Friday, June 03, 2016

Small, rural county works to improve its children's health and thus change local health culture

Public officials and local leaders in a small, rural county in Southern Kentucky that ranks near the bottom of the state's County Health Rankings have formed a coalition to improve the health of its community, with a focus on its children.

Clinton County (Wikipedia map) ranked 102nd out of 120 Kentucky counties in the 2016 County Health Rankings. “We recognize that, we saw that in our kids,” Lora Brewington, chief compliance officer of Cumberland Family Medical Center Inc., told Kentucky Educational Television in a special about the coalition.“And if we don’t change something now, we’re going to be going to the funeral home for kids a lot younger.”

So, with the help of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky they formed the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition to implement a multi-faceted public health program for the community's citizens, that focuses on its children. The coalition recognized that most of the county's health issues stemmed from obesity.

"So we feel like if we can start young and start with our children and teach them healthy habits and healthy lifestyles that when they grow up they won't be faced with obesity and all of those chronic diseases that go with it," Paula Little, assistant superintendent of the Clinton County School District said.

Many of the coalition’s activities are school-based. Teachers have incorporated physical activity into the school day as well as during their morning routines and after-school day care programs; schools have improved their menus to include fruits and vegetables with every meal; schools now offer supper to its students during the school year; and the community now offers breakfast and lunch to low-income children in the summer on a retrofitted school bus called the Bus Stop Café.

The Healthy Hometown Coalition also implemented school-based health clinics, which provides a full range of healthcare services for children while they are at school. The clinics also provide body mass index (BMI) assessments and provide nutrition and obesity counseling.

In addition, Clinton County schools implemented a comprehensive smoke-free policy that will go into effect July 2016.

A full-time coordinator, April Speck, manages the various coalition programs and writes a weekly health column in the local news paper. The coalition sponsors community events, and has built a new playground.

“What makes me feel good about it is that I know there’s a real need here,” Speck said.“There’s a lot of kids who have childhood obesity... And just seeing them start to make changes in what they are doing, how much they are eating, their water intake, I know that we’re making an improvement.”

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Grants available for projects, studies to prevent child disease and injury in farming

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety is seeking proposals for grants of up to $20,000 for "small-scale projects and pilot studies that address prevention of childhood agricultural disease and injury." The application deadline is Aug. 17.
The center plans to award three grants. Since 2002, 52 projects have been funded though the center. It says priority will be given this year to projects that:
  • Identify and/or address emerging trends in agriculture that may pose risks to children, such as drones, robotics, community-based agriculture, urban agriculture and agri-tourism.
  • Address issues pertaining to barriers, motivators and interventions for keeping young children out of farm worksites.
  • Address vulnerable populations, such as immigrant workers’ children, Anabaptists, African Americans and Native Americans.
For information on eligibility, how to improve your chances of being funded, submitting a proposal and other frequently asked questions, go here, or call or email Marsha Salzwedel at 715-389-5226 or 1-800-662-6900, option 8.

Harlan County, U.S.A., looks toward life after coal

Harlan County, Kentucky, "where miners’ fierce battles against deadly working conditions remain a symbol of union grit and militance . . . has occupied an outsized place in the American consciousness," Jeff Kelly Lowenstein writes for In These Times, noting the 1976 documentary Harlan County, U.S.A. But now, "Harlan is also an emblem of the hard times that have fallen on coal country."

Chester Napier: "The
coal will never be back."
Eastern Kentucky has lost more than half its coal jobs in the last five years, and that "presents young people with a hard choice. Many end up leaving families behind to seek factory work in cities or mining jobs in southern Illinois or Alabama," Lowenstein writes.

Some laid-off miners "are placing their hopes in a Donald Trump presidency to revive the moribund coal industry," Lowenstein reports. "Others, like Bobby Simpson, draw on religious faith and a ceaseless work ethic to keep going." Simpson, who is blind, runs the Cranks Creek Survival Center, "a nonprofit that provided food, clothing and home repairs to area residents for decades" but now as no money. "All agree on the region’s bleak present and dim future."

