NPS solicits public comment on the future of the Tule Lake Unit

The National Park Service held a planning meeting for the general public in San Francisco Japantown regarding the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The Sept. 19 meeting, held at Nihonmachi Terrace, is one of more than a dozen that were held along the West Coast, along with two virtual meetings.

More than two dozen people attended the San Francisco meeting. The presentation featuring Mike Reynolds, the unit’s superintendent, and Anna Tamura, general management plan project manager, discussed Tule Lake’s current conditions and sought comment from the public on how the unit should interpret and promote itself.

Controversial Past
Then-President George W. Bush designated Tule Lake, the site of one of 10 Wartime Relocation Authority concentration camps, as a national monument in December of 2008. Tule Lake is the third concentration camp to receive national designation, following Manzanar, Calif. and Minidoka, Idaho, Reynolds said.

Tule Lake differs from the other nine concentration camps. It is the longest-running concentration camp, and served as a maximum security segregation center for so-called “disloyal” people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated there during World War II.

Following the issuance of a so-called loyalty questionnaire, the United States government classified certain Nikkei as “disloyal” and incarcerated them in Tule Lake. Of the nearly 120,000 Nikkei incarcerated during the war, about 30,000 people passed through the camp, Reynolds said.

At its peak, the camp held some 18,800 inmates.

“It highlights one of the biggest examples of government sponsored racism in the history of the United States,” Reynolds said.

According to the park’s superintendent, Nikkei, primarily from the Sacramento area, were first sent there before the camp became a segregation center. Tule Lake was initially similar to other WRA camps, but was drastically changed when it was converted into a segregation center, with taller fences, more guard towers and tanks, fostering paranoia and tension among its prisoners.

Tamura said some of the primary themes the site hopes to discuss includes the injustice Nikkei faced during the war. She acknowledged the tensions between those labeled “loyal” and “disloyal” once the camp became a segregation center. She added that it was the site of 6,000 renunciations of U.S. citizenship — the largest mass renunciation in U.S. history.

The Tule Lake Unit
The Tule Lake Unit is one of nine units within the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Five of the units are located in Hawai‘i, associated with Pearl Harbor, and three units are associated with battle sites in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The Tule Lake Unit is located in Modoc and Siskiyou counties in the northern edge of California.

The Tule Lake Unit itself is comprised of three sub-units: a portion of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, the peninsula including “Castle Rock” and Camp Tulelake. The segregation center is located in the town of Newell, Calif., and is adjacent to the Tulelake Municipal Airport. The peninsula includes the iconic Castle Rock bluff that is located southwest of the segregation center. The 1,296-acre peninsula sub-unit is co-managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a raptor and wildlife habitat and is currently closed to the general public. Camp Tulelake, located several miles northwest of the other two units, is a 66-acre unit that includes a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was converted to imprison Nikkei, and to house strikebreakers and German and Italian prisoners of war.

MAPPING OUT A PLAN ­— Mike Reynolds, the superintendent of the National Park Service’s Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, pointed out what federal land from Tule Lake was allocated to the unit compared to what once was the Tule Lake Segregation Center. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

MAPPING OUT A PLAN ­— Mike Reynolds, the superintendent of the National Park Service’s Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, pointed out what federal land from Tule Lake was allocated to the unit compared to what once was the Tule Lake Segregation Center.        photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

Reynolds said most of the segregation center is no longer standing and only a few remnants of the barracks remain. The segregation center’s sub-unit itself is only a small portion of its original area. Much of the original segregation center is now private land and the county-owned airport.

“What is included in the monument is this small 37-acre site that includes the infamous jail and several of the former motor pool buildings, but no standing barracks,” Reynolds said. The area designated to the National Park Service does not include land that included the barracks and only included land that belonged to the federal government at the time of designation as a national monument. “Unlike Manzanar or Minidoka … there are a lot of people living here, there’s agriculture, a large set of migrant farm worker housing that’s here.”

Planning a National Park
“You’ve heard of Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite National Park, which are iconic large natural national parks, but actually … there are more than 400 sites designated as national sites, and more than half of those are designated as historic sites,” Reynolds said. “The key role of the Park Service is to serve as stewards to these places.”

