Can you save a small town from itself? No more than you can save a person from selfdestructive behavior I suppose. Eagle Lake is my hometown; I was raised there, and I moved back home about 12 years ago.
Growing up, I wasn’t aware that Eagle Lake was a dying town instead of a thriving town until I was about 14 years old.
I wish I could say that things had changed for the better in those years I was gone.
Matter of fact, things have been on steady decline from bad to worse.
If you haven’t been to Eagle Lake in the last, say, three decades, upon your arrival you would find that on the exterior it hasn’t changed much, except for the increase in empty storefronts where businesses once existed.
To be fair, Eagle Lake isn’t the only small town in trouble. People left rural communities by the droves in the late 20th century (myself included), and many communities throughout the United States are noticing the decline in the number of younger residents. Economic and population hits, and rural taxpayers subsidizing their own demise as they scramble to find an avenue to growth in consistently declining communities, and the weekly reports of calamity with city government and law enforcement … sigh.
According to many statistics, and to most folks with a pair of eyes - it’s a bleak prognosis for towns like Eagle Lake.
From my view, Eagle Lake is on a sure path to implosion.
I do not think it will be any outside forces that lead to the final deadly blow to Eagle Lake.
Between the lack of cohesion with city government, the abundance of negative and apathetic residents and struggling economy and ability to form (and keep in place)solid, effective leadership, Eagle Lake will blow itself apart. Citizens should be willing to shoulder every bit as much of the blame as city officials.
I take no pleasure in writing this, it infuriates me to see Eagle Lake as it is.
It’s not “their” town - it’s “our” town.
And “our town” has no order.
But, also from my view - none of this actually has to be.
So, what’s the solution? I don’t know for sure, but since this is a space dedicated to my thoughts and opinions, here’s what I think could get us off the fast track to destruction:
1. Leadership has to come together and work together. Pettiness and bickering gets us nowhere, folks. There are no big fish in this pond, there are no turf battles. Community leadership must be a team; it’s not optional. You see, in larger cities, it’s easier to mask cracks and weaknesses in leadership, but in small towns like Eagle Lake, it’s on display for all to see.
As it should be.
2. The community of Eagle Lake has to be willing and ready to invest in itself. Less taking, more giving. Investment begins with envisioning what you want instead of wallowing about what you don’t want. In other words, more people in Eagle Lake have to ask, “How can we start creating the things we want to see in our town?” And then commit to working towards those goals … working with more than the same 10 people. In a town of 3,600 people, it’s flat out embarrassing. Exhibiting a sense of pride and accomplishment comes with group effort.
3. Learn to be proactive instead of reactive. We have fallen into a cycle that many small towns and businesses fall into: going from crisis to crisis with little to no time or energy to look ahead. We have examples of small communities similar to Eagle Lake who are succeeding nearby - what’s the difference between us and them? Attitude and outlook.
4. Improvement of communication and customer service skills with local business owners and residents. In a town as small as Eagle Lake, there should be absolutely no reason any resident should hesitate to go into a business because they don’t feel welcomed, valued or wanted.
As with any gossip, bad news and reputations travel fast. Let’s work to correct that for Eagle Lake. It’s not always about what you can offer, it’s about how you offer it. I’ll use Dollar General as a quick example: the manager and staff there listen to what customers want, and work to get products as close as possible to what their customers want. The manager there is approachable and reasonable. That goes a long way. As towns start to take care of the existing businesses, this usually leads to growth for those businesses - and the town gradually becomes more attractive to new businesses.
The reality is, over the next 50-100 years, many small towns will die, no matter the efforts. That’s just the way of the world nowadays.
But, I beg Eagle Lake, please don’t just roll over and wait to die. Get up, and get it together. Nobody is coming to save us. The future is in our hands. Will the community save itself?
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore - And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over - like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”
- Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem”