By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
How will the story of Tule Lake be told? The National Park Service is holding a series of public meetings to gather opinions on its General Management Plan, which will provide long-term guidance on developing and managing the wartime detention site.
Tule Lake, located just south of the Oregon-California border, is unique among the 10 camps operated by the War Relocation Authority during World War II. It was turned into a segregation center for Japanese American incarcerees who had been deemed “disloyal” and “troublemakers,” many of whom were held there until 1946, long after the war was over.
A separate facility, Camp Tulelake, formerly a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, was opened nearby in 1943 to confine Japanese American dissidents as well as German and Italian POWs. This site is jointly managed by the NPS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A third element is Castle Rock, a prominent geological feature also known as the Peninsula, managed by the USFWS.
Meetings have been held in two cities in the vicinity, Tulelake in Siskiyou County on Nov. 28 and Klamath Falls, Ore., on Nov. 29; in Southern California at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo on Dec. 1 and CSU Dominguez Hills in Carson on Dec. 2; in Northern California on Dec. 6 and 7 in Sacramento, Dec. 8 in San Francisco, and Dec. 8 in San Jose. Following meetings on Dec. 13 in Seattle, Dec. 14 in Portland, and Dec. 15 in Hood River, Ore., virtual meetings will be held on Jan. 10 and 18.
“The focus of our plan is to open the site and to raise national awareness about Tule Lake’s unique history,” said Anna Tamura, landscape architect and planning lead for NPS’ Tule Lake Unit. “We want to do that through preserving historic resources … through opening a visitors’ center, through reconstructing some of the most important features such as guard towers and fences in the stockade area, rehabilitating the jail and trying to do it in a way that is fiscally responsible yet also visionary and achievable. That’s for the segregation center …
“We similarly want to interpret the history of Camp Tulelake through having exhibits … telling the story through people’s oral histories, doing work on the site to preserve the buildings.
“Generally, we want to have really robust interpretation-education programs and projects that could include school-based projects, increased social media … programs on the Internet, lots of partnerships with other entities that are doing similar type of work, both to tell the history of Tule Lake but also to protect the site.”
She added, “We propose $11.7 million of investments during the lifetime of the plan. We look at this plan as being 15 to 20 years or so, almost a generation.”
Asked if the Manzanar National Historic Site, which includes a visitors’ center and replicas of barracks, can serve as a model for the Tule Lake Unit, Tamura said, “It’s a model, but we have unique resources that are very different. We have the only jail within a concentration camp that existed, so we have authentic resources very different than Manzanar.”
The controversy over a proposed 8-foot-tall, 3-mile fence around the Tulelake Municipal Airport has yet to be resolved. Proponents say it is needed to prevent human interference with crop dusters and deer wandering onto the runway, but opponents say it will destroy the physical and historical integrity of the Tule Lake site.
“The airport is on a parallel track. It’s separate from the General Management Plan,” Tamura said.
At the Tulelake and Klamath Falls meetings, “Their concerns were related to the airport,” she said. “They’re also wanting public access on the Peninsula. They’re also looking at Tule Lake as being a benefit for having a national park in the community, so they’re very supportive of the plan generally.”
Tule Lake Unit and Lava Beds National Monument Superintendent Lawrence Whalon was asked if the plan will be affected by Donald Trump’s election as president. “Traditionally, we’ve done fairly well under Republican administrations,” he responded. “… The money will be an issue, but I think under any administration or conditions … we have to be dealing with looking ahead several years and planning out next year and then use that go into the next year and leapfrog into the next year …
“We’re not asking for a huge amount — $11 million, even in the Park Service, is not a lot. It’s not going to come up on their radar … Until my boss tells me, ‘Larry, you’re not going forward with that plan’ … We’re going to put this together.”
The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument of which the Tule Lake Unit is a part, was designated by a Republican president, George W. Bush, in 2008.
The plan offers three alternatives:
Alternative A, the No-Action Alternative, relies solely on the Tule Lake Unit’s base funding. The unit would be closed to the public, except during the summer season at the segregation center’s Ditch Rider House. Access to Camp Tulelake, the Peninsula, and the segregation center’s stockade would only be allowed infrequently during scheduled tours led by NPS rangers. Only two ongoing projects would be included: the restoration of the jail and a local interpretation and education program. No other interpretation and education, resource management, historic preservation, or facility improvement projects would occur.
Alternative B, Limited Operations, proposes limited visitor services, educational and interpretive programming, resource management, facility maintenance and improvements, and staffing. Similar to Alternative A, the unit would be closed to the public, except during the summer season at the segregation center’s Ditch Rider House. Access to Camp Tulelake, the Peninsula, and the segregation center’s stockade would only be allowed infrequently during scheduled tours led by NPS rangers. Implementation of this alternative would require an increase to the unit’s operating budget.
