be difficult,” said Ryan. “It’s going to take dollars and it’s going to take people. But there’s a ton of things we’ve already accomplished.

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