Rugged lumber industry employees arent the least bit happy about it. But, if they want to be employed and continue living in Forks, many of them will have to put down their Stihl chain saws and cozy up to personal computers.
That will be a tough transition in a timber town where lumber has been the livelihood for generations of hard workers who made a good living felling Douglas-fir on the Pacific slope of the Olympic Mountains, maneuvering log-laden trucks out of the rain forest, and operating mills that spew out finished boards.
But, the times are changing in this timber town of 3,460 on U.S. 101, home of lumberjacks and the only stoplight on the 233 miles of U.S. Highway 101 between Grays Harbor and Port Angeles.
Old growth is off limits, clear-cutting is running out of land, and the U.S. Forest Service has chopped timber sales. The Stihl saws that cut through giant trees like hot knives through warm butter are falling silent.
Forks economy is receding in the heavy rains and coastal fogs. The towns youngest and brightest residents are moving to the big cities and loggers and mill operators will have to follow them unless
unless this town finds a way to transform from a hollowed-out timber economy to a new and hopefully prosperous Digital Age economy.
For some in this Bunyanesque byway, surely the silence of the Stihls will be oppressive and a future based on fiber-optic cable and satellite signals sounds like heresy; but, many of Forks leading citizens earnestly believe that their communitys best prospect for success in the enveloping digital age is to become a high-tech hamlet in the global village.
Forks high-tech makeover is just beginning. Last January, CenturyTel selected Forks for a pilot Integrated Community Network plan. Citizens and community institutions began drafting their future in a vision work-shop in April. That plan includes helping local businesses adopt new ways of doing old business.
If their vision is realized, Forks will shine brightly through the economic fog. It will remain on the road map, perhaps even become a model for other rural communities. In pursuit of a new and brighter future, community leaders asked Cooperative Extension to help create a virtual bridge between Forks and the people-packed Puget Sound cities.
Telework is the bridge, says Dee Christensen, manager of energy extensions Telework Program.
Telework wont restore the roaring clamor of the Stihls, but it promises alternative work.
The cities that form the Puget Sound megalopolis are as hungry for workers as Forks is for employment.
Instead of moving workers out of the rural environment they love, why not let the work commute from the city out to Forks via optical fiber, microwave relays, and satellite networks?
This is the task that Forks has undertaken through the joint efforts of the local school district, hospital, and telephone company with help from WSU Energy Extension as partners in the Integrated Community Network.
Christensen has helped 200 employers across Washington Stat develop telework programs for their employees and is an internationally recognized authority in research, implementation, and evaluation of tele-work programs and telework centers.
Monica Babine is coordinating the employer telework effort. She serves as WSUs representative on the Forks Integrated Community Network and will be responsible for recruiting employers and working with them and the community of Forks to successfully establish telework jobs.
Babine says her first task is to survey businesses to identify employers with an interest in offering telework Loren Lutzheiser, WSU Department of Rural Sociology, will lead a project evaluation team.
Editors Note: A feature in the Christian Science Monitor provided a foundation for this article.