What are the big issues facing Rappahannock County?

We all think we know. Truth is, we’d all benefit from having the facts behind the issues, supported by solid research and an idea of where to find promising, reasonable approaches from near and far.

We can find them together. Every voice at the table.

Foothills Forum is a nonpartisan, independent 501(c)3 nonprofit, stepping forward with a mission to be a catalyst for community engagement, research and solutions.

Foothills Forum is forming partnerships to:

  • Frame and research local issues and opinion.
  • Publish and distribute actionable, solutions-based reports on those issues.
  • Convene residents and partners in civil discussions on what we can accomplish together.

MMPeterson_Foothills2015_012_smFirst out of the box is the upcoming Foothills Forum Survey, in development with our partners at the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research.

We intend to send this survey to every corner, hill and hollow of the county. Through it we will suss out the true local concerns, be they the state of our schools, the strength of our economy, the preservation of our fields and forests, the appeal of our arts, or where and how we live.

We’ll present the survey findings and deep research related to the top issues in the pages of our partner, Rappahannock Media. Then we’ll take what you told us in the survey and the additional research back out to you, in civil public forums throughout the county.

Led and advised by residents with deep Rappahannock roots, we’ve gotten here after consulting with scores of current and past elected officials, clergy, fire hall heads, journalists, artists, authors, funders, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs and educators.

Our mission has garnered widespread praise as well as cautions to proceed with full transparency. We are building a network of partners, conveners and subject experts to share and discuss our actionable findings.

Come join us at the table and let your voice be heard.

We join a growing universe of community-supported efforts enhancing local news … more than 200 … arising in the last half-decade. Each one fits the unique needs of its own community, as does Foothills Forum.

Here are examples of some fellow travelers.

* A nonprofit group called ArtsGreensboro in Greensboro, N.C., wanted more coverage of the local arts. The local News & Record couldn’t afford it. So ArtsGreensboro agreed to underwrite arts coverage, with the News & Record hiring freelance writers to provide at least 70 stories on the local arts this year. A legal agreement ensures that the News & Record has total independence to decide on stories. You can read about it in this column by News & Record editor Jeff Gauger: http://www.news-record.com/news/news-record-will-boost-arts-coverage-with-help-from-artsgreensboro/article_8003a84a-f9b9-11e3-960a-001a4bcf6878.html

* The Daily Progress, the newspaper serving nearby Charlottesville, has an arrangement with a nonprofit called Charlottesville Tomorrow, which provides coverage about local issues involving growth, transportation and development. Shrinking revenues at The Daily Progress made it impossible for the paper to continue to provide in-depth coverage in these areas. So the void is filled through an agreement to carry content produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow. CT now provides 50 percent of the coverage in The Daily Progress. Here’s a story about the partnership:


* In California, newsroom budget cuts have meant that newspapers are struggling to produce the quantity and quality of investigative “watchdog” stories that surveys repeatedly show readers crave. A nonprofit called California Watch, which produces scores of hard-hitting investigative stories each year, formed a network with many of the state’s leading newspapers. California Watch provides its watchdog stories to the newspapers for a modest fee. In return, the California Watch stories get more exposure, which leads to more financial support for the nonprofit to produce probing journalism.

* The Mountain Enterprise in Frazier Park, Calif., covers nine hamlets in a remote area 75 miles from Los Angeles (sound familiar?). In a region where wealthy, well-connected outsiders wield considerable influence over the future (sound familiar?), the Enterprise amplifies the voices of those locals who stand up for themselves. A local soil scientist and writer of letters to the editor helped by reading 15 volumes of environmental impact reports about a proposed development. With his help, the paper revealed what had been buried in the developers’ report: groundwater levels at the proposed site had fallen precipitously in the previous decade. Public hearings ensued as did continued coverage by newspaper, leading the county planning department to force the developer to redo its submission. The battle culminated in a decision by the state parks department to acquire the land in question. The editor credited numerous readers with jumping in on research.


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