Article I came across this morning at Washington Post turns out to be much more than one article. It is an article collection in a series on the clean up efforts and lifestyles of the Chesapeake Bay reported by the Washington Post. I read with interest, recognizing that I could well be reading the future of Willapa Bay were it to become more densely populated; were it to become less ecologically sound due to carelessness of it’s stewardship. Were it to lose it’s oyster population as it already once historically did when the native oysters were harvested into extinction.
We moved here about 10 years ago from an upscale urban center in Seattle area, with an eye to the pristine beauty of the Willapa region, the historical context, and to downshift gears to a calmer, quieter way of life. While we are indeed ‘transplants’, we settled in with intention of integrating into a lifestyle that somehow seems to have maintained keeping the Willapa region not too much undisturbed by carelessness of human contaminations. We are, for the most part, still considered ‘newcomers’ to the area and we recognize that some families are generational families, having lived here over many generations. Of course, we are newcomers to that kind of generational family history. Yet we have felt welcomed, embraced, and if there has been any joking sense of us as newcomers, it has been in good humor. We have not felt at any time unwelcome.
I recognize that is in large part due to the sparse population and towns of Pacific County and a rather untouched land. One of the things I find myself thinking as we go from place to place within the county is that this must closely resemble how this land looked one hundred, two hundred years ago. This land must look a lot like it did to the early settlers. This must be something close to what Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery saw when they arrived here. This land must still look much like what it was like for the Native Americans who dwelt here, primarily the Chinook people.
We habitat as guests in this region comparative to the history of the region, and we recognize that we are guest dwellers on this land. Our lifestyle is not that of living off the land, in fishing, in timber/lumber, in farming (unless our small kitchen vegetable garden counts). By osmosis we become somewhat acquainted with the reality of the issues that beset the mix of people choosing to live in this region. Some of our neighbors are oyster farmers, and we learn a bit about what is important to them in their livelihoods as oyster farmers. At least one of our neighbors owns and operates a modestly sizeable dairy farm, and we learn a bit about issues important to their livelihood. Some neighbors are agricultural farmers, and we learn a bit about issues important to their livelihoods. And many of our neighbors are part of the timber/lumber industry, consequently we learn about issues important to their livelihoods, for example, the environmentalists efforts to save the spotted owl, which people in the timber/lumber industry will tell you about killed off their entire livelihood in that industry.
Gradually, over time, we come to know a little bit about a bit of what are important issues to the people who live in this county, who reside along the Willapa Bay, who live in the Willapa Hills .. all our neighbors in the Willapa region. What is highly important to the livelihood of some does encroach on the livelihood of others and it seems to me a harmonious disharmony has developed over the generations.
Where we reside now, homeowners buying one of the older properties still standing in this community, we have a strong regard for the history of not only our immediate community, but the region where we have chosen to live. We did not buy ‘weekend getaway property’ and we do have a fair share of new residents who are weekenders, along with a fair share of new residents from out of the area who choose to settle here, buy existing property or build new homes and live here year round. We have lived here only ten years, but we can ‘feel’ the shifting tides as the older sense of not only this immediate community but the older sense of the community gives way to the new sense of community in this region.
For property developers, driven by the property bubble, they began to look upon this region as one of the last vestiges of property development, having developed everything else along the Interstate 5 corridor regions. As they began to look, signs of what I consider encroachment began to appear; the very things we wanted to get away from – housing developments, condos, and with that the people who buy them and want the accompanying convenience of close by stores and malls and I began to fear the beautiful landscape would give way to …. well, what development looks like, pretty much cookie cutter one to the next.
But Willapa is an estuary, and as such has environmental protections, making too much development too quickly unlikely. And, as my own concerns began to take root, the property bubble burst — the mortgage crisis we are in now. With it the start up developments in our region seemed to quickly wither. I can’t say I’m sorry to see that happened. But I also realize it is momentary, contingent on recovery, the marketability and at some point will once again be back on the developers map as an area to develop.
Which brings me back to the Washington Post series on the Chesapeake Bay and the seemingly unsuccessful efforts to revive that bay. Several components are cited as contributing factors to the demise of the vibrancy of the Chesapeake Bay, and they are the very components that affect Willapa Bay. Why, one might ask, is one bay (Willapa Bay) still considered pristine, vibrant and productive where the Chesapeake Bay is considered contaminated and nearly beyond repair? The Washington Post series or articles attempts to answer the question of what went wrong, what is trying to be fixed and what is or is not working about the Chesapeake Bay, so there is little need for me to repeat or condense it here. But it has caused me to look protectively at our own Willapa Bay in a new light, perhaps in recognition that the fact of the wilderness aspect of the region which has a still manageable human population could easily go the way of the Chesapeake Bay in over development, over population, and carelessness of human contaminations.
The thing weighing a bit on my mind is that this region is under study as part of the Columbia – Pacific National Heritage Area (link to House bill and Senate bill) , spring boarding from the historical Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Regions designated National Heritage sites promote tourism, tourist $$ and enterprise and perhaps expand the regional economy, but at what cost over the short run? I have been asking myself this question since I learned of the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Study Act last summer. With that question, also comes the issue of Federal recognition of the Chinook people as a recognized tribe – Chinook Nation. It can hardly be on one hand acknowledged that the concept of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery could be used to advance this region into a National Heritage site without simultaneously acknowledging that the Chinook people, as a recognized tribe, who gave considerable aid to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, and are the backbone of what makes this region historically noteworthy.
I watch with interest the events ahead, with the efforts to make this region a National Heritage site, the progress for the Chinook people in being officially recognized at Federal level, the land and property development market, the responsive reaction from the various industries in the region; tourism, commercial fishing, timber industry, agricultural community, and the newcomers who are less responsive to the history and more anxious to make the area into a region not unlike the area from which they came — overly developed with more cookie cutter type housing developments, malls, stores and Starbucks on every other corner. Should that happen, the unique richness of this region will be forever lost. Should that happen, the arguments are made and some might consider it a good thing for an ailing local economy, livlihoods unlikely to sustain in the coming years, and necessity to make way for change, lest……..
And I ask lest what? Lest the region remain pretty much the same as it is, and if so, what is terribly wrong with that?