Interview with Joanne Kitell
(flute music plays…)
Hi, and welcome to Turn the Tide.
Turn the Tide is a locally produced KYAQ 91.7 radio show that hopes to inspire listeners to engage in environmental betterment. Topics include conservation, green living, social justice, and activism. Turn the Tide suggests that we ask ourselves everyday: what can I do to contribute to positive change?
I’m your host Laren Leland, but you can call me Leland. I’m an artist, designer, and local real estate broker, who is also a concerned citizen when it comes to environmental issues.
The beautiful flute music we heard during the intro was played with the permission of local musician Doc Slyter, from his album Amanda.
My guest today is Joanne Kitell. Joanne is Chair of a local non-profit organization called View the Future. She is also the author of a few books about Yachats’ early days, including one which she wrote with oversight by local tribes entitled, Early Yachats History: Yachats Indians, Origins of the Name and the Reservation Years. She volunteers with Yachats Trails, where she helps with development. She is possibly best well known locally for her work on the Amanda Trail, which we will talk about in the interview.
Leland: Hi Joanne, thanks for being here today.
Joanne: Thank you for having me Leland.
Leland: Yeah, absolutely. My first question is, did you grow up with a deep connection to nature?
Joanne: Actually I didn’t. I grew up in the Chicago area to an immigrant family, we were all very hard workers, my connection with nature didn’t start occurring until I had moved away from home and started hiking and then running. I found I loved the woods, I loved the forest, I loved being around water.
Leland: Oh, hmm. Do you identify as an environmentalist?
Joanne: I don’t put any label on myself… of any sort, and what is important to me is what I do and that is based on my passion to preserve the property that I have, promote non-motorized recreation for the public, and work with partners and friends to help preserve the area around Yachats and Lincoln County.
Leland: Great… you’re probably most well known for your work on the Amanda Trail, can you describe what it is in case anybody doesn’t know — both physically and also its historic significance?
Joanne: It’s a three and a half mile long trail that starts at the top of Cape Perpetua and moves north in a circuitous way, and then a half a mile through my property, which is… my husband and I donate an easement to Oregon State Parks… and then another third of a mile through the ODOT right of way into the town of Yachats. It was a twenty-five year endeavor that was started… that was a dream of a gentleman who still lives in the area — Lloyd Colette — and he named the Amanda and when my husband and I got involved because we wanted to put a trail through and I learned the Amanda story, I wanted the entire trail named Amanda.
The historic significance is… took me a while to uncover, but it’s the very sad, sad story, and a true story that was written in a soldier’s diary when the Yachats area was a prison camp and where genocide was committed. Amanda was a blind Coos woman who was forcibly marched up here with other women and children, eighty miles, to the prison camp. The army would continue to round up Coos and Lower Umpqua people, as well as Alsea people to the north, and relegate them to this area and the conditions here were cruel, as the were in Siletz and Grand Ronde, and most what they called reservations in the country. The treaty here was not ratified, all the supplies and goods that were forthcoming — weren’t. I think, from what I can see, a number of the agents were sadistic, just from reading the annual agent reports about 55% of the Coos and Lower Umpqua and Alsea died in this prison camp in the first 12 years.
Joanne: … from starvation, exposure, disease, being murdered, and as Robert Kentta said, “depression of spirits,” also. Amanda was captured, she was living with a common-law husband and her daughter Julia who was eight. If the common-law husband was willing to marry her, she could have stayed, but he refused. So she was forcibly taken away from her daughter. It was a story that this town didn’t know about in 1993 when I moved here. So, a friend and I, with tribal supervision, wrote an article about the First Nations people that lived here and the prison camp years.
Leland: And how long had people been living in this area?
Joanne: Well, the First Nations people, like the ones throughout the coast, right in the immediate area of Yachats, archaeological site investigations show that they were here for over 5,000 years. There’s more speculation and even some evidence based on other areas south and north that they were here much longer, but 10,000 years ago the ocean was much further out and so probably those sites are covered, on the ocean floor, but it was continuous occupation. It was… they had their summer homes, their winter homes, they really were sensitive to the circles of the seasons and having a continuous food supply. They were very respectful of nature, they knew they would only be able to be fed if they didn’t abuse and despite tsunamis and major earthquakes they all survived here until they died of the white person’s disease. About, over 80 percent died on the coast and all the Indians in Yachats died.