“It’s not good,” Chester Napier, 75, a former mine truck driver. “Some of the politicians say they’ll bring the coal back, but the coal will never be back.” Lowenstein's story is illustrated with stark, black-and-white photographs by Jon Lowenstein.

Off-farm income grows more important to farmers, but small-town job creation may be at risk

The importance of farmers' off-farm income is illustrated by a forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Income from farming is expected to fall 3 percent this year, but farm household income is forecast to rise 5 percent.

Urban Lehner
"For some farmers, off-farm income is literally a life-support system," writes Urban Lehner, editor emeritus of DTN The Progressive Farmer. "Their revenue from farming may cover farm expenses, but it isn't enough to feed, clothe and educate their families. For that, they or their spouses or both work in town."

But what if work in town gets scarce, as may happen "because new business-formation in lightly populated areas is cratering." Lehner notes, citing a recent report in The Washington Post. "New businesses have traditionally been an outsized source of new jobs. It's not surprising, then, that with nearly two-thirds of the rural counties having fewer businesses in 2014 than in 2010, job-creation rates have fallen, as well. These counties accounted for less than a 10th of the nation's new jobs from 2010-2014. In the 1990s, they had accounted for as much as a quarter of the new jobs."

Lehner writes, "What I wondered reading this story was how off-farm income has managed to continue rising in the face of these depressing trends. Not just rising: rising faster than household income nationally. The best theory I could come up with is that farmers these days tend to be well-educated people with strong work ethics, the kind employers like. What jobs there are, farmers have been more likely to get. But even if my theory explains the past, what about the future? Will off-farm income continue strong if rural new-business formation continues to plummet?"

What are critical access hospitals? Where are they? Where are those that have closed? Maps show

Critical access hospitals are critical to rural health care, but some of them are in critical condition. As many as one-third are in danger of closing. Twelve have closed this year, bringing the total to 74 since 2010, They are by definition small, with limited services, but we reported May 18 that a study had shown four common surgeries are cheaper and safer at such hospitals. North Carolina Health News reported on the study May 27 and linked to a map showing the 1,284 CAHs:

The Daily Yonder picked up the story this week and added another useful map, an interactive one from the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, showing the CAHs that have closed since 2010:

Congress developed the CAH designation to help sustain rural hospitals, with additional Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. In return, the hospitals can have no more than 25 acute-care inpatient beds, must have a full-time emergency room, must be more than 35 miles from another hospital (or 15 miles from another hospital in mountainous terrain or areas with only secondary roads), and have an annual average length of stay of no more than 96 hours for acute-care patients. For more on CAHs, from the Rural Health Information Hub, click here.

21 of the 25 U.S. counties with oldest populations are rural; so are one-fourth of senior Americans

Mitchell, in Wheeler County (Atlantic photo by Alana Semuels)
"As young people increasingly move to cities, what happens to the people and places they leave behind?" The Atlantic magazine asks, in a story titled "The Graying of Rural America" and reported by Alana Semuels in a long story from Fossil, Oregon.

"Fossil is the seat of Wheeler County, where the median age is 56, which is the highest of any county in Oregon," Semuels notes. "By contrast, the median age of Multnomah County, where Portland is located, is 36.1. From 2000 to 2013, the median age in Wheeler County rose from 48 to 56." The county is Oregon's smallest in population (1,300). The town once had "four gas stations, three grocery stores, three car dealers, and a lumber mill. Now, there’s just one restaurant in town open at night. The nearest hospital is more than an hour away, the nearest city, Bend, is two and a half."

"Over the past two decades, as cities have become job centers that attract diverse young people, rural America has become older, whiter, and less populated," semuels writes. "Between 2010 and 2014, rural areas lost an average of 33,000 people a year. . . . Roughly one-quarter of seniors live in rural communities, and 21 of the 25 oldest counties in the United States are rural. Population decline in rural America is especially concentrated in the West," where "technical developments have replaced a lot of the jobs,” Don Albrecht, the director of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University, told Semuels.

Storm chasers make rural roads more dangerous

Storm chasers in "Tornado Alley" are getting so numerous and reckless that they are making rural roads more dangerous, meteorologist Eric Holthaus reports for Slate.

"Weather fanatics call this traffic phenomenon 'chaser convergence,' and it’s increasingly making rural roads unsafe at the worst possible moments," Holthaus writes. "Chaser convergence has been around for years but likely never on this scale (each red dot represents a storm chaser reporting his or her location):"
Holthaus offers other maps, and photographs, as evidence of road congestion caused by storm chasers. "And those are just from two days in late May," he writes. Earlier in the month, "A storm chasing team that calls themselves 'Basehunters'—a well-known group with more than 50,000 Facebook fans—flirted with the outer edges of a tornado in Oklahoma, all the while rolling film and calling chasers that were even closer 'ballers.' At one point, their vehicle backs up at a high rate of speed on a highway as telephone poles are falling around them. At another point, one of the chasers says, “I don’t think we’re going to get a ticket, not with the tornado right there.” Thankfully, that video wasn’t widely shared (and I won’t embed it in this post in hopes that remains the case)."

Holthaus writes, "I have no problem with storm chasers (many of whom are meteorology students) who keep a safe distance from tornadoes and are out there to learn about, and witness, some of the most beautiful and powerful storms on the planet. But I don’t have many kind words for the people trying to get as close as possible, cameras rolling with dollar signs in their eyes, as bystanders’ livelihoods are destroyed. . . . I can’t think of another activity in which enthusiasm is so juxtaposed with actual suffering."

Cash-strapped farmers getting so many federal loans that money may run out this summer

"Farmers and ag lenders relying on Farm Service Agency direct loans or guarantees could see those loans delayed this summer as demand is quickly draining available funds," Chris Clatyon reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "Several ag groups are sending a letter Thursday to members of the House and Senate appropriations committees highlighting the escalating demand for these loan programs and pointing out the USDA's Farm Service is expected run out of funds later this month for direct operating loans and guaranteed operating loans. Roughly $650 million in potential farmer loans could be delayed."

More farmers are turning to FSA for financial aid, maonly because the commodities they produce are bringing lower prices, Mark Scanlan, senior vice president for agriculture and rural policy at the Independent Community Bankers Association, told Clayton, who notes: "While loan guarantees and direct loans were often considered reserved for beginning farmers or smaller producers, more ag lenders are seeking guarantees on loans with commercial farmers. Other farmers are increasingly turning to FSA for direct operating loans as well. The main problem is that more farmers are struggling to cash-flow their operations."

Citing Doug Stark, president and CEO of Farm Credit Services of America, Clayton reports, "One of the biggest challenges facing farmers in the current market cycle isn't as much an issue of debt-to-equity, but working capital." Stark told him, "Leverage and interest rates aren't the issue in this cycle, it's cash flow with the cost of production and the price of commodities."

Clayton gives the nuts and bolts: "FSA was budgeted $2 billion for guaranteed farm ownership (real estate) loans, and has funded $1.67 billion thus far. Loan availability may differ from state to state. FSA grants each state an allocation so one state may use its loan authority quicker than other states and run out. USDA does have an emergency funding lever to pull, with authority to add up to 25 percent for FSA loan programs if demand outstrips appropriations. USDA has used that authority the past two years, but not for the full amount possible. If that authority is used again this summer, it's likely nearly all of it will be used as credit. If loan demand reaches the point USDA is forced to stop or delay funding loans, farmers could wait until the new funding year begins Oct. 1. The delay could go longer depending on complications with congressional appropriation bills."

