New Year, New Panamnik Building Goals
By Erica Terence
Sometimes I worry about my social life. I work all day in a run-down old grocery store from my youth, jump around with my co-workers and community members for exercise in that same building after work, and for fun in the evenings I go to events with my co-workers, friends and neighbors under the same roof. I’m often here on weekends too, for a workshop in using native plants to make holiday wreaths, or a training on collecting and saving seeds from the garden.
In a town of little more than 700 people a few hours drive inland from the coast and just south of the California-Oregon border, with neighboring communities also so small you miss them on the highway if you blink. It is no wonder so much life revolves around this former grocery store. The non-profit organization I work for, the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), bought this building in 2010, when it outgrew its previous office spaces of a founder’s barn and then a Forest Service trailer. We’ve been working to fix it up ever since, to help it live its best life. At the end of this blog, I will ask you to make a donation at www.mkwc.org/donate to help us finish the job. First, a few hundred more words about the building’s impact on our lives.
Above: A Third Thursday event in the Panamnik Building backyard.
Now, the building serves not only as a watershed restoration headquarters for our organization as we build a restoration economy in these small towns where we work, but also as a desperately needed gathering space for our local communities. In such a remote place, the building provides vital services in a place that would otherwise receive little to no help from the outside world. It’s a place where people can come together to plan and do good, on the ground work for fish, plants, wildlife, and local people. It’s the home of our local post office, so it’s also a place where people pass through daily to pick up their mail, browse the bulletin board outside, and see what’s happening. Most importantly, it’s a place that helps us learn who else lives here and how to care for each other by caring for the land together.
Early in the morning, crews load vehicles with gear before heading out into the field to restore fish habitat, pull invasive plants and collect native plant seeds, reintroduce fire on the landscape in the right places at the right times of year, and involve young people and volunteers in hands-on watershed restoration. Office staff filter in, each with their own small role in the big production to restore this place we call home and renovate the funky old building and riverfront land that houses us.
While we work in tight spaces, sometimes without windows and always without quiet or privacy, a meeting with partners to coordinate a watershed restoration project often unfolds in the cavernous big room outside our cramped offices. Waders often hang over banisters, drying between uses to count salmon in our streams. A tourist or local person might stop in to use the phone, the bathroom, or browse our watershed interpretive center by the building’s front door. Sometimes someone is looking for something as simple as a cup of coffee or directions.
On many days, parking in front of the “downtown” Orleans building is limited to make space for County and Tribal services trailers ranging from a bookmobile to public health resources, to fresh produce and commodities for local populations who are located at least an hour away from grocery stores and don’t earn big salaries. On Fridays, we share our space with families attending a playgroup for kids under age five, accepting a less tranquil work environment in trade for endearing disruptions from the next generation who spend a formative part of their youth running around here. Parents report that the playgroup doesn’t just benefit their kids – it also allows them to compare notes and feel less alone in their parenting struggles in such a geographically isolated location.
Every third Thursday of the month, the building transforms into a restaurant in a town where there otherwise is none. People come out from the woodwork to visit with fellow river dwellers, enjoy a meal cooked for them, and swap stories. These dinners always benefit a good cause, whether it’s MKWC or a local school or volunteer fire department.
Above: A community event inside the Panamnik Building.
Sure, we all live a lot of our lives here, but at least this building has brought some much-needed fresh life to this town. Now it’s time to complete its transformation. This means moving and modernizing our offices so we can fully redo the community space and make it available to the community 100 percent of the time. It means installing separate front and back doors for community center users to come and go from, and adding an energy efficient heating and cooling system to help this place operate through temperature extremes. It means improving the drainage in the backyard along the banks of the Klamath River. It means creating a parking system that maximizes building access and use. Once we’ve taken these steps, we’ll be ready to overhaul the kitchen and bathrooms, put large windows along the back wall of the building that look straight through to the river we work to restore, upgrade our lighting, acoustics, and electrical systems. We’ll also build new walls, ceilings and floors throughout the building.
It’s a big undertaking, and we wouldn’t have come so far without the financial support of people like you. With your help we bought the building, demolished the grocery store remnants, fixed heaters and toilets and pipes and wires and the roof and floor as they broke. With your help we rallied a team of local folks to use mushrooms to clean up soil contamination from diesel spills in the backyard. With your help we cleared a backyard amphitheater space, and built a new equipment storage shed for all the stuff that we use to implement projects, monitor projects, and involve young people in watershed restoration.
Now we’re tackling the third and final phase of renovations and we come to you again asking for help. Please think big as you invest in this vision of a place for people who love this place that will last for generations. Please give as generously as you can at www.mkwc.org/donate, and indicate that your donation is for the Panamnik Building.
Thank you for helping us to make these changes last. Our most renewable resource is people who understand that our resources are not infinite, people like those you find here on the unincorporated border of Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties working together to restore what we have.
Erica Terence is the MKWC Development Director, born and raised in the Klamath watershed.