Leland: Wow. And this property that you have here, I believe you and your late husband did al lot of the restoration work on your own?
Joanne: Yeah, the property that we bought is 27 acres, had suffered a lot of abuse in recent years. It was used as a cattle ranch for a while and then due to a number of slides from clearcuts both canyons were covered, several times destroying the trees, and then there was an illegal garbage dump on my property… a large one, with, you know, cars, and washer/dyers, that tumbled all the way down to what is now the Amanda Creek. So, I had to get it clearcut, it was just alder trees growing from the last slide and hire people with gasoline tackles and pulleys to pull the stuff out and pay for it to be hauled away. So I started replanting. I learned about bare root trees, I have to tell the audience, you know, I’m a yuppie that moved into the woods. I had very good consultants, excellent geologists, had Jim Dennison an excellent forester and his wife who really taught me how to live with the land, what to plant, what not to plant, how to build a road. I mean, roads destroy the enviornment… and how to maintain a road appropriately so the water runoff doesn’t destroy the cliffs, and the property, and the vegetation. How to deal with the wildlife, you know, how do you keep rats from getting in your house or woodpeckers from pecking it to death? Learning about bears and cougars, living with them and having some wonderful wildlife experiences. Also, having domestic dogs and cats, learning how to take care of them in a wildlife area. I can say positively that none have died as a result of my carelessness. The other thing is that, you know, with planting about 3,500 tree so far there’s going to be a certain level of loss and studying: why did this group of trees die? And why did other trees thrive? You know, learning from the Master Gardeners, how to look at a root system and figure out where water goes and where water doesn’t, you know, has been a really positive learning experience.
Leland: Wow, that’s great. What’s it like to have a public trail in your backyard?
Joanne: Well, it’s really wonderful. It’s really cool to have so many people take great pleasure, both in… it’s a beautiful trail for one thing, with beautiful views, the federal side as well as with what crosses my property. It also is an avenue for people to be educated about the importance of our First Nation history. I have some of the common issues of hunters, mushroom pickers, and people going beyond the trail but its few and far between. It’s really important for the safety of recreational walkers and hikers that they’re off the highway.
Leland: Yeah (laughs.)
Joanne: I mean, it’s a clear safety issue and Norm and I were able to fill an important gap in the Oregon Coast Trail, by the way with lots of wonderful partners. I mean, I’ve had wonderful partners to help me learn to, you know, live in the forestland. We’ve had wonderful partners with state parks, federal forest service, Confederated Tribes of Siletz, Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians, the City of Yachats, and particularly View the Future who’s been writing grants and soliciting for donations to make the trail possible, and so many volunteers. Oh! And then the Angel Job Corps, can’t forget the Angel Job Corps. They’ve been wonderful to me over the years.
Leland: It’s really been a community project.
Joanne: Yeah, it is, and you know, anyone listening to this knows we can’t get things done without collaboration and cooperation and partnerships.
Leland: In addition to the Amanda trail, you also have a conservation easement…
Joanne: Yes, that was a real dream for Norm and I. A lot of people don’t know, in Oregon for years there was no conservation easement statute. So it took years to pass one and then there was an additional barrier that people who had forest land and agricultural land that would have deferred taxes until they brought the crops in or cut the trees and then they’d pay a severance tax to compensate… that if they went to a conservation easement they’d lose that and also be financially penalized. So, eventually I worked as an advocate and the county did too, the county commissioners were wonderful and the county council, to pass a state statute that people could roll over a part or all of their property from forest land or agricultural land to a conservation easement.
Leland: What are some additional reasons that a landowner might want to a conservation easement on their land?