Alternative C, the NPS Preferred Alternative, emphasizes raising national awareness about the Tule Lake Unit’s unique incarceration, segregation, and renunciation history and its resources. Historic resources would be protected through stabilization and historic preservation treatments, and year-round visitor experiences would be provided. Interpretive and educational programs would focus on engaging youth, and technology and digital media would be used extensively to introduce Tule Lake to new audiences and tell the unit’s stories.
Suggestions for Development
During the JACCC meeting, a presentation by Tamura and Whalon was followed by group discussions facilitated by NPS staff.
“Our discussion group, which was half of the people there, voted unanimously to support Alternative C as the preferred alternative,” said Yukio Kawaratani, who was incarcerated at Tule Lake when he was 14. “I recommended that in the first phase that a10-foot-high fence like the one that surrounded the concentration camp and two watch towers be installed along the highway. This would instantly tell all visitors and people driving by that this was a high-security prison.
“I also recommended that the Carpenter Shop and Paint Shop, which is to be the permanent visitor center, be renovated and activated in Phase 1 not 2. For expediency, the NPS wants to renovate the non-historic Ditch Rider House and make it the temporary visitor center. The Carpenter Shop and Paint Shop building is historic and much more suitable in size as the permanent visitor center.
“It should have exhibits like a scale model of the entire camp with block numbers, a typical barrack room corner with a metal cot and Army blankets, original paintings and large photographs with descriptions depicting camp life, artifacts and a bookstore.
“To delay this most important feature and educational building of all of the Tule Lake monument for 10 years in Phase 2 and therefore, possibly never, would be a mistake. They should do the very most important first.”
Nancy Oda of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition said, “I am glad that the Park Service spent time listening to us. I believe that Option C is a must. Yukio’s suggestion to start with the larger museum is a good suggestion if at all possible. Getting artifacts, diaries, books must start right away for the education center because we are losing former Tuleans every day.”
Oda was born at Tule Lake and her father was among those held in the stockade.
Gann Matsuda of the Manzanar Committee, speaking as an individual, commented, “Regarding the specifics about what should be part of any exhibits or other, finer details of the General Management Plan, I’ll defer to stakeholders such as those who were incarcerated at Tule Lake, their families and the Tule Lake Committee. They’ll know best what needs to be done there. However, one thing that’s clear is that any visitors’ center they have must be a fully immersive experience, such as what they have at Manzanar National Historic Site, one that teaches the history and ties all the separate parts of the site together.
“Unlike Manzanar, where the 814 acres are contiguous and the National Park Service owns all of that land, NPS barely owns any of the land at Tule Lake where cultural and historic resources are located and there are separate sites that are miles from each other. Without a full-blown museum experience to tie it all together and explain it, the mission of educating visitors about what happened at Tule Lake will not be fulfilled.
“To fulfill that mission and to provide the necessary protection and preservation of the site and its resources, Alternative C must be selected. Neither of the other two alternatives will suffice.”
From about 1994 to 2002, Matsuda served on the federally mandated Advisory Commission for the Manzanar National Historic Site, which played a key role in the development of Manzanar’s General Management Plan.
Whalon shared his thoughts about the airport expansion, whose opponents launched a Change.org petition that has been signed by 76,646 people as of Friday.
“It’s a land-use controversy, so there’s been a process,” he said. “Stakeholders have been meeting about a year and a half to talk about what to do about the airport … As the Park Service entered into these meetings, it was obvious to me that we had to stay neutral, but we had a part to play and a piece to push. Because whether or not they move the airport or it stays in place, we want to still get … at least that 37 acres [managed by the NPS]open.
“But that really isn’t good enough. What we really want is a tour to tell that story … [From the 37 acres alone] you really don’t get a feel for how big the site was, you have no idea how big the site was, and you especially don’t understand anything about living in this camp just from the jail cell. I’m glad we have the jail site … but we have to tell the story of the entire camp. Otherwise we’re not doing our job.”
Whalon pointed out, “Even though there’s no buildings left on that site … there’s still quite a few foundations that are left that haven’t been molested by any agricultural workers or any private property changes … There’s still resources out there and we don’t know what’s below there, we just see what’s on top of it …
“You still have people who have family or who were in there themselves, but eventually that’s not going to be the case, so it’s going to be important to be able to get people in there to see what it was like because [otherwise]they’re not going to know.”
He acknowledged that some locals are “agitated” by the NPS’ involvement, but added that others have come forward and said, “That’s a good idea. How can we help?”
“I wish the airport wasn’t there … but it’s there. We have to deal with it,” Whalon said. “If I had to guess right now, the airport’s not going to move, at least in the near future. But who knows? … As time move on, that land use could be favorable.”
For now, he plans to continue to “push for our story regardless of the outcome of any lawsuits or changes that are made in the land use.”