W.Va. coal baron and gubernatorial nominee runs behind on reclaiming Kentucky strip mines

Justice owns The Greenbrier.
UPDATE JUNE 8: "Kentucky environmental regulators spent the weekend and Monday investigating a mudslide at a Pike County surface mine owned by West Virginia coal baron Jim Justice that they say contributed to local, damaging flooding last week," James Bruggers reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. "State officials Monday confirmed their investigation was centered on Justice's Bent Mountain mining operations, which had significant reclamation deadlines last year and are the subject of ongoing enforcement activities."

"U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation spokesman Chris Holmes said the company contacted the federal agency Monday – in Tennessee, not Kentucky, and not to let it know about the problem but to say the company was moving people out of Tennessee to help people in Kentucky with a flooding problem," Bruggers writes. "The Justice-owned company, Kentucky Fuel Corp., was cited by state regulators for having an overflowing diversion ditch that sent mud and water down a hill, damaging six homes, officials said. Citations included alleged violations involving sediment control, off-permit disturbance, failure to notify, failure to pass water quality and a diversion ditch failure. Multiple other homes had mud and debris on their property, and a county road was also muddied."

West Virginia coal and hotel operator Jim Justice, the state's Democratic nominee for governor, is asking a Kentucky judge for more time to reclaim strip mines in eight Eastern Kentucky counties.

"I am OK with what they are proposing," state Natural Resources Commissioner Allen Luttrell told Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate yesterday. But he said Justice's mines "have been out of time for months, and months, and months," and steady progress is needed. Another hearing will be held July 13.

Wingate told Justice representative Billy Shelton that the court needs progress reports every two weeks on their progress. "Shelton balked," reports James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal. "He had suggested monthly reports, according to state officials, who said past reports by the company were misleading: One company would start a bulldozer and let it idle in place, not doing any work, and they'd report that as reclamation activity." Wingate told Shelton, "All you have to do is take a picture. I could do that with my iPhone."

One of the highwalls that need reclaiming
State lawyer Anna Girard Fletcher told Wingate that the Justice companies "have quite a bit of work to do to come into compliance." Bruggers writes, "Justice has proposed a new compliance plan, but Fletcher declined to make that immediately available. The Courier-Journal reported on Monday that of the nine miles of surface-mining highwall  that were supposed to be reclaimed by Sept. 1, barely over a half-mile has been completed. State officials have called the matter one of their largest mining enforcement actions in more than 15 years. The companies are accused in court documents of falling behind restoration goals that were agreed upon in August 2014."

Did leaking gas well cause fire that disabled Texan and burned his family? Probe leaves questions

A well near the Murray home (Texas RRC)
Texas officials didn't fully investigate whether leaking natural gas caused a fire that disabled a Texas man and also burned members of his family, Mike Soraghan reports for Energy Wire.

Cody Murray of Perrin "suffered second- and third-degree burns over nearly a quarter of his body. His father and 4-year-old daughter were also burned in the August 2014 flash fire," Soraghan reports. "The nerves in his arms were burned off to above his elbows. . . . The injuries cost him his job as a field operations foreman for a Fort Worth oil company."

For two years, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, has been investigating whether "oil and gas wells scattered around Murray's neighborhood could have leaked methane into his water," Soraghan writes. "RRC officials say they still don't know whether oil and gas wells played a role in the explosion. Although they've traced the gas to the deep layers from which natural gas is produced, they've left the source of the contamination as 'inconclusive'. But thousands of pages of RRC records and emails, obtained by EnergyWire under Texas open-records law, show significant gaps in the investigation and suggest at least one potential source wasn't fully examined. A damaged and possibly leaking gas well nearby wasn't tested to see whether it matched the gas in Murray's water. Before the explosion, agency officials dismissed warning signs of stray gas in a neighbor's water well. And RRC officials found possible errors in their safeguards for keeping stray gas out of groundwater."