Joanne: Well, it’s a legal restriction that a landowner voluntarily does on part or all their property to protect the health and quality of their landholding and again, conservation easements can be very restrictive like mine is, or very loose, and there’s now a number of them in Lincoln County. Someone who might live on the Yachats River might want to protect the riparian area, just around the river where they would get grants to build fencing so their cattle don’t trample the riparian area around the river. Some people would want to protect, you know, a certain part of their forest land, there might be old growth on it. So, other people would say this land could be a development for townhouses, or no I want to pull back and make it one acre house sites permanently. You see? And it is irrevocable once it starts, so it can be structured in lots of different ways, and then there’s a holder of that conservation easement. View the Future holds that roll, the local non-profit that I’m now Chair of that has been in Lincoln County for a long time. It has to be a governmental body, a tribe, or a conservation/preservation non-profit that reinforces that conservation easement over the years, that make sure the restrictions hold up from land owner to land owner. One of the roles that View the Future plays is that it helps land owners that are interested in doing conservation easements with how to get through the process of doing a conservation easement. The county has something called the Land Legacy Program, Lincoln Land Legacy Program, that’s administered by Wayne Belmont and funds are distributed by the county commissioners that can help landowners pay for the costs of doing a conservation easement, because there are costs often times. There could be surveying, if they give their conservation easement away and don’t sell it, that means that an appraisal could get done, or an appraisal could get done either way and that’s costly. There’s attorney fees, filing fees with the clerk’s office and the assessor’s office, those can add up to several thousand dollars. And so, there’s that pot of money and View the Future is sort of a bridge for that.
Leland: What a great organization. How many properties does View the Future look over now?
Joanne: Well, View the Future, who’s geographical area is Yachats Community and its surrounding area, has right now three conservation easements. They have mine that’s rather restricted, they have the Gerdemann Botanical Preserve that has a public trail through it, they call the Ya’Xaik trail. That was four buildable lots that Jim and Janice Gerdemann made into one beautiful garden, but they were getting old and they were afraid that the garden would be lost. They sold it to a very conscientious couple who put it into a conservation easement to protect the garden forever and they made the four lots into one lot. So, View the Future is the holder of that. Then there’s a two and three quarter acre piece, we call it the Bryan Property. That’s an L-shaped piece on the north edge of the 804 trail. There are no homes on it, it is just going to be preserved as it is. It’s a beautiful and unique area of forest. It kind of reminds me of the hobbit forest.
Leland: What are your favorite books about the environment? Do you have any?
Joanne: Well, the Hidden Forest is probably my favorite.
Leland: Can you tell us about it?
Joanne: Yeah, it’s one I reference back to all the time.
Leland: What’s it about?
Joanne: Well, it really talks about living in the forest and just how rich all the ecological life is in the forest. It teaches me what to look for, the relationship between the trees and the soil, rhizomes, and just all the activity that happens underneath the forest floor as well as above.
Leland: Thank you. So, you’re really busy, I know you’re working on some stuff now. What’s going on?
Joanne: Well, yeah I am busy. As anyone listening knows, Lincoln County runs on volunteerism. So, I’ve been active in a number of different areas. Within the scope of your program it’s being Chair of View the Future, which is an all volunteer, fourteen year old, local non-profit who’s mission is to preserve, protect, and enhance our local environment and it promotes collaborative effort in the area of science, recreation, education, cultural, and economic goals. I emphasize the economic because as everyone knows the coast has become more tourist-oriented, people’s businesses depend on it a lot, and by… particularly in this area which is frequently visited, people come here for the natural environment. They come here for the trails. They want to preserve the environment. There’s a lot of new people in this town that have been here 10 years or less. When I ask them why they move here, they move here for the beauty of it. They buy houses, they eat at the restaurants, and cater to the businesses and so it all folds in really nicely. In addition to developing conservation easements, we’ve worked on trying to acquire some property, sometimes with success, sometimes not with success… for preservation and conservation purposes. You know, we were central with the development of the preservation of the Gerdemann Botanical Preserve and we also though work and help fund the trail system here. We have several restrictive funds, one for the Amanda, one for general trail maintenance, capital improvement projects, and for interpretive sign projects. The interpretive sign project right now focuses on the First Nation history here. We’ve finished five signs and now we’re going to work on two more signs, I’m writing a grant right now for that. Right now we’re partnering with the City of Yachats and the Trust for Public Lands to attempt to acquire something we call the Evans-Betts property. It’s 29 pristine acres surrounding the Yachats River and it could be developed into homes. Most of it is in the city limits, but we would like to protect the riparian estuary area, we would like to take the smaller north piece and make it into a park. Yachats has some lovely parks, but they are all in the wind and this would be along the river because except for a small, little boat launch the public can’t get to the river except at the mouth. So, it’s out of the wind, you see a beautiful part of the river you can enjoy. You know, the dream would be to have some picnic benches there and have a non-motorized boat launch there and maybe a dog park in the future. A lot of people would love a dog park here and there’s no place to put one. It’s getting to know the Yachats river environment.
