Traveling on Highway 97 in Oregon

Traveling on Highway 97 in Oregon
Traveling on Highway 97 in Oregon

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Klamath Falls: Change is Coming

New Information:  Just received an email from George saying that he could find no way to comment.  I discovered that if I am looking at the blog from the main website, I cannot see the comments, however if I click on the individual header for the current post, I can see comments and can make a comment.  Folks must have discovered this somehow, since there are many comments, but if you are having trouble and want to comment, give this a try.  I have no clue why it works this way, but it must have something to do with my template and I hesitate to mess with the template!

Current Location: Old Fort Road Apartment Klamath Falls.  Raining lightly and 55 degrees F.

Klamath Falls has a reputation among many people in the state of Oregon.  Especially those on the West Side.  The town has close to 50,000 people if you include the “suburbs”, an area intertwined with the city limits that should actually be considered part of the city.  The official population is just over 20K.  Most people only see Klamath Falls as they pass through traveling north or south on Highway 97, assuming there is nothing here worth exploring.

Other folks know that Klamath Falls is the gateway to Crater Lake National Park, but that doesn’t really say much for the town itself. The best word to describe the prejudice against our town is one I have used myself.  “Klamtucky”.

Most of my blog stories revolve around the outdoors, camping, hiking, kayaking, sharing the beauty of the Klamath Basin.  I thought that it would be fun to shift a bit and share my town, to honor the change that I feel coming in our sweet and precious city.  Klamath Falls is shifting.

I have an interesting relationship with Klamath Falls.  I came here for a job promotion in 2002, having only experienced the town as a blip on the map as I traveled from Northern Idaho to California.  I fell in love almost immediately with the landscape, the open roads unmarred by traffic, the volcanic mountains surrounding me, the great fir forests on the edge of juniper deserts fragrant with sage.  My job here was to complete the soil survey for the area and I got to see it in a way that folks living in town don’t always experience. 

Klamath Falls has not been a progressive place.  We do not have a single seafood restaurant, although as I was walking the downtown streets this morning I did see a Mexican and Seafood place.  Guess we will have to try it!

For all our beautiful architecture, there are a few eyesores like this around. 

Klamath Falls is NOT Bend. My daughter and I have railed at the backward politics, the lack of progressive thinking and the extremely conservative bent of the area.  I was a hard core liberal when I moved here, but learned to really appreciate the local farmers and ranchers and to understand why they felt as they did about how things should be managed here.  So although I am still a liberal, I do have a better understanding and acceptance of more conservative ways of thinking.

My daughter, on the other hand, moved here from the progressive west side.  She went to work for the local country radio station, and later for a well established jewelry store that served many of those wealthy ranchers.  She was inundated constantly with, sad to say, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic commentary from her customers and others in her up close circle.  It didn’t endear her to Klamath Falls.  She didn’t have the opportunity like I did to work in the beautiful and wild parts of the county.  I am retired, I can pick and choose the people I care to interact with.  She didn’t have that option.  It colored her view of the city.

A couple of years ago our commissioners voted out a winery and tasting room, saying it would bring in the “wrong element”.  They refused to advertise to “burners” because they didn’t want “hippies” showing up.  We are on the major route to the Nevada event.  But things are shifting.  I would imagine that the winery and tasting room proposed right here on Old Fort Road might someday become a reality.

Some of the local politicians are moving toward a strong and more progressive view of what we need to be the new “Bend”, a view toward drawing to Klamath Falls the money and tourism that she deserves.

In the last few weeks, with our days living near town at the apartment, Mo and I have had the chance to participate in some great stuff.  We are seeing a different kind of person come to town, some of those with money to spend.  Klamath Falls is waking up in a good way.

Two weeks ago we attended the Klamath Kruise, a tradition that has been going on for several years, but somehow it felt different.  There were a LOT of people here on the streets enjoying the parade of old cars, and like us, reminiscing about wonderful old cars we once loved. As I walked the streets enjoying the car parade, I noticed new murals in town that I hadn’t seen before, wonderful murals showing of some of the history of the area.

After the show, Mo and I went to the Klamath Basin Brewery, where we had magnificent onion rings and one of the best crafted beers I have tasted lately. We listened to a delightful band playing some really good blues as we watched the last of the old cars turning the nearby corner toward downtown.

On the same weekend, at the same time sadly, was the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, another event that draws people to town.  Mo and I attended last year, but decided we couldn’t do everything, so the sculpture race took a back seat.  Nice to have options, though.

Last weekend I was delighted to be living close to town where I could drop in on the local farmer’s market.  I hadn’t been to this particular market for a few years, mostly because it would require a 45 minute trip to town when we lived in Rocky Point and was just too much trouble.  The difference in the offerings was amazing.  There were several great organic farms offering wonderful produce, including ripe heirloom tomatoes from geothermally heated greenhouses.  There was range fed meat, fresh eggs, and local honey.  A musician serenaded the shoppers and dogs on leashes had fun meeting their friends.  It felt wonderful. 

