Orton Foundation unveils plan

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— The Orton Family Foundation knows just how powerful information can be. The Steamboat-based nonprofit is on a mission to empower rural communities to determine their own destinies, especially by making information accessible.

Now the foundation is working on defining how the information in its ambitious Community Information System will be presented and who exactly will do the presenting.

The foundation wants to make sure the program isn't sidetracked to become a commercial venture for local or out-of-town businesses.

The information system, called "WZ Access" after the Routt County license plate designation, will be installed at a computer kiosk in Centennial Hall. It is moving toward completion and could be ready for the public as soon as this June.

The idea for the kiosk has changed somewhat, however. Initially it was conceived as a storehouse for community information such as zoning and planning documents as well as pieces of local lore.

Now, the foundation is planning on allowing organizations to link the main "WZ Access" site to their Web sites. The entire site, in addition, will be online and accessible from home computers. With the capability to link up from anywhere and to have local Web sites present information, the foundation is attempting to establish guidelines about how the site will work and who gets to present information.

Debbie Smith, the project coordinator for the foundation, said the guidelines will be worked out by the more than 150 people involved in the project and whoever else wants to get involved by calling 871-8274.

"We don't want it to be commercial," Smith said.

Other communities have already embraced programs that allow them to both plug in and cull data from sites such as the one the foundation is implementing. Nine communities in Michigan and one in a Cleveland suburb have implemented similar systems operated by the Land Information Access Association to allow residents to access information about everything from tax bases to local history and folklore.

The Steamboat kiosk will feature a number of pieces of local information, including everything from the location of public fishing holes to the schedule and location of bus stops. Recently, the group has begun inputting data about the creation of the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan.

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