From the August 2001 Idaho Observer:

The roads less traveled

By Don Harkins

I have, except for the summer of 1982, lived my entire 37 years in the Pacific Northwest. Whether traveling the region with my parents as a child; driving all over the place for parties, concerts and camping trips with my friends as a young adult or; as a patriot publisher going from town to town, county to county and state to state in search of the truth about what is happening to our country, I have traveled these roads. Almost all of them. End to end, it would be fair to estimate that I have done over half a million miles in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. I started doing them in the 70s and have been doing them ever since. On the weekend of July 21, I noticed something that, to me the reporter, is a primary economic indicator; to me the American, is a horror.

If you go to almost any city that is connected to the others by the interstate freeway system, you experience the hustle, the bustle the commerical, vehicular and pedestrian traffic of communities that are building, growing, shaking and moving like a red ant colony in September. Though it is easy to take such frenetic activity for granted as the way life is in the city, let's for a moment ponder the amount of resources -- food, water, chemicals, building materials, power, utilities -- it takes to keep it all going.

Then there are the smaller towns that are off the beaten track. Let us now take a look at the towns which are connected by the highways of our nation -- the roads less traveled.

On the weekend of July 21, my wife and I met several of my closest friends from high school at Banks Lake below Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington. On the way there from north Idaho, we went through Reardan, Davenport and Wilbur -- wheat country -- on a Thursday afternoon. They were dead. Many of the buildings were boarded up, there was little traffic and not much was happening. In my travels to these places in previous decades, the same towns were active and vital. They employed people who produced the food and the raw materials that made the cities grow.

On the way back, we went through Soap Lake and Ephrata. We, of course, have to take into consideration it was Sunday, but those towns were also dead: There was almost no traffic and many of the buildings were boarded up.

It must be noted that, though the towns have obvioulsy fallen on hard times, they were clean and neat as if the property owners still took pride in their communities even if they were going bankrupt.

In stark contrast to the big cities adjacent to busy freeways that require tremendous resources to keep millions of people working, eating and drinking, the towns along the less traveled highways are unable to support the few hundred people who still live in them. The children who grow up in the small towns must leave them because is nothing there that would allow them to make a living and raise a family.

What will happn to this country when the small towns of this nation are all boarded up and nobody can afford to raise the crops, mine the minerals, harvest the crops and the timber or milk the cows that millions of city people depend upon every day?

The fact that the small towns of this country are dying is perhaps the most significant of the primary economic indicators. Unless you take the roads less traveled, you would never know that the traditionally agrarian or resource dependant towns of the nation are withering while food-gobbling, resource consuming cities' needs are hemmoraging because neither the government nor its 4th branch dominant media has the decency to tell you about the supply part of this equation.

At least we told you. Do you live in the resources-gobbling big city and take for granted that beer and ice cream will always be available in the supermarket down the street that is open 24 hours? Then get a map. Pick a destination town at least 200 miles away and take the less traveled roads to get there. Stop and have lunch in one of the towns along the way and talk to the locals. Give the waitress a generous tip. Spend the day observing the wide open spaces and enjoying the fresh air. Note the lack of activity. Have dinner in a local eatery (again, generously tip the waiter or waitress) and maybe ask some locals a few questions that will easily come to your mind when you are there.

When you return home to the big city by the Interstate I guarantee you that midnight trip to an all night supermarket for a pint of Haagen Dazs will never be the same.

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