Saturday, July 21, 2018

My Rural Travelogue (Part XIX): A new National Park concessionaire could seriously undermine a rural economy in southern Oregon

Siskiyou Mountains, from Cliff Nature Trail, Oregon Caves National Monument

I made a grand tour through the would-be State of Jefferson last week, both California and Oregon sides of the state line. I hope I'll get to write more about the trip in a number of posts, but I want to begin this series with a post about my visit to Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, about 20 miles from Cave Junction, Oregon (population 1,883), in the state's southwest corner, in the Siskiyou Mountains.  (Cave Junction it is in Josephine County, population 82,713, which I have written about herehere and here in relation to its skeletal local government and "neighborhood watches" substituting for law enforcement.  A post about similar trends in neighboring Douglas County is here.)

I had reserved two nights in the Oregon Caves Chateau, a grand national parks lodge built in 1934.  (While grand, the lodge is small, with just about two dozen guest rooms, considerably smaller than most other signature National Park lodges).
Oregon Caves Chateau, July, 2018 
Guest room, Chateau
Our stay was lovely, with many local touches, including friendly and highly competent hotel and wait staff from nearby Cave Junction (we had the same delightful and accommodating server for dinner, breakfast and lunch) and the "Gift Gallery" featuring numerous local artists in many media and, for example, local honey and beeswax products.  One of my favorite purchases is a Native American-made basket of pine needles.

Perhaps the most extraordinary local touch at the Chateau are the quilts on the  guest room beds, all of which have been made and donated by Cave Junction residents.
Typical patch on quilts used in Oregon Caves Chateau guest rooms, July 2018

When we checked in, the front-desk staff member explained that neither WiFi nor cell reception was available, and in that regard she also mentioned that the Chateau would be closing this fall for a two-year renovation.  The suggestion was that when the Chateau re-opened, WiFi would be on offer.
Chateau Cafe, Diner Style, July 2018

The next morning, we saw laminated news stories about the impending closure in the Chateau Cafe, a '30s style affair with an extensive diner-type menu and decor.  The stories were from local media outlets, like this one from the Medford Mail Tribune, dated April 4, 2018.  It announces not only the upcoming two-year closure of the Chateau for renovation, but also the shift in concessionaire from the local Oregon Caves Outfitters to a subsidiary of Aramark Corporation.  The Mail Tribune story reads:
The National Park Service announced Tuesday the selection of Crater Lake Hospitality LLC, a subsidiary of Aramark, to operate visitor services at both of the popular facilities. 
The concessioner will operate lodging, including Crater Lake Lodge, a campground, boat tours, food service and retail operations at Crater Lake. 
At Oregon Caves, it will operate the Chateau, along with food services and retail operations. 
Crater Lake Hospitality replaces Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which has managed concession services at Crater Lake for 15 years, and Oregon Caves Outfitters, which has managed Oregon Caves services for 17 years. Aramark is a major concession operator that manages several national parks, including Yosemite. 
Craig Ackerman and Vicki Snitzler, superintendents at Crater Lake and Oregon Caves, stressed the concession contract was awarded through a competitive selection process that combines two currently separate operations under one contract. Both learned of the decision Tuesday.
As my son and I digested this news and enjoyed our breakfast in advance of our cave tour, we were approached by a woman from Friends of the Oregon Cave and Chateau. She invited our feedback on the lodge and what was special about it, any particular experiences or memories we had there, what the stay had evoked for us, and so forth.  As we chatted, the subject turned to the shift in management of the Chateau and the numerous Cave Junction-based employees who are currently employed there by Oregon Cave Outfitters,
a project of the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization (IVCanDO) for over 17 years.  
* * *
In 2017, the Chateau served 27,000 meals and lodged 7,000 guests and will be open for business from May 3, through September 30 this year. Accommodations range from economy to suite.
Employees of Oregon Cave Outfitters, July 2018
Here's more about IVCanDO from their website, which I find downright inspirational, under the heading "People":
The people of the Illinois Valley value their small town lifestyle and close neighbor relationships. IVCanDO supports projects which bring people closer together and foster cultural growth and celebrate their pride in their community, with special emphasis on youth engagement and on recognizing the strength of our diversity.
After a segment on "Living with Nature," there is this under the heading "Prosperity."
We create unique opportunities for a resilient economy, vibrant local business, meaningful employment, and personal fulfillment. IVCanDO provides business expertise to strengthen our entrepreneur base and connect local efforts to regional resources and beyond.
These segments speak volumes about what I saw of the local workers at Oregon Caves Chateau.  Here is a page of the Oregon Caves Chateau website titled "Keeping Local Business Local."  I'm cutting and pasting the whole page, realizing that it soon may be going away:
The historic Chateau at the Oregon Caves features local produce, meats, wines, micro-brews and the talented work of local artists and crafters.

In a world of corporate uniformity and increasing globalization, the Chateau strives to offer you a uniquely local experience. You will find local fare in the dining room and locally crafted gifts and works of art in our gift gallery, as well as locally produced furniture, soaps and shampoos in your hotel room. Even the uniforms worn by our employees are made locally. 
In the dining room, we coordinate with local farmers to grow the herbs and vegetables we use and whenever possible, we purchase locally raised meat, poultry and dairy products. We select bison meat from Full Circle Bison Ranch just over the hill in Williams, and vegetables and greens from Kerbyville Farms in the Illinois Valley.
Our goal is to support and encourage local, sustainable agriculture efforts in addition to offering you healthful and exceptionally tasty cuisine. By providing outlets for local products, we help make our valley an even nicer place to live. Sample the best of what southern Oregon has to offer, from the freshest, locally grown produce to Illinois and Rogue Valley cheeses and wines. 
The Oregon Caves Outfitters is part of the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working to improve economic and social conditions in Oregon’s rural southwest through programs designed to enhance the local standard of living, create jobs, and encourage sustainable community development. The IVCDO is the winner of the prestigious 2006 Northwest Area Foundation Award.
In light of these admirable goals and the local, personal touch they represent, imagine my disappointment at learning (from the contact at Friends of Oregon Caves Chateau) not only that Oregon Caves Outfitters had lost the concession to run the Oregon Caves Chateau, but that they had gotten this news when they saw the National Park Service Press Release.  The National Park Service had not even dignified their years of service with a pre-press release heads up.
City Hall for Cave Junction, Oregon, July 2018
I couldn't help grieve the likely impact of this shift on this remote rural economy, the impact first of the two-year closure of the Chateau for renovation, and then of Oregon Caves Outfitters the management of the Oregon Cave Chateau by Aramark.  If Aramark is like other National Park concessionaires, it will bring in employees from across the nation--and perhaps from around the world--announcing their hometowns on their name badges.  This will make the enterprise seem more connected to the outside world, more cosmopolitan, I suppose.

But what, then, will become of those several dozen Cave Junction residents, rural workers who have counted on this seasonal employment for decades?  And what will become of those lovingly and locally made quilts that now adorn the guest room beds?  Will Ararmark care for them?  Will Aramark even understand the value and significance of this bit of local flavor and artistry?

Photos below:  Other staples of the Cave Junction economy appear to be agricultural, in different forms.  The cannabis trade, for example, appears to be well established. 
A cannabis store in same building with an appliance
repair business in Cave Junction, July 2018
Junction City farm stand (with intentional
misspelling, presumably to attract attention)

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