Wallowa City revitalization plans move forward

A WURA Fishing Train crosses one of the 100-year-old bridges along the Elgin to Minam line.

It’s not just tulips popping up in the city of Wallowa. The city’s revitalization is blooming. Specifically, there is the prospect that the Forest Service compound has finally found a lessee. This is an essential element in Wallowa’s revitalization.

It’s been six months since the City of Wallowa launched its revitalization program, adopting the Wallowa Hometown Project as their name and securing Wallowahometown.org for their web page.

City Councilor Garrett Lowe is spearheading the revitalization and he reports progress on numerous fronts.

Coming off one of the worst winters in decades, most of the progress is in planning.

Five projects have been identified as core projects and “first on the list,” according to Lowe. The list includes:

• Moving the Wallowa History Center offices.

• The city signage project.

• Setting a date for the “vision-to-action plan.”

• Connecting the Nez Perce Homeland Project with the city for walking tours.

• Consulting with the Oregon Main Street Program to improve the downtown corridor.

The city received the Forest Service compound buildings by Presidential grant in 2012. Originally acquired because a lessee was at hand, those buildings have been a burden to the city, after the lessee backed out. However, the city re-roofed two of the four buildings with matching funding from Oregon Heritage, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department last year.

Now, the Wallowa History Center has expressed an interest in moving its expanding collection of documents, photographs and artifacts to the compound.

“It’s not settled but we’re thinking our collection will go into the office building. That’s our hope,” said Mary Ann Borrows, director the Wallowa History Center.

The proposed lease has been approved by City Council after legal advice and awaits approval from the Historical Society as of this publication.

The Wallowa History Center may be a key player in the revitalization in other ways, soon. But Burrows cautions that details must be settled before she can publicize those plans.

A second project on the list is the sign project. The city had decided to go with an industrial theme for signage and a selection of possible styles has been completed. Decisions on that will be forthcoming.

The third project is to set a date for the “Vision to Action Plan” where members of the public come to draw pictures of their desires for the city. North East Oregon Development District (NEOEDD) is working with the city on that project with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. Bates Mill site and the railroad bed may both be considered Brownfields and be eligible for funding through that program according to NEOEDD.

May 4 will be that community meeting, at the Wallowa School, and children’s input will be encouraged.

Participants will be asked how the city keeps the industrial theme and draws tourism while still qualifying as a place where people can raise their kids and not have to worry about crime, drugs and urban problems.

“We want people to be able to live the small-town experience and still have businesses that provide a good solid standard of living for residents,” Lowe said.

Connecting the Nez Perce Homeland Project and Tamkaliks grounds to the city by way of a bridge, facilitating walking tours is the fourth project.

The final project is the revitalization and improvement of streets and the downtown corridor with improved lighting, landscaping and resurfacing.

Sheri Stewart of the Oregon Main Street program, Oregon Parks and Recreation is helping the city find funding, Lowe said.

The Greater Enterprise Merchant’s Association has also expressed interest in being part of the process to gain funding for both cities’ main streets.

“Our ad hoc committee has three members from Wallowa and two from Enterprise,” Lowe said. “There’s a lot of interest on the part of this committee to help streamline the process by which money can come to both downtowns.”

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