No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
- John Donne
The opening sentiments of John Donne’s classic poem – which ends with the famous lines, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – apply not just to every individual, but to every village, town, city and community in general.
The mayor of Hillsboro has of late been urging various groups, private and public, to focus on better developing, and cleaning up crime at, Rocky Fork Lake. Some will say, “Why is the mayor of Hillsboro worrying about Rocky Fork Lake? He’s the mayor of Hillsboro, not the lake.”
At a recent meeting of Hillsboro Rotary Club, Mayor Drew Hastings said the lake is a “sleeping giant” and essentially an employer. If it were to become a prime attraction “it would generate millions in revenue.” He said that enhancing the lake region is a task where the city and county “need to come together.”
A week or so later, at last week’s county commission meeting, Hastings told commissioners that the drug problems in the county are “a big concern,” and said that many people have approached him about a sheriff’s substation in the lake region, where the drug problem grows.
As Hillsboro’s mayor, Hastings’ primary concern should be Hillsboro, and it probably is. But he recognizes that Hillsboro is not an island. Hillsboro is not protected from outside influences as though it was encased in a glass globe.
Crime at the lake increases crime in Hillsboro. Increased economic development and making the lake a greater attraction would improve the economy of Hillsboro.
We’re all in this together. Hillsboro, Greenfield, Lynchburg, Leesburg, Mowrystown, the Rocky Fork Lake region and all points in between are part of one community, none of the parts of which exist in a vacuum.
Not only is the mayor of Hillsboro correct in trying to draw attention to Rocky Fork Lake, but he is in fact setting an example that all village, city and county public and private leaders should follow.
Hastings told Hillsboro Rotarians that there has been “too little coordination between the county and the city.” He added, “The city’s problems are the county’s problems, and vice versa.”
Crime is no respecter of corporation boundaries. Just last week, among the many crimes that occurred across the county, a Hillsboro resident was arrested at the lake and charged with making meth. Sometimes, it’s a lake resident arrested in Hillsboro for drugs or other crimes. There is no wall separating Rocky Fork Lake from Hillsboro.
Nor should there be. Rocky Fork Lake may be taken for granted locally, but out-of-towners recognize the lake for what it is, and what it could be.
“You really have a beautiful lake,” is a comment frequently heard by visitors who venture out on an afternoon drive east of Hillsboro. They often say it with an inquisitive tone, as though they are asking, “How come we haven’t heard more about it?”
Rocky Fork Lake is beautiful. And it could be much better. Many lake business owners and residents, through various associations, have tried hard over the years to fight crime and bring more development to the lake. But the level of help from public entities is as limited as the shrinking budgets affecting all local governments these days.
Still, a sheriff’s substation at the lake, with a rotation of deputies stationed there 24 hours a day, is a decades-old idea that should finally become a reality.
Hillsboro, with a population of more than 6,000 squeezed into about five square miles, has a police department of about 13 full-time officers, with probably two patrol officers on duty at all times to protect Hillsboro’s citizens and businesses.
The Rocky Fork Lake region, with roughly the same population spread out over maybe 30 square miles (depending on how conservatively or generously one defines the “lake region,”) is protected by the sheriff’s office, which might have two deputies on patrol for all of Highland County at any given time. It’s not enough, but it’s all that the current budget allows.
Hillsboro has a vested interest in Rocky Fork Lake, and it is right that Hillsboro’s mayor cares about what happens there. But the next logical question coming from the county might be, “OK, Mr. Mayor, if you want to get involved with Rocky Fork Lake, are you going to contribute some money?”
It is not an unreasonable question, but also not as entirely fair-minded as it sounds. If the lake becomes the financial boon many believe that it could, and if Hillsboro benefits along the way, well, county coffers would ultimately reap the rewards, too. A growing tax base helps everyone, and the county should take the lead.
But if maximizing Rocky Fork Lake’s attractiveness, expanding its economic development and fighting its crime would all benefit the city of Hillsboro – and it would - then city leaders (both in the private and public sectors) should consider chipping in, too.
Hillsboro is not an island, and it’s good that its mayor recognizes that fact. The city, by and large, has too often ignored the 2,080-acre manmade lake that was built more than six decades ago to promote southern Ohio tourism and highlight its natural beauty. It’s time for Hillsboro and Rocky Fork to partner up.
Gary Abernathy can be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.