WASHINGTON – A bleak camp in Northern California that confined thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II would be polished up to attract more visitors under a National Park Service plan issued Friday.
The former Tule Lake Segregation Center would be enhanced with $11.7 million for the likes of roads, trails and barracks, under the proposal. Facilities would be reconstructed, digital media deployed and visitors welcomed year-around.
Congress, which has already debated competing Tule Lake ideas, would also play a role, according to the Tule Lake Unit General Management Plan and Environmental Assessment.
“This moment changes the narrative for Tule Lake,” Lawrence Whalon, superintendent of the park service’s Tule Lake Unit and Lava Beds National Monument, said in a statement.
Currently part of the sprawling World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, the former segregation camp would, with congressional approval, become the separate Tule Lake National Historic Site.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer have already introduced competing bills to establish the Tule Lake National Historic Site, though the measures are different in several respects.
In addition to the $11.7 million in investments made during several phases, the park service envisions boosting annual operation costs to $1.2 million. Currently, the Tule Lake Unit located in remote Modoc and Siskiyou counties costs $384,000 a year.
The plan would make Tule Lake similar to the better-known Manzanar National Historic Site, a former World War II internment camp in Inyo County, Calif. Last year, 95,327 visitors were recorded at Manzanar.
But before Tule Lake changes, the park service must shepherd its 277-page management plan through the gantlet of 13 public workshops that include two in Sacramento on Dec. 6-7.
“We’re eager to hear what the public thinks,” Whalon said, acknowledging that the Tule Lake camp has a “long-contested history.”
Underscoring the potential public interest, more than 100 people attended the last Tule Lake planning session in Sacramento, held three years ago.
Opened in May 1942, Tule Lake was the largest of 10 camps run by the War Relocation Authority following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9066. The controversial order authorized the U.S. military to incarcerate U.S. residents of Japanese descent.
Tule Lake housed as many as 18,700 Japanese-Americans at one time and was designated as a segregation center, set aside for the unruly or those considered disloyal to the United States. Twenty-eight guard towers, supported by tanks and machine gun emplacements, kept detainees in line.
“Tule Lake’s atmosphere of anxiety, anger, confusion, and distrust helped set the stage for the largest mass renunciation of American citizenship in U.S. history,” the management plan stated.
In the little-known episode, 5,461 Tule Lake detainees renounced their U.S. citizenship in protest. A subsequent legal battle continued through the 1960s.
Thirty-five acres of the Tule Lake Segregation Center area are owned by the National Park Service, while the California Department of Transportation owns two acres. Surrounding areas called the Peninsula and Camp Tulelake are owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service and co-managed with the park service.
The park service said that its management proposal, the most ambitious of three under study, “emphasizes raising national awareness about the Tule Lake Unit’s unique incarceration, segregation, and renunciation history and its resources.”
In particular, the park service proposes developing a Tule Lake oral history program, restoring the jail and reconstructing a guard tower, among other projects.