As I drove to the market, I encountered dozens of folks on tandem bicycles.  The promoters of our town had managed to corral the Tandem Bike Rally, and there were more than 600 participants enjoying the streets of the city, spending money in the hotels and buying stuff. 

Speaking of the city, downtown Klamath Falls has some fabulous architecture, with buildings dating to the 20’s.  The Oregon Bank building downtown boasts an historic elevator that is operated by a real person.  There are beautiful streetside trees, colorful flower baskets, and nice flags with local artwork.  I love walking around downtown in the summer.  The downtown shops are evolving.  While there are not a lot of them, there is enough to be entertaining, to do a little shopping, albeit not the kind of high end shopping that is available in Ashland or Bend, or other historic towns in Oregon that people visit.

I enjoyed walking around today before the traffic started up, waiting until the 9AM bell for the Farmer’s Market.  It gave me a chance to enjoy my town in a way I haven’t done recently.

One of our old buildings downtown has been replaced by a community square, Sugarman’s Corner, a lovely place for afternoon music, and picnics.

Not far south of Klamath Falls, near Tulelake, is the site of one of the large concentration camps for Japanese people during WW2.  They call them internment facilities, but that is the nice way of putting it.  Every other year, the Tulelake camp has a Pilgrimage, with several hundred people from all over the country participating in the three day event.

They ended the Pilgrimage with a ceremony at the Ross Ragland Theater, our historic downtown institution. emceed by George Takai, (Sulu from Star Trek), who was incarcerated there as a child.  Daughter Melody now works at the Ragland, and made sure that we got tickets to the event.  It was a fabulous experience, with poetry, stories from people who had been held at the camp, music, and Taiko drumming.  The paid attendees were in the front of the theater, and there were 300 seats in the back saved for locals who wanted to be there.  As a friend said, it was like we were observers of a family reunion. 

I learned much about how important it is to the Japanese people to keep the memory alive, to not sweep it under the rug, and to do everything they can to be sure it never happens again to American citizens.  It was a cultural experience that in the past I never would have imagined finding its way to Klamath Falls.

A few weeks earlier, Mo and I spent a Saturday afternoon enjoying our local casino, Kla-Mo-Ya, where we added to our cash stash and had a great lunch that was very inexpensive.  Later that weekend, we went to the first ever Progressive Dinner Theater, a joint project between the two theaters in town, the Ross Ragland and the LinkvilleMelody and Jeff played newscasters in the Saturday Night Live Style.  Melody is trying very hard here not to crack up.

Melody was in the play, a comical farce called Crazy Town.  The first part of the play was at the Ragland, with drinks and appetizers, then we all walked down the block to a local eatery, M.C.’s on Main, where we had dinner and the second part of the show, and finally dessert and champagne at the Linkville. 

Melody’s view of the city is changing as well.  Now employed with creative, artistic, progressive people at the Ragland, she is involved again in the good side of city politics, and surrounded by people that think more like she does about the world.

In addition to some of the town projects, the community is developing many trails for local hiking and biking.  The trails above Moore Park overlooking the lake are waiting, as is the new Spence Mountain trail along Highway 140.  Mo and I keep looking longingly at that trail head as we pass by, traveling between houses.  Someday there will be a bit more free time, and we aren’t complaining.  There have been some fun times for us.

Another wonderful amenity in town is the geothermally heated Ella Redkey Pool.  I still haven’t managed to take advantage of that wonderful place, but have friends who swim in those lovely waters daily. You can even learn to roll a kayak in that pool!

On the Fourth of July there were many options open to us.  Klamath Falls had a downtown parade, and fireworks on the actual 4th.  We chose instead to spend the day at Lake of the Woods, not far from Rocky Point.  Once again we drove the MoHo to the day use area at 6am, got a parking place and a table right by the boat launch, and set up a great spot for a family day.

The kids arrived a bit later, and we spent the day kayaking, walking the trails, and cooking some great food.  Lake of the Woods Resort chose to have their annual fireworks show on Sunday the 3rd, so Monday was a bit quieter than it was last year when we spent the day waiting for the nighttime fireworks show. 

In addition to those two fireworks celebrations, I learned that a local rancher in the Wood River Valley puts on a fireworks show as well, and someone at my quilt group said it was better than the one in town.  Maybe next year we will have to try that one. There is a great museum out there that I have yet to visit, probably because it is too close to home.  One of these days I am going to go to all the museums close to Klamath Falls and write about them.  I love reading Erin’s museum posts, and every time I do I realize how lax I am in visiting my own local museums.

I feel the shift in energy here, a sense that the people in political power in the city and the county are making progress in the way they promote our town to the world.  Klamath Falls may one day overcome its reputation as a place not worth visiting.  Lately it has felt interesting, vibrant, and fun.  I am keeping track of the good stuff and making sure that I get out there to enjoy it whenever I can.

I would like to leave you with some images of our local murals.  The sun came and went this morning as I wandered about town, but I didn’t mind.  At 8am on a Saturday, there were no cars parked in front of the artwork to distract from the imagery. 



I took this photo from the Discover Klamath website, but I do think it is a wonderful image of our city by the lake, and a good way to end the story.