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Tule Lake historic site gets local support

Support for developing a Tule Lake National Historic Site was expressed during Monday and Tuesday night hearings on the site's proposed general management plan in Tulelake and Klamath Falls.

At the Klamath Falls meeting, several people said they want to see development beyond the National Park Service's preferred alternative, which envisions spending upward of $11.7 million over the next 20 years to create a visitor center, expand programs, preserve buildings and manage the three areas that make up the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

At the Tulelake hearing, a strong emphasis was placed on opening the Peninsula, the largest and least-visited area of the current Tule Lake Unit, to increased public use. A large promontory located across from the former Tule Lake Segregation Center, the Peninsula has been closed, except for seasonal ranger-led tours, to public access since the 1980s.

The meetings were the first two of 11 scheduled in coming weeks in California, Oregon and Washington. Two virtual hearings are planned in January.

In urging for a larger park, some people at the Klamath Falls meeting said the proposed visitor center — envisioned to be temporarily located in the ditch-rider house at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and eventually at the nearby 2,700-square-foot carpenter shop — won't be large enough to tell the stories of the segregation center, Peninsula and Camp Tulelake.

Anna Tamura, the lead planner from the NPS's Seattle regional office, said the visitor center would be one aspect of a visitor experience. Other proposed future developments include upgrading the former stockade and jail, reconstructing guard towers and barracks, developing trails, and adding "immersive" visitor experiences.

Larry Whalon, superintendent for the Tule Lake Unit and Lava Beds National Monument, said he wants to have the segregation center and temporary visitor contact station, located off Highway 139 near Newell, open to the public next year.

"It will probably be built a work in progress," he said, noting each of the envisioned three development phases would take about five to seven years.

Whalon and Tamura stressed money to develop Tule Lake, which they hope to create as separate from the World War II Valor in the Pacific, will require congressional approval. Along with the $11.7 million in development costs, the plan envisions an annual budget of about $1.2 million. The Tule Lake Unit now has a seasonal visitor contact station at the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds in Tulelake. Lava Beds staff handle Tule Lake operations, including maintenance and seasonal tours of the stockade and Camp Tulelake.

Along with focusing on World War II stories — up to 18,700 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated at the Tule Lake Segregation Center while Camp Tulelake was used as a camp for German war prisoners — Whalon said interpretation at a developed Tule Lake National Historic Site would include a "broad story" of the region's history.

Mark Clark, an Oregon Tech history professor, urged the NPS to include stories involving Klamath Falls, where some people who died at Tule Lake are buried, and other nearby communities. Jack Brandsness, who as a young boy frequently visited Tule Lake with his mother, who worked at the camp, said a national historic site will draw visitors, predicting, "People are going to spend money if we give them something to see."

While discussing the Peninsula, Whalon referred to Monday night's meeting, where Tulelake Basin people vigorously urged the NPS to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the Peninsula and Camp Tulelake, to increase public access.

"We heard that message loud and clear," Whalon said.

At both hearings, Whalon and Tamura said expansion of the proposed national historic site, including the segregation center, is not anticipated. The boundaries could be expanded, however, if property owners wish to sell adjacent land. During World War II, the segregation camp spanned 908 acres. Those lands are now privately owned for residences, farming and the Tulelake Municipal Airport.

The 1,277-acre Peninsula, also known as Castle Rock, is owned by the FWS and is co-managed with the Park Service.

"Why can't we walk up to the Peninsula?" asked an impassioned David Porter Misso, a question echoed by Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger and others. Some people who live on farms near the Peninsula said they have never been allowed to hike to the promontory, which has a distinct metal cross and for many years was the site of Easter sunrise services.

The Peninsula is culturally significant for Modoc Indians and a landmark for area residents. At Tuesday's meeting, Laurel Robinson, a Modoc Indian, expressed frustration at not being permitted to visit the area.

Discussion briefly touched on efforts by the Tule Lake Committee to sue Modoc County and Macy's Flying Service over plans to build a fence around the Tulelake Airport. The airport was part of the original camp and is 1,000 feet from the existing NPS Unit. The airport is used for regional agricultural chemical and fertilizer applications. The proposed fence, which would be funded with a Federal Aviation Administration grant, is wanted to prevent airplanes from possible collisions with wildlife.

"Both Modoc County and the FAA anticipate that Modoc County will be able to partner with the NPS and other groups to develop an ongoing program to provide access for tour of former (Camp Tule Lake) facilities on the Tulelake Municipal Airport while still meeting FAA requirements," according to a Nov. 22 letter from Douglas Pomeroy, environmental protection specialist for the FAA's San Francisco office.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.