A Sense of Place

From the winter issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

FEW PEOPLE DO A BETTER JOB OF creating a sense of place than Robert Frost—in his case, describing life in rural New England. In our region, we have many small communities and towns that have strong identities and character. It is deeply felt by locals and visitors.

Examples might include a snowy evening on Broad Street in Nevada City, a postcard-perfect scene; the rows of Victorian homes in Grass Valley, crowned by the Art-Deco-style Del Oro Theatre; or the historic buildings in Old Town Auburn. “Soul of Place” is the theme of Nevada County’s first annual Sierra Poetry Festival.

Downtown Loomis and Lincoln have their own charm, and Truckee is redolent of a true Western town. Other towns to the south include Sutter Creek and Plymouth in Amador County, surrounded by vineyards that date back to the Gold Rush.

Our region’s small towns are worth celebrating as other municipalities build out at breakneck speed, in some cases jeopardizing the open spaces and wildlife corridors that have defined the American West. These cities—hungry for tax dollars to “feed the beast” of city services—risk losing their own sense of place, becoming cookie-cutter replicas of one another. In the end, that can be bad for business.

The growth debate has created some friction within the region. In the foothills we often hear the refrain “Don’t Roseville Nevada County.” In Tahoe, some locals have complained about the “Coloradoization” of ski resorts, renaming it “Tahoe-rado.”

It’s a balancing act, to be sure. We appreciate much of the capital improvements at the ski resorts—new chair lifts, lodging and better dining options—and remain hopeful that Tahoe will retain its sense of place.

Besides preserving their heritage, towns with strong identities have become little “economic engines,” drawing recreational enthusiasts such as skiers, mountain bikers and fishermen to escape from the “big city,” as well as people looking for shopping experiences besides malls. Our vineyards and craft breweries are a popular draw, and our farmers markets, with fresh, local food, are going year-round.

Performing arts groups—such as The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley— also foster an arts and culture scene that draws people from all over. Some decide to stay, or start a business.

To ring in the New Year we dedicate this issue to our small foothill towns that create a sense of place in our region and help create a sustainable economy.

(Photo: Elizabeth Carmel)

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

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