Murray has filed suit against nearby well operators but not the RRC. Before Muray was injured, neighbors reported apparent leakage of hydrocarbons into their water wells, and frustration with RRC investigators, though the agency ordered a leaking well to be shut. "A well, a narrow hole drilled deep into the earth, doesn't necessarily stop producing gas when a valve is turned at the surface," Soraghan notes. "The gas can keep coming. It just doesn't always come out the hole it was supposed to."

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Vt. to vote next week on massive school merger

"In Vermont, voters will decide next week whether to okay the largest public school reorganization in 125 years," PBS NewsHour reports. "A new ballot measure would merge smaller schools and do away with perks that let parents use tax dollars to send their kids to private schools, even in Canada. Opposition is fierce, but advocates say it’ll cut costs and strengthen public schools." John Tulenko of Education Week reported the story in cooperation with PBS.

"Vermont is a collection of small towns, many with just one or two schools, and where people feel they have a say in their children's education," Tulenko reports. But the schools are among the smallest in the country, so many offer few special classes or programs. A new state law would cut the number of districts by half. Towns approving merger on June 7would get state tax incentives, and those rejecting it would lose part of their state funding.

House Speaker Shap Smith told Tulenko that part of his motive for pushing the law was relief from high property taxes, which support one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the nation. Jay Nicholas, superintendent of five districts (the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union) in northern Vermont, said "We have too many adults for the number of kids we have. That's why we have the most expensive education system in the United States."

Early antiwar activist dies in obscurity, and the national paper of record runs an obit 7 years later

Don Duncan made this liberal magazine's cover.
The obituary in The Madison Courier in Southern Indiana about a 79-year-old man who had died in a local nursing home was nothing special, other than noting his sister (actually a stepsister) was Mitzi Gaynor, not otherwise identified. It also did not mention that he had returned from a tour as a Green Beret sergeant in Vietnam and quit the Army to become "one of the war's fiercest critics, well before the antiwar movement had gathered steam," reports William McDonald of The New York Times.

McDonald is the Times obituary editor. His story ran last week. The obituary of Donald W. Duncan had appeared in 2009, unbeknownst to the Times, which a few years later started to prepare an obit on him because he "made an appreciable impact on the national discussion of the war," McDonald wrote.

When the Times discovered that Duncan's death had been reported, it had a decision to make. "If another news organization, particularly one with national reach, had run an obituary in 2009, we would have stood down, acknowledging that we had been napping back then and that it was way too late now to make up for the lapse," McDonald wrote. "A competitive daily newspaper isn’t keen on reporting something that happened seven years ago. Unless, of course, virtually no one else had reported it. We decided to pursue the obituary, the seven years notwithstanding. The thinking was, we would have written about Mr. Duncan immediately after he died had we known, so we should apply the same standard now. His death, in a sense, was still news, and his story still deserved to be told. What’s more, in an odd way, the very obscurity of his death added an unexpected, even poignant, element."

The Times obit by Robert McFadden said Duncan "died in the obscurity of a small Midwestern town seven years ago, an all-but-forgotten soldier. He was 79. In an age of seeming information ubiquity, the news media will generally recall the lives of noteworthy people when they die. But Mr. Duncan’s death went largely unnoticed outside of Madison, Ind., the Ohio River town where he lived."

Senators say they lack name recognition because fewer home-state newspapers cover Congress

Morning Consult poll; click image for larger version
The fragmentation of the news media, leaving Congress less covered by regional newspapers, has caused a name-recognition problem for senators who were first elected recently and are seeking their first or second re-election this year, Paul Kane reports for The Washington Post.

"Partisans largely receive their news from ideologically driven cable news and social media," Kane writes. "Middle-of-the-road voters, reliant on their local news, are often left in the dark." While more reporters than ever are covering Congress, "They increasingly write for inside Washington publications whose readers are lawmakers, lobbyists and Wall Street investors," Kane reports. "A Pew Research Center study released earlier this year found that at least 21 states do not have a single dedicated reporter covering Congress."