Leland: I’m going to throw in a question here that I didn’t ask you about ahead of time, but how do you keep your patience and your motivation through all of these really long term projects that you have?
Joanne: Yeah, like Amanda took 25 years, the Ya’Xaik trail, which is a trail to the north and also goes through the Botanical Preserve took six years, two weeks, and two days. It took a while to get a permit from the federal Forest Service and the permit specialist said we did it in lightning speed. (laughs) So, ah, I don’t have any patience. I have actually zero patience, I am the most impatient person there is… I have persistence, though. When I see a right thing to do and I’m working with incredibly competent, collaborative people who work in different agencies, or their volunteers, or organizations, it’s hard to say no.
Leland: Then, my last question is… if somebody listening is concerned about the environment, but they don’t know how to get started what would be your advice?
Joanne: Well, if you live in my area… they could become a volunteer with View the Future, but it depends on what their interests are. I mean, we can always use more volunteers on our trails crew and on our invasive weed crew here. We’re all volunteers and I’m 66 and one of the youngest. And so… we’re a fun group and we’re very supportive. We only have people do what they think they can do. We’re glad to mentor and teach. It’s, you know, finding a cause and organizing a group, but State Parks can always use volunteers, the federal Forest Service can always use volunteers, and various endeavors outside, the County can use volunteers in their parks. The more organized volunteers we get, the better to keep up and maintain this area. You know, for any of those people who love to walk or like to hike, if you’re on a trail or if you’re just out and about in a town bring a bag and pick up garbage. I mean, I’m always asking people on the trail system here: if something’s fallen on the ground pick it up and throw it, or move it if you can, because it’s volunteers that do all that work. So you can help, in what I call small, spontaneous ways or become a part of any of these agencies or organizations, you know, to volunteer.
Leland: Thank you so much Joanne.
Joanne: Oh, thank you. I’m honored to be on your show.
Well, that was a great interview with Joanne Kitell, thank you for listening. I’d love to point out that even if you don’t identify as an environmentalist, you can still have a vast, positive impact.
In the last moments we have left I’d like to share one of my favorite books with you. It’s called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a chronicle of a year in the life of Kingsolver’s family, when they moved to a farm and attempted to grow as much of their own food as possible and resolved to eat only locally produced food. It also reaches far beyond her own family to include fascinating insight into our food system in general.
It’s a beautiful read, I find it incredibly inspirational. Let me share a few quotes…
“When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families’ tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.”
“If it crosses your mind that water running through hundreds of miles of open ditch in a desert will evaporate and end up full of concentrated salts and muck, then let me just tell you, that kind of negative thinking will never get you elected to public office in the state of Arizona. When this giant new tap turned on, developers drew up plans to roll pink stucco subdivisions across the desert in all directions. The rest of us were supposed to rejoice as the new flow rushed into our pipes, even as the city warned us this water was kind of special. They said it was okay to drink but don’t put it in an aquarium because it would kill the fish.
Drink it we did, then, filled our coffee makers too, and mixed our children’s juice concentrate with fluid that would gag a guppy. Oh, America the Beautiful, where are our standards? ”
“Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re allowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point that out. The conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners.”
“Many of us who aren’t farmers or gardeners still have some element of farm nostalgia in our family past, real or imagined: a secret longing for some connection to a life where a rooster crows in the yard.”
“Most of us are creatures so comforted by habit, it can take something on the order of religion to invoke new, more conscious behaviors–however glad we may be afterward that we went to the trouble.”
Well, this has been Turn the Tide. I hope that you keep challenging yourself to take on new habits and new behaviors that make a positive impact. Thanks for listening. This is KYAQ 91.7 and I’m your host, Leland! Thanks! Bye!