Elk City lies within the boundaries of 4.2 million acres of Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest and is part of Idaho County, a county larger than the state of Connecticut. Idaho County is over 8,000 sq. miles and is eighty five percent federally managed land. Our town was founded during the gold rush days of the 1860’s and has had a natural resource based economy through gold rush and timber days until the turn of the 21st century. Since then timber sales have dipped to a zero cut, the Bennett Forest Industry Elk City Mill has closed, and the Forest Service has decreased to 30% of its former presence.
Framing Our Community (FOC), a 501 [c] 3 nonprofit organization, was founded in 1999 by community leaders that foresaw the economic and demographic changes that faced Elk City, the surrounding region, and rural west. Area leaders that believed success lay within the framework of proactive rather than reactive programs gathered together to form Framing Our Community’s first Board of Directors. They believed that by providing demonstration projects and economic opportunities our community would survive the hard times ahead. Framing Our Community (FOC) is convinced that there is a critical need for more creative and collaborative approaches to the challenge of fire protection, forest restoration and economic development. We believe that there is a ‘way’ to integrate the ecological needs of our surrounding forests and rivers with the economic needs of the people who live here while accommodating broader communities needs like recreation, wild crafting, and social.
Public meetings helped to build the community’s vision for FOC. In the year 2000, community members determined that they wanted to retain their ties to the natural resources that surrounded them by developing small to midsized businesses, improving community infrastructure, offering educational opportunities and connecting entrepreneurs to funding opportunities. This set the direction for Framing Our Community and the formation of its Jobs in the Woods and Small Business Incubator programs.
The 1990 census shows Elk City and the surrounding township with a population of 1,500, we now number 500. Idaho County has been identified by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (REIS, May, 2001) as low income and high unemployment. Our poverty level was sixty-four percent (64%), fifty percent (50%) more young people in Idaho County living in poverty than and one hundred percent (100%) of the students in Elk City’s K-8 school enrolled in the school free and reduced lunch program. Efforts show current national economic conditions slightly improved, poverty level/free lunch, but we have miles to go.
With the decline in population that accompanies job loss, other impacts occur, like a reduction in the school’s student population. Our school is down to one full time teacher teaching K-8 education and our high school children must attend schools 50 or 63 miles away, boarding out with relatives or a willing family. They leave home on Monday morning and return Friday afternoon.