Scrappy Yacolt rebounding from recession

By Lauren Dake, Columbian political writer

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Yacolt is the type of community where neighbors still ask each other for a cup of sugar.

The grocery store doubles as a feed shop, and nobody thinks much about crime.

Before moving to Yacolt, Town Councilor Lewis Gerhardt said he lived in an apartment in Las Vegas for three years without learning his neighbor's name.

Here, if one of his six children falls off a bike or is up to no good — he gets a call.

"If you leave a door open and a neighbor notices, they'll close it," Gerhardt said.

The town, population 1,605, was hit hard during the recession. Young families packed up and left, with some moving to North Dakota hoping to find work in the oil fields.

But now, many of the families are back, and the town is rebounding with them.

On a hot summer August afternoon, the mayor hops in his pickup and heads to the town's most recent pride and joy: a new park, complete with disc golf, a dog park, soccer field, walking trail and BMX track.

"We have one of the most populated grade schools, and we need parks," said Mayor Jeff Carothers.

With the help of grants, the community moved swiftly to add a skate park in the center of town and create a new recreation area on the edge of town. The recreation area, with the town's only regulation-size soccer field, means the town's young soccer players no longer have to scramble in fields meant for Little League.

"We could host the next World Cup here, technically," Carothers joked.

As it is with some towns who want to thrive, but also stay true to their rural roots, Yacolt could have some growing pains. There are those who would like to see nothing change and others who wouldn't mind seeing Yacolt experience a bit of a boom.

Carothers said he's hoping to land somewhere in the middle and on the lookout for the "right kind of business" to move to town.

In the meantime, the town has thrown its efforts behind building recreational areas for the community. The new skate park had input from young skaters the entire way, the mayor said. It was built using a grant from the parks foundation. And the recreational area was created thanks, in part, to a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development.

The purchase of the land for the recreation area, which takes up about 8 acres, was finished in 2013.

"We tend to get things done quick out here," Mayor said.

"Yeah, we don't mess around," said Cindy Marbut, the town's treasurer and clerk.

And the town's officials pride themselves on a scrappy approach. When a middle school was torn down in Amboy, they reclaimed the materials that will one day be part of a pavilion in the new recreation area.

"Someone else's junk is our treasure," Marbut said.

The BMX track was originally just leftover dirt, but some of the inmates from Larch Corrections Center who were helping with the recreation area had a better idea.

"We do a lot with a little," Carothers said.

Yacolt, according to the town's website, translates to 'valley of the demons' or 'haunted place.' The lore is several children camping in the area left their camp and were never found. The Native American legend maintains that evil spirits had whisked them away.

These days, the town is much better known for affordable homes and relatively easy living.

"It's a great place to raise your kids," Gerhardt said.