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August 31, 2006

 In the News


SUNNY BRAE FORAY: We were swimming in Sunny Brae Forest, our arms scooping aside towering pampas grass, sword ferns and huckleberry bushes. Branches snapped underfoot, the air smelled like dphoto of rebel playgroundry grass and damp earth, banana slugs lurked in the trail and on tree trunks, and everything rustled and swished as we passed. A jay, somewhere mid-canopy, yelled "skrick-skrick-skrick-skrick!" We ducked under draping branches of alder and maple, dodged around young firs and redwoods. If ever a tick wanted to latch onto some skin, here was opportunity. If a lion wanted to pounce -- easy prey, tangle-tripped by vegetation.

"I think this is an old logging road," said Mark Lovelace, slowing down to let us catch up. We were on a ridge between Beith Creek and Grotzman Creek, headed for a little cascade where Grotzman tumbles through a bouldered ravine. Lovelace knows this forest, moves through it with proprietary ease. Even though it's owned by someone else, it's been his backyard for years. Lovelace heads up SANA -- Sunny Brae/Arcata Neighborhood Alliance -- which has sought protection of this woolly patch of previously logged woods. Here, maybe the oldest trees have about 50 years growth, although somewhere deep within the L-shaped 175 acres is said to be one old-growth giant that escaped harvest.

"This is what a forest does when it's been logged and then nothing is done to get it back to what it was," said Lovelace, submerged in ferns and pampas.

Wha? The rebel playground will have to go. Photo by Heidi Walters.

Behind us trod the forester and the city's man. Tom Walz, the forester, represented the forest's landowner, Sierra Pacific Industries -- the timber company owned by California's largest private land owner, Red Emmerson. Mark Andre represented the forest's future landowner, the city of Arcata.

photo of Mark LovelaceIt's a tangled tale: In 2000, SPI -- not the original logger, here -- filed a timber harvest plan. Alarmed, Sunny Brae folks formed SANA. In 2002, the plan was approved, but without incorporating several of SANA's requests. SANA yelled. SPI, after a confab with the city manager, said, "OK, we'll sell it to you." SPI wants $2.7 million. The city has most of the money lined up; SANA needs to raise $20,000 more by October.

At the cascade, we stared into the dark water trickling downhill. "This pumps out a lot more, earlier in the year," said Lovelace. Grotzman and Beith Creek feed into the Jacoby Creek watershed, where salmonids and other species live. But Grotzman is fish-less -- a culvert down at Beverly Street has blocked passage.

Left: Mark Lovelace. Photo by Heidi Walters.

On the way back, we passed by several odd constructions we'd seen on the way up: elaborate mountain bike jumps of humped-up dirt, ladder ramps made of small log segments nailed to lumber and two-by-four trails nailed to giant downed logs. Walz, the SPI man, said if SPI wasn't planning to sell this forest, the renegade ramps would have come down.

When the city buys the forest, said Andre, this nails-and-hacksaw lawlessness will be nixed. But old logging roads will be shaped into horse, bike and foot trails. And, the forest will be logged -- slowly, taking out the smaller trees, leaving the big ones to grow. The idea, said Andre, is for Sunny Brae Forest to become more like the Arcata Community Forest. In fact, the two forests may someday be connected, if the city can buy the land between them.

-- Heidi Walters


IN MEMORIUM: Maybe you never noticed it. Maybe you glanced at it 100 times, never really registering what it was trying to tell you. Or maybe, like Frank Onstine, you're deeply attached to that historical plaque that once graced the entrance to the Bayshore Mall, and are disturbed to find that it seems to have disappeared.

"I was down there last week, and I looked all over for it but I couldn't find it," said Onstine, author of The Great Lumber Strike of Humboldt County. The plaque, which commemorated a 1935 violent clash between police and striking millworkers that left three union men dead, was apparently gone. In its place: A new Pier 1 Imports outlet.

In 1935, the local woodworking unions called a general strike for all of Humboldt County. According to Onstine, at the time of the strike, workers traveled from mill to mill, picketing each in turn. On June 21, it was the turn of the Holmes-Eureka mill, which stood where the Bayshore Mall stands now. Eureka's powers-that-be didn't cotton to the "Reds" that were to invade the town, and prepared to turn them out. Witnesses later reported that the city chief of police showed up at the picket line, pulled his pistol and fired several shots into the ground. A car rolled up and fired a tear gas cannister at the strikers, knocking a female picketer to the ground. The violence escalated; picketers began to fight back; the police opened fire on the crowd. (A jury later cleared union organizers of any culpability for the deaths of their coworkers that day). The Bayshore Mall plaque was intended to serve as a reminder of that day, and of its place in Humboldt County history.

Where did it go? "It's sitting within arm's reach of me as we speak," said Mitch Metheny, the mall's operation manager, when reached at his office Monday afternoon. He said that the plaque had to be moved to make way for Pier 1, but not to worry: It would soon be reinstalled somewhere along the sidewalk along the front of the mall. He said that he had been talking with representatives of the local carpenters' union about selecting a site and getting a crew in there to do the job.

That evening, Vonnie Davison and Dayna James, two long-time Eureka residents, stood outside the main entrance to the mall, just paces from where the plaque once stood. They had come out that evening to look for a particular book at Borders, but the book hadn't been in stock. Now, Davison was enjoying a cigarette while she and her friend decided what to do next.

Did they know of the plaque? They didn't. Had they heard the story of the great strike of 1935? They hadn't. And Davison thought it was strange that she hadn't heard the story, given that she was herself a union member.

As it turned out, Davison belonged to the same union that Richard Khamsi once led. Khamsi was the man who, in the '90s, originally lobbied the mall's parent company, General Growth Properties Inc. of Chicago, Ill., to install the plaque. Reached at his Eureka home, Khamsi was pleased to hear that it would be reinstalled.

"It's a little reminder -- maybe a big reminder, in some senses -- that the good things we have as a society and as a nation are here because of the conscious decisions we made in the past," he said. "If we forget our history, you can bet your boots that there will be people willing to take advantage of us all over again."

-- Hank Sims



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