COPAKE—People want to live out in the country, yet they want to feel connected to others and a community. That’s according to findings of the Roeliff Jansen Library’s Community Conversations Initiative.
Library Director Tamara Gaskell gave a slide presentation about the initiative at the September 12 Copake Town Board meeting. Several members of the library’s Board of Trustees were also on hand.
The initiative started back in April with a series of six conversations—gatherings of community members at the library, the Taconic Hills High School, Our Lady of Hope Church and the three Roe Jan area firehouses.
A smattering of residents (7-to-15) showed up at each event for a total of 54 participants, a mix of Ancram, Copake and Hillsdale residents. They were characterized as full-time and weekend residents, long-timers and newcomers, Town Board members, business owners, retirees and educators. Since most everyone was 50 or older, library personnel also interviewed four high school students who use the library.
Ms. Gaskell said the library initiative is an effort to get more familiar with the community it serves: people’s aspirations and concerns; how they think and talk about community issues; changes needed to reach aspirations; what people think they can achieve and whom they trust to make things happen.
Conversation participants were asked questions about: what kind of community they want; what are the most important community issues; what are the hindrances to progress; what can be done to make a difference; and how do you measure success?
Ms. Gaskell said the conversations revealed that people want to live in a scenic rural community. They want a sense of connection and community spirit, a community in which people care for one another and “volunteer to support and care for the community.”
Residents’ concerns focused on connections, communications and economic challenges.
Obstacles to connecting with others in the community include: the rural character of the place; differences between longtime vs. new residents and weekenders vs. full-time residents.
With regard to communication, conversation participants said they don’t know what is going on or where to get information.
They said economic challenges include: “a lack of good paying jobs/skills to fill jobs; a lack of affordable housing; and a lack of public transportation.” Someone noted, “There is a struggling underclass here,” Ms. Gaskell said.
More specific concerns had to do with the impact of short-term rentals on the housing market and the sense of community; lack of broadband access impacting connection with others, getting information, student learning and economic opportunity.
The lack of places for people to come together, lack of businesses that meet basic needs not just the needs of tourists or weekenders, lack of public transportation and the presence of dilapidated buildings were also listed as concerns.
Actions that would make a difference, according to the findings, are: more places and events for diverse groups to come together; development of a local newsletter or a website listing services and events for the Roe Jan area; vocational training to help students develop job skills; business development that caters to changing demographics such as seniors and second homeowners.
Conversation participants said they do not trust the Town Board to act on issues of concern, but do have faith in the Hillsdale Safe at Home Committee, Ancramdale Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the Copake Grange and the library.
Ms. Gaskell said the library will use these findings to inform the library’s five-year strategic plan.
In response to her request for questions or comments, Councilman Stosh Gansowski said the Copake Connection, the town’s emailed newsletter compiled by Councilperson Jeanne Mettler, “spreads a lot of information.”
Library Trustee Len Barham said there is the perception that The Columbia Paper is not a local newspaper.
This weekly newspaper provides coverage of Columbia County including Ancram, Copake and Hillsdale news, meetings and events. Plus each of the three towns has its own newsletter and Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin generates almost daily emails about local events, missing animals and news.
Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer said he could “shoot holes in the library’s report,” noting “all the information is out there. We can’t go door-to-door” and hand it out. “People don’t want to look for it.”
He said Columbia-Greene Community College provides extensive programming in “trade stuff.”
With regard to a central website, Mr. Nayer asked, “Who would oversee it?” He said he would be willing to speak to his fellow supervisors, Peter Cipkowski in Hillsdale and Mr. Bassin in Ancram, to see what they could figure out.
Ms. Gaskell said, “the library could play a role” as well.
Library Trustee John Cady said the community needs places to come together. “We need to get people out of their houses and talking to each other.”
Mr. Nayer pointed to the availability of the Copake Town Hall and the park building, noting that the town does take steps to bring people together, especially with the senior lunch program, in which seniors gather for lunch three days a week provided by the Columbia County Office for the Aging. “People still don’t know about it,” he said.
Going forward, Ms. Gaskell said the library will share its findings at various venues and move to foster connections and improve communications between Roe Jan area residents.