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who was first elected in 2004 but remains largely unknown by more than a fourth of his constituents, told Kane, “We go six years with no coverage. So it’s like you weren’t here for six years. Your name ID drops into the 40s.” The solution, he said, is to air $5 million worth of TV ads: “It pops right back up to the 80s.”

Jonathan Bernstein cites Kane's report in writing for Bloomberg News, "In the old days, a senator might hope to receive positive media coverage when he or she introduced the bill; when a committee held hearings; when the bill passed the Senate; when it cleared the final congressional hurdle; when it was signed into law; when the new program was funded (in a separate appropriations bill); when the hospital won a grant; at a ground-breaking ceremony; and at the ribbon-cutting when the construction was completed. Maybe a few more times, too. But now most of those steps are becoming invisible to most people in the district."

The poll numbers Kane cites are based on a national survey by Morning Consult, which is "not a perfect snapshot of the Senate races," he writes. "It uses online, opt-in surveys which are less reliable than the traditional methodology of calling a random sample of the population. Live interview surveys in some of the states produced varying levels of approval for these senators, but the similar thread in both forms of polling was a large bloc of voters not having an opinion of the senator’s job performance."

St. Catharine College in Ky. says it will close, blames dispute with U.S. Department of Education

When the only women's college in Kentucky announced last month that it would admit men as resident students for the first time, the president of Midway University indicated it was a move for survival in "challenging times for private higher education." His point was illustrated in another small Kentucky town today, as Saint Catharine College near Springfield announced that it would close next month.

The school went four-year in 2003.
In a press release, the chair of the Roman Catholic college's board blamed "the decline in overall enrollment, caused recently by the federal Department of Education's admitted wrongful withholding of student aid on several key academic programs," as well as the debt the college took on in building facilities such as "residence halls, a health-sciences building, and most recently a state-of-the-art library." Enrollment had declined to 475 from 600.

The Education Department acknowledged wrongfully withholding $42,671, but more than $1.1 million was at issue. "St. Catharine estimates it has spent roughly $660,000 of its own money on aid payments it argues the federal agency should have covered," Marcus Green reported for Louisville's WDRB-TV in March. In mediation, the agency refused to pay damages for harming the school's enrollment and reputation, the press release said.

The main issue was "whether the college needed to obtain federal approval to disburse financial aid to students enrolled in undergraduate degree programs that were added from 2011 to 2014. St. Catharine didn’t seek the approval, according to the lawsuit, because it did not believe those programs amounted to a substantial change in the college’s offerings," Green reported in February.

"Administrators are working to find colleges willing to take the programs and students," Stephan Johnson reports for WDRB. Those include Midway University and nearby Campbellsville University.

The college is home to a sustainable-farming program founded by author-farmer-poet Wendell Berry and his daughter Mary, who told Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader that she wasn't ready to say where it will go.

"Michael Lewis, founder and director of the Growing Warriors Project in Livingston, which provides farming education to veterans and others, graduated in May with the Berry program’s first class," Blackford reports. "Lewis said he learned much about farm policy, philosophy and community development, and said he found it ironic that St. Catharine, a community anchor in a largely agrarian area, would close."

“It’s the economic anchor of this community,” he told Blackford. “I think it speaks to the ways our communities and cultures are controlled from afar. It’s really going to affect a lot of people, and it’s something that didn’t have to happen.”

Monday, May 30, 2016

Trump energy plan doesn't add up, experts say

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wants to relax the rules on oil and gas drilling, otherwise encourage energy development and cancel the recent multinational agreement to fight climate change.

Speaking in North Dakota last week, Trump also promised to revive the Keystone XL pipeline and restore lost jobs in coal mining, but his claims on that and other points "essentially defy free-market forces," Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times.

In a follow-up story citing several energy experts, Davenport notes that encouraging more gas production would lower prices and further depress demand for coal. She also says Trump's vow to increase oil and gas production runs into some inconvenient facts: U.S. gas production is at a historic high, and oil production "is already higher than it has been in 40 years. . . . At a certain point, production of oil and gas will push prices too low to justify even more production."

