Construction of a longhouse has been approved for the Nez Perce coalition property outside Wallowa.

Calling it an upgrade of a conditional use permit (CUP) granted in January 1998, Ralph Swinehart of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center Inc. gained permission from the Wallowa County Planning Commission to place a longhouse on the property just east of Wallowa when the commission met July 29.

Swinehart and Project Coordinator Mary Knutson both said they "hope" to get construction on the longhouse begun this year. "Though it may not happen," said Swinehart, who sits on the Interpretive Center's 30-member board of directors and was hired to coordinate the CUP process,

"I hope to see the building up and enclosed before winter."

Since the original CUP was approved in 1998 the Nez Perce purchased an additional 160 acres of land from Norman and Mamie McCrae and it is on that land and not the original 160 acres, also purchased from the McCraes, where the longhouse will sit. The projected longhouse site is just inside the Tamkaliks gate in the field to the east, about 200 feet from Whiskey Creek Road. A circular driveway is also in the longhouse plans.

The initial purchase from the McCraes was made in August of 1997 while the latter 160 acre buy was made in May of 2000.

Knutson said that a longhouse committee consisting of Soy Redthunder, Armond Minthorn and Horace Axtell has given design approval of preliminary blueprints calling for a 3,206 square foot handicap accessible structure with a large, rectangular longhouse room complimented with a kitchen, bathroom and some storage space. In the middle of the main room will be an area, possibly 12 feet by 12 feet said Swinehart, where bare Earth is being added to the design.

The Nez Perce, who do not have to place the project out for bids because there is no government money involved at this time, are looking toward a Union County contractor who would provide a log home type design-and-build package. Such packages can be constructed fairly quickly, said Swinehart.

The Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center, Inc. has $80,000 for the longhouse construction, compliments of an anonymous Wallowa Valley donor. An estimated $300,000 will be needed to construct the facility, say both Swinehart and Knutson. The balance is being sought via a private fundraising campaign.

"We have been progressing steadily," said Swinehart who anticipates a gazebo type structure being constructed at the top of Tick Hill overlooking the arbor and Tamkaliks grounds. That, and the design work for a road to the top of Nez Perce property without having to cross McCrae property, are also being targeted by the end of 2003. Swinehart added that the McCraes have been more than cooperative in allowing road access to the top of Nez Perce land.

Plans for future construction on the property include the Interpretive Center itself, to be located on the newer purchase of land with the longhouse, and a bath house to be located on the original purchase.

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