Austin Steinbach said he was “dead set” on moving to this rural farming town for a job that offered benefits, a $500 signing bonus and a higher wage. But the 25-year-old father of two had to turn it down after a week-long search with his wife for a home failed to turn up anything livable or in their price range.“What they offered out there was great, but I can’t afford to move because I can’t afford to rent a house there,” he said. Instead, Mr. Steinbach will stay in Creston, Iowa, where he supports his family earning $2 less an hour power-washing farm equipment and has no benefits. Fewer homes are being built per household than at almost any time in U.S. history, and it is even worse in rural communities. Developers in less populated areas can’t tap into the economies of scale available in urban centers, making materials and labor more expensive. Rural areas are also seeing their populations stagnate or decline as younger people opt for urban living, adding to the gamble involved in speculative building.“As a developer or builder, you have to think hard about whether the risk is worth the reward,” said K.C. Belitz, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. “For a lot, it isn’t.”
The first step toward better connectivity came in 2014, when Suzanne Phillips Sims, Congress Elementary School’s technology specialist, stumbled upon a small microwave internet company that was installing equipment atop the town’s water towers. Microwave connections utilize transmission towers, which must be directly in the line of sight of a receiving antenna. Sims asked the technician installing the equipment, Wayne Markis, whether he’d provide internet at the school for an introductory rate. The school’s relationship with AZ Airnet was born. Congress Elementary saw a much better connection, and the teachers were pleased with the round-the-clock service.“We adore him,” Miller said of Markis, who owns AZ Airnet. “It’s finding a quality person that will provide that individualized service.”With AZ Airnet’s help, the school made big strides, but the connection was still slow and there were problems, like maintenance calls in the middle of the night. New funding will allow Congress Elementary, as well as 60 other schools and libraries throughout Yavapai County, to access to a new fiber-optic connection that will provide faster, more reliable internet.The money comes from $1.8 million federal grant as well as $400,000 from the state, through a funding initiative that began last year. The Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative grew out of a partnership between the state Department of Education, the Arizona Corporation Commission and a nonprofit, Education SuperHighway. It designates $11 million from the state budget and Universal Service Fund to help schools and libraries improve access to internet. Matching funds from the federal Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as E-rate, have amounted to more than $100 million for the state.
Southwest Virginia turned an unused railroad right of way into a critical part of a regional tourism powerhouse. Jacob Stump, a native of the region, begins a series on how those changes have affected the economy and culture of this Central Appalachian area. The Virginia Tourism Corporation’s 2014 Economic Impact Report showed that Southwest Virginia generated nearly $971 million in tourism expenditures. And, Friends of Southwest Virginia published a 2016 report that showed a 56 percent increase over a decade in tourism expenditures. These numbers are expected to grow in the coming years.
Cory Ritterbusch and Emily Lubcke sought out Shullsburg, Wisconsin (population 1,209), for the quality of life it offered them and their children. The young couple aren’t the only ones going to (or returning to) small towns. “People don’t move to your town for pity,” Winchester said. “They move for opportunities. Nobody cares that you lost the hardware store 30 years ago… And we’re not all farmers. We haven’t all been farmers in 100 years.” Winchester looked at Census data to show that the so-called rural “brain drain” popularized in the 2009 book “Hollowing Out the Middle” is being countered by “brain gain.” Rural communities may be losing high school graduates, but they’re gaining residents with more skills and education, according to studies in Minnesota and Nebraska. In Minnesota, Winchester found that most rural Minnesota counties have gained 30- to 49-year-olds, early- to mid-career Minnesotans with significant resources and connections.
Hurricane Maria likely killed thousands of people across Puerto Rico last year, more than 70 times the official estimate, a Harvard study released Tuesday says. Authorities in Puerto Rico placed the death toll at 64 after Maria roared through the island Sept. 20, destroying buildings and knocking out power to virtually the entire U.S. territory of more than 3 million people.Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, however, surveyed more than 3,000 households on the battered island. By extrapolating those findings, researchers determined that at least 4,645 "excess deaths" occurred during the storm and the weeks that followed.
Officials and volunteers in eastern Iowa have opened a park on a former vacant lot with hopes of increasing habitat for bees, butterflies and other insects and demonstrating the importance of such efforts. The Muscatine Journal reports that the Pollinator Park opened in Muscatine May 19. Volunteers planted new plants during the ceremony.Jon Koch is a founding member of the nonprofit Pollinator Park Project group. He says they hope to attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other flying insects with the plants.Volunteers from Nature Conservancy of Iowa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Muscatine County Conservation Board and City of Muscatine helped with the project. Bridgestone Bandag donated most of the seeds and Muscatine Community College donated the greenhouse.
Over a lifetime, some Lancaster County residents may have seen a fox with mange. Hunters may have glimpsed an infected coyote. It’s a horrible sight with clumps of hair missing from the beautiful animals. Now, unfortunately, the scourge of mange has spread to bears, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission recently declared that the highly contagious disease has reached epidemic proportions in the state’s population. Though mange can and does kill bears, the Game Commission says there is no evidence that populations are declining because of it.Still, bears increasingly susceptible to mange in Pennsylvania suffer in the wild, and the Game Commission feels the time has come to know more. It has launched an extensive study along with Penn State.The capturing of 36 bears around the state has already begun. Each will be fitted with radio collars so they can be tracked for two years and studied by a group of biologists, immunologists and entomologists from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
Many schools across the country are struggling with a crippling teacher shortage. The number of students entering university-based teacher preparation programs has steadily declined and the number of teachers retiring or getting ready to retire is increasing; adding to this, current working conditions and public perceptions of the teaching profession have led to increased turnover rates — and according to some organizations, this growing shortage of teachers is at crisis level.This is especially true for rural communities, including in Colorado. Alternative licensure pathways, including residency models of entering the teaching profession, have been a lifeline for finding and keeping rural teachers in the state.The state’s 2016-17 Educator Preparation Report submitted by the Colorado Department of Higher Education [CDHE] and the Colorado Department of Education [CDE] indicates the state has seen “record low enrollment numbers” in educator preparation programs in recent years. Last year, Colorado’s legislature passed a law to allow retired teachers to be rehired without affecting their pensions. This effort has supported small Colorado districts, such as the Montezuma-Cortez School District. However, it is far from a long-term solution.Colorado House Bill 17-1003, passed last year, required the Colorado Department of Higher Education and Colorado Department of Education to study the recruitment, preparation and retention of teachers, with attention to rural Colorado and specific ways to address the state’s shortage. The just completed legislative session included three bills put forward by legislators to address Colorado’s teacher shortage, including a bipartisan bill on loan forgiveness that would compensate teachers for their service in rural areas upon completion of a preparation program. But the urgency to meet the specific needs of rural school districts in Colorado, which are disproportionately affected by the current teacher shortage, is lost within the long list of the state’s potential action items.
Water, water everywhere—but not necessarily in the places it used to be. Even just in the past two decades, freshwater has been on the move in what scientists are now realizing represents "major hydrologic change." That's according to a new study published in the journal Nature. The study looks at freshwater between 2002 and 2016 and suggests that water distribution is becoming more extreme—places that used to have more water have even more water, and places that used to have less water have even less water.That's due in part to human activities like agriculture, but also to the consequences of climate change.The study was based on data produced by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a pair of NASA satellites that orbited Earth and detected small changes in gravity caused by higher or lower amounts of water.
The Python Elimination Program, run by the South Florida Water Management District, recently celebrated a milestone: the 1,000th Burmese python has been captured. “We’ve got the best hunters this state has ever seen,” Mike Kirkland, the program’s project manager, said. “We also have a great team of district staff too and together we’ve formed this cohesive unit working together and that’s why this program has been such a success.”Experts say there are between 10,000 and 100,000 pythons in the Everglades. It is difficult to tell because the snakes are experts at hiding.