California Forum

Northern Exposure: Historian’s look at Lassen County

Historian’s look at Lassen County

No one seemed interested in celebrating Lassen County’s 2014 sesquicentennial, so Tim Purdy did the obvious: He wrote a book.

“Lassen County at 150” is a potpourri of episodes commemorating everything from the Pioneer Saloon, the county’s oldest business established in 1862, to the earthquakes that shook the area last May. It clarifies lingering local mysteries: Those fat catfish near Bieber between 1883 and 1940? Scarfed up the waste tossed into the Pit River from the county’s only cheese factory.

Purdy, Lassen’s self-appointed historian, juxtaposes the rural area’s colorful history with its not-so-distant past. He pairs a 1910 sighting of the Honey Lake serpent with the Army’s efforts in 2003 to get rid of the lake and its new monster, reportedly oodles of explosive debris from decades of Army operations. Honey Lake eventually was sold to the state for $8.6 million, a figure Purdy reports was redacted in public documents.

His sardonic account of the cycles of history does not flatter democratic progress. In 1915 voters approved a $125,000 bond to build a new county courthouse. Its $39 million replacement was completed in 2012 without voter approval.

Purdy’s book accompanies a 2014 calendar that logs a historical event for each day and reproduces 12 vintage photographs, including one of Roxie Peconum, a member of the Maidu tribe whose name was given to a creek in 1993. The calendar year begins with a 1906 wild horse slaughter.

Purdy, who has written 20 or 21 local history books (“I’ve lost track,” he says), has not given up on a sesquicentennial celebration: “It took three years to light a fire under Westwood for its centennial. Maybe even Lassen County will get it together.”

Health care dream realized

The drive to health care for rural Sonoma and Mendocino county residents just got shorter, and the services when they arrive just multiplied.

Alexander Valley Healthcare, the only medical provider along the 50-mile stretch on Highway 101 between Healdsburg and Ukiah, is now a federally qualified health center.

That means an immediate $733,333 boost to the clinic’s annual budget, giving it about $3.2 million to provide outpatient and diagnostic services to 16,000 area residents: working couples, low-income families and well-heeled business owners.

“It’s the culmination of a dream,” said Deborah Howell, the health care center’s CEO. When she joined the clinic 12 years ago there were five physicians practicing in Cloverdale. The last one departed in 2006, leaving the scrappy Alexander Valley clinic standing alone.

The recent infusion of federal funding will allow the clinic to increase its services for uninsured and underinsured patients. It is now in the unusual position of being able to serve everyone, Howell said.

She also announced plans to expand doctors’ hours and hire additional staff. Howell’s goal is preventative care, including dental and substance abuse services as well as screening and prevention at local schools.

A county owns a forest

Logging and recreation, traditionally as compatible as oil and water, are poised to become partners on a working forest at the edge of Eureka.

Under a proposal scheduled to go to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors this week, a portion of the McKay Tract now owned by Green Diamond Co. would become California’s first county-owned community forest. Along with opportunities for public recreation on land adjacent to the city, it will demonstrate how far today’s timber harvest standards have come from grandpa’s generation, said Hank Seemann, county deputy public works director.

Humboldt County officials have considered acquiring the 1,002-acre forest for several years and secured $6.6 million in state and federal funds. The hurdle is the cost of managing and maintaining a resource not expected to generate significant revenue for several decades, when the sale of lumber would generate income for the county.

Still, said Seemann, a working forest offers an immediate opportunity to step into the woods – “to find solitude, study nature and connect with our heritage.” The tract extends southeast from Eureka through a narrow belt of redwoods and mixed conifers that includes wetlands and coho salmon spawning habitat.

Arcata, 8 miles to the north, has owned a working forest since 1955 and now operates it under a long-term forest management program that promotes ecological health and pumps revenue into the city. The 2,100-acre Arcata forest has attracted homeless encampments, and that’s an issue for the McKay forest project, too.

Seemann’s immediate concern is determining costs and revenue for both short and long-term operations. Can Humboldt County make it work economically? “We’ll know in another month,” he said.