Trump also said more oil and gas production from federal lands would substantially reduce the $19 trillion federal debt, but energy economists dismissed that idea, too. Such royalties now net the government less than $10 billion a year in a budget of $3.8 trillion, and "experts say it is difficult to predict a new revenue stream at the scale envisioned by Mr. Trump."

Fewer counties are economically dependent on farming; a growing lot are dependent on oil and gas

The number of counties that the Department of Agriculture considers "farming dependent" has dropped to 444 from 511 a decade ago, a drop of 13 percent, while the count of mining-dependent counties grew 60 percent, from 130 to 219, thanks mainly to horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, according to Amber Waves, a publication of USDA's Economic Research Service. The ones that dropped off the farm-dependent list are shown in brown on this map; those where farming became more important are in blue, and the other farming-dependent counties are in green.
"Farm consolidation, increasing productivity, and labor-saving technology has led to a significant decline in farm employment," ERS's Timothy Parker wrote. "Nationally, the number of farm jobs fell by 14.1 percent between 2001 and 2013. During the same period, total farm earnings increased 63.4 percent (in real terms), according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Farming dependence has become more concentrated in Midwestern counties, while farm dependence has dropped more sharply elsewhere.

The recent drop in oil prices may have reduced the number of counties dependent on mining. This map shows in colors the counties that were judged to be dependent on farming, mining, recreation, manufacturing and government in 2012. Click on either map for a larger version of each image; for more detail, save the image and enlarge it.

Rural areas may need collaboration to create places for residents to get exercise

"Many rural mothers, who rely on outdoor activities to promote health and well-being for themselves and their families, face obstacles in accessing publicly available outdoor recreation resources." So says a study at the University of Illinois, Carleen Wild reports for HealthZette, an online publication.

Research professor Ramona Oswald told Wild, “The moms in this study know about health and what to do to be healthy. It’s not a lack of education. It has to do with barriers and access to resources. Especially in rural communities, you struggle with distance between people and resources. . . . You could walk down a county road or a highway, but unless there was community investment in a park or a playground, a walking trail, or some kind of a facility at a local school, moms didn’t have access to nature, even though they were surrounded by it.”

Many rural residents are like Heidi Baltezore, who lives in a rural area about 30 miles north of Sioux Falls, S.D. She told Wild, “My biggest struggle is finding ‘safe’ places to run or walk. I can go up and down my driveway, but I get bored with that,” and “The road that runs by my house has no shoulder — in fact, years ago my neighbor was biking and was hit and killed, so there is a worry about distracted drivers, plus normal driving hazards. The hills and the setting or rising sun also make it not an option unless I’m absolutely desperate to run on the road. And for sure, it’s never an option with the little ones or our pets.”

In Marshall, Minn., the city, a neighboring town, the county and the state parks and transportation agencies collaborated to "create an extensive bike trail system, a new ice arena, gym access to local health care providers, and more," Wild reports. Doug Goodmund, the city's assistant community services director, told her, "It's really getting used — from pedestrians, to moms with strollers, to bicyclers, young and old. It's a win-win all around and we're just getting started."

North Carolina Republicans suffering from a rural-urban divide as governor's race heats up

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (AP photo)
When Pat McCrory became governor of North Carolina in 2013, "Republicans controlled state government from top to bottom. But it quickly became apparent that they weren’t all the same sort of Republicans," Joe Killian reports for the Greensboro News and Record, citing Catawba College Professor Michael Bitzer. "The state Senate, largely elected from more rural parts of the state, has been aggressive in pushing a strong conservative agenda that benefits rural areas while targeting cities, Bitzer said. The comparatively moderate House often has pushed back, slowing or even stopping strikes against urban and suburban areas from which some House Republicans are elected. But even representatives within the House GOP caucus have found themselves at loggerheads, further illustrating this urban-rural divide."

