Vigorous, possibly contentious discussions are expected, and encouraged, when the National Park Service kicks off a three-week series of 11 public meetings on the future of the Tule Lake Unit this week.
The opening two sessions are set for 6 to 8 p.m. today and Tuesday in Tulelake and Klamath Falls. Tonight's meeting will be held at the Tulelake-Newell Family Resource Center in Tulelake, while Tuesday's gathering will be at the Klamath County Library in Klamath Falls.
Up for discussion will be the recently released Tule Lake Unit General Management Plan and Environmental Assessment. The plan provides long-term guidance for how the NPS will develop and manage the unit and how the stories of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II will be told.
"It will be contentious at times, but we want that and that's OK because there are stories to be told and issues to be discussed," said Larry Whalon, superintendent of Lava Beds National Monument who also oversees the Tule Lake Unit. He believes the key feature of the unit, the former Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center, is "a significant reminder of the importance of civil and human rights during times of crisis."
Under the plan's preferred alternative, Tule Lake would be upgraded with $11.7 million for roads, trails and barracks. Facilities would be reconstructed, digital media provided and visitor facilities open year-round. The unit currently operates on a seasonal basis from the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds office in Tulelake. Tours of the former jail and Camp Tulelake, which served as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp before World War II and later housed German and Italian prisoners of war, are offered during summer months.
The preferred alternative also calls for creating a Tule Lake oral history program, restoring the jail and reconstructing a guard tower, among other projects.
The Tule Lake Unit is currently part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which mainly features World War II sites in Hawaii and Alaska. Under different proposals before Congress by U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., whose district includes Modoc and Siskiyou counties, and retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Tule Lake would separate from the Valor in the Pacific and become the Tule Lake National Historic Site.
In addition to the $11.7 million in investments made during three phases, the preferred alternative would increase annual operation costs from $384,000 annually to $1.2 million. The plan calls for initially developing a visitor contact center at the former ditch rider's house and eventually creating a visitor center at the camp's former carpenter shop.
"We build a Cadillac but pulled back to what we think we can achieve," Whalon said of the planning process and scaled-down version in the preferred alternative. "It will definitely change Newell and bring some economic relief to communities in the two (Modoc and Siskiyou) counties."
He emphasized the plan does not call for expansion of the existing unit, which includes 37 acres of the former detention-segregation center, along with the 1,277-acre Peninsula and 66-acre Camp Tulelake.
"We're not looking at expanding the boundary," Whalon said of the detention-segregation center, noting a larger area would require higher management costs. "I don't think the story would be told any better."
The Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center is one of 10 areas where nearly 120,000 people of Japanese-American ancestry were incarcerated during World War II. Nearly two-thirds were U.S. citizens. At its peak, Tulelake had more than 18,700 people. Opened as a detention center in 1942, a year later it became the nation's only segregation center.
The plan would make Tule Lake similar to the better-known Manzanar National Historic Site, a former World War II detention camp in Southern California. Manzanar had 95,327 visitors in 2015.
Whalon said the general management plan and upcoming meetings are the result of a planning process that began in 2013, when more than 600 people provided public comments following 15 public scoping sessions. "Now we have something on paper," he said, referring to the 277-page plan. "We hope people will have comments we can use and put in the plan."
Not covered in the plan but expected to draw heated comments are plans to build a fence around the Tulelake Airport in Newell, which is part of the former detention-segregation center. Japanese-American groups oppose the fencing, which is wanted to prevent possible wildlife collisions with airplanes. The airport is used for agricultural-based aerial spraying operations.
Along with the Tulelake and Klamath Falls meetings, others are scheduled in Los Angeles, Carson, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose in California, Portland and Hood River in Oregon and Seattle. Virtual meetings will be held Jan. 10 and 18.
“The NPS is thrilled to be presenting the plan to the public, and especially to those who experienced the World War II incarceration at Tule Lake or were impacted in the Klamath Basin community," Whalon said. "This changes the narrative for Tule Lake. It pivots us to the future of what the site will look like and the lessons visitors will learn about Tule Lake’s unique and long-contested history. We’re eager to hear what the public thinks about the National Park Service’s plan for the Tule Lake Unit, and we hope people will attend the meetings and engage in the discussion about Tule Lake’s future."
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.