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Tule Lake to become its own national monument

Legislation to change the name of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument to Tule Lake National Monument has passed the House and Senate and now awaits an expected signature of approval from President Donald Trump.

"It was something we hoped would happen," said Angela Sutton, acting superintendent for the Tule Lake Unit and Lava Beds National Monument. She said no formal steps will be taken until Trump acts on the bill. Tule Lake's name change is a small part of the sweeping 260-page Senate Bill 47 National Resources Management Act, which was easily approved by bipartisan votes -- 92 to 8 in the Senate on Feb. 12, and 363 to 62 on Feb. 26 in the House of Representatives.

The bill was approved by all California representatives, including Reps. Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock, both Republicans from far Northern California, and all Oregon representatives, including Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, whose district borders California. Both California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and both Oregon senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, supported the bill.

The Tule Lake Unit of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument was established in December 2008 through executive action by President George W. Bush shortly before he left office. The park is scattered, with most of its nine units in Hawaii and Alaska. When the presidential order was announced, Tule Lake was reportedly a late addition.

The Tule Lake Unit, which includes the Tule Lake Segregation Center and Camp Tulelake, is located just south of the Oregon-California state line near Klamath Falls. The unit is administered jointly with Lava Beds National Monument.

The Tule Lake Segregation Center is located near Newell. It spanned 7,400 acres and included a large infrastructure that included more than 1,000 barracks plus other buildings. At its peak, more than 18,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were incarcerated at Tule Lake while another 1,800 soldiers plus teachers, nurses and other personnel staffed the facility. Tule Lake, which opened in 1942 and closed in 1946, was the largest and most controversial of 10 sites. Originally a relocation center, Tule Lake became the nation’s only segregation unit and housed people branded “disloyal.”

Camp Tulelake, 5 miles north of the city of Tulelake, was originally a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. During WWII, Japanese-Americans were housed at the camp two different times — in 1943 after some Tule Lake men refused to answer the controversial “loyalty” questionnaire and, later, when internees from other camps were housed there to help harvest crops. Later, Italian prisoners of war helped convert Camp Tulelake to accommodate German prisoner of war. At its peak, the camp housed 800 German POWs, who helped plant, tend and harvest onions and potatoes.

Both Camp Tulelake and the stockade, one of the few remaining structures at Tule Lake, are open for ranger-led tours during the summer months.

A management plan for the Tule Lake Unit was completed last year. It provides long-term guidance for the area’s management, with key issues including a year-around National Park Service presence, preservation of remaining historic buildings, and developing partnerships with local and regional groups and organizations. The plan, notably, does not recommend boundary adjustments.

Along with waiting for the president’s approval of the legislation, Sutton said no steps toward a name and management change will be made until later because Lava Beds/Tule Lake Superintendent Larry Whalon is on leave. Anticipated changes will include redoing signs, bulletins and documents. Although Lava Beds/Tule Lake managers were aware of the proposed name change, she said, “We haven’t ever discussed it as a team.”

Shortly after the Tule Lake Unit was established in late 2008, efforts to become its own national monument have continued.

“Part of it,” Sutton explained, “was the day-to-day overseeing of the operations,” noting the distance between units in the WWII Valor National Monument. “While our stories are connected, they are also different.”

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

The entrance to Camp Tulelake, which was first a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, then an additional facility to detain Japanese Americans during WWII, and finally a prisoner of war camp, part of the National Park Service. [Gary Coronado/ Los Angeles Times/TNS]