While the National Park Service does not give any explicit direction on how to present the site, nor ample funding to do it, Reynolds said the Tule Lake Unit is now co-managed by Lava Beds National Monument, which is located just south of the Tule Lake Unit, and also received $180,000 in additional funding prior to sequestration cuts to alleviate staffing and maintenance costs.
Reynolds said the park has since finished its short-term projects, including emergency stabilizations of buildings and oral histories of former inmates, and is now in its opinion gathering stage to create a general management plan.

“The input you provide will really help us on what it’s going to look like,” said Reynolds. “Right now it’s a dusty field with some dilapidated buildings with a metal fence surrounding it. … We have a small amount of resources to address those needs, so your comments will help set priorities for the future.”

Reynolds, who lives and works in Tulelake, said he will work with Tamura, a planner from the Seattle office of the National Park Service, to implement the plans. Tamura, who had previously worked for both Manzanar and Minidoka, intends to use the feedback from the community meetings to create a plan for Tule Lake that Reynolds will then follow. Tamura said the plan will generate an Environmental Impact Report that is expected to be released two years from now and hopes to have the final plan ready in three years.

Through the dialogue, Tamura said she hopes to create a plan that interprets the segregation center’s history accurately and honestly while providing context and relevancy to its visitors today through the general management plan, a blueprint for the development and management of the park for the next 20 years.

Tamura said the meetings included feedback by former inmates as well as those who currently live near Tule Lake. “This is the beginning of opening a national dialogue for Tule Lake,” Tamura said. “For so long, Tule Lake’s history has really been suppressed. It’s been a stigma to a lot of people. Today we’re here to openly talk about Tule Lake and it’s future.”

The general management plan must also address logistical issues such as staffing, signage, parking and activities for visitors, along with the funding needed to do it all, according to Tamura. She added that the plan also must address the park’s boundaries and assess whether the current boundaries are suitable.

Community Input
Tamura asked several questions for community members to consider and discuss with park staff. The questions asked what attendees thought were key concepts for the park to consider, what issues the park faces and solicitations for future ideas.

Tule Lake Committee President Hiroshi Shimizu, a former prisoner of the concentration camp, said he wanted to see the reactions people had as the camp was converted to a segregation center, not just among the Nikkei, but for the camp’s administration as well. He noted that the camp’s staff started treating the inmates more harshly following the conversion into a segregation center. He also stressed that the current plans for the Tulelake Airport to build a fence must be addressed. The airport is currently proposing to raise a fence to keep wildlife from wandering onto the runway. The fence will “desecrate the physical and spiritual aspects of Tule Lake,” according to the Tule Lake Committee’s petition to stop the proposed fence.

Alan Kita of the Buddhist Churches of America said he wanted the site to show how people coped. “How did they cope with such drastic changes? … What got them to get up each day?”

Grace Morizawa of the National Japanese American Historical Society said she wanted to expand the knowledge and lessons beyond Tule Lake. “How can it reach beyond the pilgrimages? How do we get people to know when people say ‘Tule Lake’ like when someone says ‘Gettysburg’? Right now, it feels so isolated.”

Due to much of the original segregation center now being private land, Tamura warned it would be difficult for a complete recreation and preservation.

Former Tule Lake inmate and World War II veteran Asa Hamamoto suggested that something should be done to give visitors a sense of how big the segregation center was, even if a full restoration cannot be done. “Maybe have pillars at the corners of where the camp’s fence would be or whatever so that people can visualize,” he said.

Reynolds told the Nichi Bei Weekly that local residents living in Newell and Tulelake are “cautiously excited” about the new unit. “The city of Tulelake and Newell didn’t want 20,000 people plopped into their community either,” said Reynolds. “We plan to tell the story of those outside the fence and how they were redefined by the camp as well.”

Reynolds, however, said the locals were nervous about potential changes to the community, such as through the recent protests with the airport fence and public comments indicating more land should be allocated to the former segregation center.

Reynolds and Tamura are accepting ideas and concerns through Oct. 11. Comments can be sent via e-mail, Tule_Superintendent@nps.gov; phone, (530) 667-8101; or by post, Tule Lake Unit, P.O. Box 1240, Tulelake, CA 96134.

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