"Both chambers have feuded with McCrory, who came into office a moderate Republican and former mayor of Charlotte, the state’s largest city and one of its most progressive," Killian writes. "The governor has vetoed legislation from the General Assembly but repeatedly has seen his vetoes overturned. He has taken state lawmakers to court, accusing them of attempts to usurp his executive powers. But even when he has won those battles, he has found the war continues," even as he seeks re-election against Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.

The current debate focuses on the law, passed in a special session called over McCrory's objections, that "excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from new statewide anti-discrimination protections and bars local governments from passing such protections," Killian notes. "It also prevents people from filing employment discrimination suits in state court. Perhaps most controversially the law requires people to use bathrooms and changing rooms in government buildings and schools that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates." Advocates of the law are hanging tough.

McCrory and the legislature are also at odds about its effort to reconstitute a coal-ash commission that he shut down through a lawsuit. He has said he would veto the House bill if passed by the Senate, but his fellow Republicans said they would override him, and both sides are talking about going to court again. Killian sums it up: "A Republican governor's facing off with Republican lawmakers, each arguing the others’ approach to dealing with an environmental disaster could prove too lenient toward the major corporation responsible." That's Duke Energy, where McCrory worked last.

'Tough-minded but fair' paper perseveres in face of online raiders that 'slow dance' with advertisers

As summer began, and New York City's attention turned to the Hamptons, The New York Times sent media reporter Jim Rutenberg to the South Fork of Long Island for a story on the East Hampton Star, a weekly newspaper that, he writes, is "luckier than most in its class. Many big real estate brokers still view its great big print spreads as a good way to market their huge Hamptons properties." The Star still uses the wide sheets favored by many Northeast newspapers.
"Craigslist does not have enough of a presence here to kill off the Star’s classified listings," Rutenberg continues. "Advertising has given the Star enough resources to start a new four-times-yearly glossy magazine, East, and enough juice to maintain the paper’s mission, which is to 'ask hard questions, not be afraid to make public officials angry'," Publisher David Rattray told him. "But new competitors like, owned by Vox Media, and Patch, not to mention Facebook, have exerted pressure. Circulation is down to a maximum of 12,000 from 16,000, though many tens of thousands more read it online," and “Our gross is about half of what it was at its peak” in 2006, Rattray said.

The Rattray family has owned the 131-year-old paper for 81 years. "Through the advent of the movie house, the radio, the television, glossy new magazines and now the Internet, The Star has continued to stand," Rutenberg writes. "And that’s a 131-year testament to the central role that family-owned, small-town newspapers can still play — even though, like its big-city brethren, it faces its worst, and possibly last, threat from the web."

Hamptons "roughly conterminous with the South Fork" --Wikipedia
Looking ahead to the summer, Rattray editorialized last week in favor of East Hampton's moves to curb “excesses of the summer bar and party scene,” which Rutenberg says "has been stoked by what longtime residents see as an invasion of club promoters and developers with sensibilities that can seem more Manhattan than Montauk, a hamlet with a proud blue-collar fishing tradition." Rattray told him, “Without a tough-minded but fair family-owned newspaper, the forces kind of arrayed against this place, the South Fork, would win. Maybe that’s arrogant to think, but it’s how I was raised.”

Rutenberg contrasts the Star with Whalebone, a local online magazine that "designs sponsors’ ads to run seamlessly, and openly, in the editorial content, such that a gorgeous spread of old Montauk fishing photos in the latest issue of the magazine is prominently 'presented by Chris Coleman with Saunders' real estate. Their young readers are unfazed by that sort of integration, they say. That’s good, because as traditional print advertising dwindles, media organizations everywhere have to come up with new ways to pay for their coverage. Yet newspapers like The Star can change only so much. Hard news missions preclude slow dancing with advertisers. With the more traditional model, Mr. Rattray says, 'I can only see out about 18 months.'"