Friday, November 03, 2006

The Governor Loves Baker CIty, Rightly So

Oregon's Governor Ted Kulongoski stopped in Baker City Oct. 28th and mentioned how much he likes it here. He'd like to move here when he's done. I think we'd like to have him.

Baker City is located in northeast Oregon at 3500 feet elevation in a valley between the Elkhorn Mountains and the Wallowas. Both ranges reach 10,000 feet, the Elkhorns are on Baker's west and within a few miles, the Wallowas are about 40 miles east. Both ranges climb directly from the valley, there is very little in the line of foothills. The mountains are cloaked in a variety of species of conifers, lodge poles, Ponderosa, white fir and at this time most spectacularly, tamaraks which are turning gold, a truly lovely gold with a greenish cast. In places they speckle the deep green forest, in others they carve a gleaming slash in the clear cold air. Sunrise and sunset pick up the colors of the mountains, tinging the snow caps and accentuating the greens and golds and rock faces. With the changing light of our varying fall weather the mountains move from exclamations to brooding presence, never out of sight for long and an ever present experience.

Baker City was founded Pre-Civil War and many of the buildings are 1880-90s. The brick buildings downtown are not faux antiquey, they carry their dates proudly on their facades and as the few remaining remodeled ones are restored the streets have a character seldom experienced. There are many houses from the same era, they range from the proud mansions of gold and timber magnates and local powers to the smaller Victorians of shopkeepers and laborers. Most have been kept in good state and some are exceptional. In the semi-arid climate of the rain shadow of eastern oregon, trees are the predominate feature. It is, in a way, the locals' reaction to being surrounded with sagebrush. Baker City is a Tree City, USA town.

Baker City's population has held pretty steady for nearly a century at just under 10,000 people. The growth in new-comers is slow enough that Baker absorbs them, the town changes people, the friendliness and openess of the place doesn't change. It is the kind of place where you converse with the sales people, wait people, and cashiers, they are, after all, your neighbors. You can be private or build a reputation, depending on your personality, the town will allow it. While the entire range of professions is represented, the tone is blue collar, a workers' town. The lumber mills are gone and gold mining is mostly a pastime, but the heritage is still there. The ranchers that come to town for supplies aren't pretend, they live the battle of making a living in the open.

The nature of the people and the kind of place it is has encouraged the residents to make the most of what there is to work with. Instead of knocking down the old buildings, they've been re-built into Historic Baker City, with broad sidewalks dotted with trees and wrought iron benches beneath cloth awnings. Businesses have been recruited to replace the lost industries. And though there are still some gravel streets most are paved and in exceptional condition. The streets are clean, the homeowners take care and the street cleaners are frequent visitors. There is a moderate sort of prosperity.

In the end run, the buildings and streets and businesses are only outcomes, the driving force and heart of Baker City are the people. It is the qintessential small western town, where people are friendly, where they look out for each other and will help a stranger. Where economic down turns are not only weathered, they are fought and something better brought about. So, yessir Gov. we can understand why you'd want to live with us, we'll see you.

No comments: