STORY — The Wyoming Rural Development Council released its community assessment for the unincorporated area of Story late last month. The report is designed to act as an enabler for action groups to begin new community projects lead by residents who take initiative.
The report, compiled from feedback received by a study team from the council during a three-day event earlier this year, outlines potential community enhancements that could benefit the community while preserving the unique culture of the town. Four major areas were considered: safety, community development, infrastructure and quality of life.
Input regarding how the community could be improved was abundant and varied. Many residents polled by the research team expressed an interest in creating a permanent home for the community’s recycling center, walking paths for residents to avoid using vehicle roadways for travel and establishing a climate that fosters more stable businesses. These, among many others, are suggestions the WRDC focused on to help the citizens of Story find the necessary resources to make the projects happen.
Story Community Fund Advisor Bernie Spielman said the information gathered is the beginning of a public consensus regarding the future of the community.
“What we think and what we, in our minds, dream of, we wanted to put that down and articulate it in writing,” he said. “That’s what the community assessment helped us do. Now, we have to take this information and prioritize it.”
Story’s unofficial community leaders are now in the process of meeting with concerned groups and individuals to establish a hierarchy of priorities for projects described in the assessment.
Spielman said the community assessment report contains viable blueprints for relevant community improvement projects, but he’s not sure where the working parties will come from.
“Story is an unincorporated community. It has no corporate governance or municipality structure, so it’s basically a group of landowners and homeowners that like to live in the area,” he said.
That means there’s no city street crew, no parks and recreation division and no built-in labor force designated for community maintenance and enhancement. Instead, any community developments will have to come from its residents in a grassroots effort.
The board members said a small section, probably less than one out of five of the 800-plus residents of Story, are active participants in existing community groups, which include the Lion’s Club, the Woman’s Club and a handful of others who serve as workhorses for the small community.
While many Story residents shy away from collective projects due to either lack of interest or lack of knowledge about how to get involved, they say that’s what needs to change for the community to move forward.
Don Tiernan, advisory board member, said the scope of the community’s current needs and ambitions will require new faces to step into leadership roles.
“Story is accustomed to small groups making things happen,” Tiernan said. “We can’t keep going on that way. We’ve got to broaden that group of people who are willing to step up and say, ‘I’m going to take this on.'”
Spielman added there may be a local misconception about the function and role of the Story Community Fund and its board of advisors.
“We’re not a group who is focused on incorporating the town of Story,” he said. “If someone wanted to do that, they’d have to form an entirely different group. What we’re doing is more from the charitable standpoint.”
“We’re not the decision makers,” he said, noting some Story residents are skeptical of the group’s initiatives, expressing they want the area to remain the same, but simultaneously agree road improvements or business stability would be desirable.
The role of the Community Fund board is further confused in the public eye because of last year’s unusual circumstances.
Last year, members of the Story Community Fund stepped in to spearhead fire prevention and defense measures in light of the Gilead Fire, which burned within several miles of the community, creating an imminent threat and need for action.
Spielman said this was a deviance from the intended role of the advisory board. Traditionally, the bookkeepers of the area’s collective funds was to be limited to a role of oversight.
He said now that the emergency is over, there’s still much work to be done. However, the primary mission of the Story Community Fund administrators today is to pass the reins.
“In any task where you try and put change into effect, there’s a built-in inertia,” Tiernan said. “That’s going to be a task for us. We’ll have to bring them along and help them develop the vision also. We can help them see what Story could be.”
Advisory Board Chairman Patrick Morgan said the community assessment is a first step toward helping the residents of Story become the primary agents for community improvement and preservation.
“The Story Community Fund’s position is we were trying to find out what people wanted the future of Story to be, and now we’re trying to facilitate the prioritizing of that,” Morgan said. “It’s not our position to say what it will be.”
Morgan further explained the board hopes Story community members will take a look at the community assessment and choose an area where they could contribute, form a committee or action group and complete the project with a fresh pool of manpower.
“These other groups will naturally form and we will help facilitate the resources,” Morgan said.
Like the landscape itself, the population of Story is somewhat atypical, according to data from the 2010 census that is compiled in the assessment. Of the estimated 390 households in the community this year, the majority of Story residents are between the ages of 45 and 74, and 30 percent are not in the labor force.
A team leader from the Community of Story Resource Assistance Team will visit the community again Sept. 26 to identify short and long-term goals for the community.
In the meantime, Story’s informal leadership is hoping to bring more faces and abilities to the table via public education and outreach.
In this spirit, the completion of the community assessment is not an end, but rather an invitation for the area’s next generation of leaders to step forward.