Iwetemlaykin At the edge of the lake, a state park is born

By Joyce Osterloh, Correspondent October 15, 2009 02:18 pm

Brooklyn Baptiste, vice-chair of the Nez Perce executive committee, opens the dedication ceremony of the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site Saturday near Wallowa Lake. "We have secured a large piece of land for a very good purpose. It is a good example of what can happen when people work together," he said.
New state park and heritage site, located  at north end of Wallowa Lake, hold place of honor in the history and culture of American Indians

JOSEPH — “This park tells a story about life and the land we live on,” Gov. Ted Kulongoski remarked Saturday in his address at the official opening and dedication of the new Iwetemlaykin State Park and Heritage Site.

“The beauty we see here now was created by glaciers, but the people of the Northwest have also moved across this land. We all have been shaped by this special place and will work to try to preserve it,” Kulongoski said.

The park and heritage site is at the north end of Wallowa Lake near Joseph.

Iwetemlaykin, Nez Perce for “at the edge of the lake” and pronounced ee-weh-TEMM-lye-kinn, is the governor’s park-a-year for 2009. 

According to Kulongoski, this is the sixth state park to open since he challenged the state parks department to open one park per year when he took office in 2003. No new parks had been built since 1964, he said.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department funded $3.2 million of the $4.1 million purchase price of the property in 2007, funded by dedicated money from the Oregon Lottery profits.

Keith Red Thunder of the Colville Reservation said, “It’s good to be home again. Many people we started (this project) with 20 years ago are gone.”
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Nez Perce Tribe each donated $300,000 to Oregon State Parks Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Oregon’s natural scenic, cultural, historic, recreational sites.

Oregon State Parks Trust and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department share title to the land.

Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site, formerly known as the Marr Ranch property, lies between Joseph and the north end of Wallowa Lake. The property borders a Nez Perce National Historical Park, site of the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Cemetery to the south. The 61.93 acres of grassy hills and slopes lie at the tip of the terminal moraine left by the glaciers that formed Wallowa Lake.

Two agricultural irrigation ditches and the Wallowa River run through the property. 

Knight’s Pond is between the ditches near the river. The city of Joseph abuts the northern boundary of the park.

Joseph City Council member Mark Lacey, speaking at the dedication on behalf of the city of Joseph, reminded the audience that the site is within the city’s urban growth boundary, making it unique in the park system. He said the residents of Joseph understand the power of place and cherish their connection to the land.

County Commissioner Mike Hayward said as a member of the commission he has lost count of the number of applications for development of the Marr Ranch Property. He said that it became evident to him that people in Wallowa County did not want this property to be developed; they wanted to see it preserved as an asset to the city of Joseph and all of Wallowa County.

For the American Indian people, who call the lands of the Wallowa home, the designation of this piece of land as a state park and heritage site is a significant achievement. The grazing lands, traditional summer camping grounds, and sacred areas on the moraines of Wallowa Lake and along the Wallowa River hold a place of honor in their history and culture.

Local tradition and tribal accounts reveal that the Marr Ranch was the site of a major sockeye salmon fishery.

The foot of Wallowa Lake, the north end, is the starting point of the Nez Perce or Nee Mee Poo National Historical Trail that was created to memorialize the flight of the Nez Perce and Cayuse from the Wallowas to join other Nez Perce and Palouse bands fleeing to Montana in 1877 to escape captivity and  annihilation at the hands of the U.S. Cavalry.

Brooklyn Baptiste, vice chairman of the Nez Perce Executive Committee, said that the establishment of the Marr Ranch as a state heritage site is a good example of what can happen when people work together. He said it will bring peace back to those who died so long ago so far away from their home in the Wallowas.

Relatives of remaining Nez Perce lie in unmarked graves on the lands within the park.

He thanked many local residents, including Joe McCormick, Jeff Whiting, and Peggy Kite-Martin for their efforts in securing the acreage as a sacred resting place for his relatives and for future generations to enjoy.

Keith Red Thunder of the Chief Joseph Band of the Nez Perce from the Colville Reservation, and Antone Minthorn, chairman of the board for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, both recalled the controversy and opposition to the development of the Marr Ranch Property.

Tension between whites and Native Americans and among the tribes characterized the discussions in the many meetings held to negotiate the acquisition of the land, Red Thunder remembered.

“It is good to be home,” he said.

Armon Minthorn, who gave the opening and closing prayers for the dedication, said, “ Today all of our skins are the same because of what we have in our hearts. We will talk about this day for a very long time. We are making history today and you are part of it.”

According to the Oregon State Parks Trust website, the purchase of this property provides permanent protection for noteworthy cultural and historical resources and important riparian areas along the Wallowa River. Because this site is intended for the protection of these areas, many recreational activities are not appropriate here. 

Appropriate activities, according to the park master plan, are limited to walking trails, enjoying scenic viewpoints and wildlife viewing. Off-road vehicle use, camping, horseback riding and group activities that require buildings are offered at other nearby sites such as the county lake access at the foot or north end of Wallowa Lake and Wallowa Lake State Park at the south end of the lake.