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Washington State University Landscape Architecture Students Re-Envision Public Space on Clearwater River in Kamiah

Cyrus Forman | Public Affairs Officer, Forest Service Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

KAMIAH— Most of the 21 undergraduates in US Forest Service Landscape Architect Marcus Owens’ (3rd Year Landscape Architecture Studio, “Connecting Kamiah”) class at Washington State University (WSU) were up at 5 AM for the 2.5 hour bus trip from Pullman, WA to Kamiah, ID on September 11, 2023. As the sun broke, they didn’t just cross state lines, they also traversed multiple landscapes, leaving the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse and traveling up the heavily forested Clearwater River Canyon. Despite their early wakeup, they were eager to explore this unfamiliar but striking country when they reached their first stop, the Nez Perce-Clearwater Forests Supervisor’s Office in Kamiah, Idaho.

Their place-based, collaborative practicum was given a unique task: redesign a public space on the Kamiah waterfront that enhances the existing relationship between its residents, especially members of the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Clearwater River and build a trail that provides safe and environmentally friendly transit to the waterfront. The class included students such as Tai who is “a big fan of all water: rivers, streams waterfalls, you name it.” Tai explained that “having the Clearwater River on our site gives us a unique design opportunity to bring attention to and make a more scenic transition between water and land.” His classmate Jax who “loves to play with water” in his design shared his enthusiasm for this aspect of their project.

At the Supervisor’s Office, they were greeted by USFS staff who worked in partnerships, tribal consultation, recruitment, and public affairs who explained their roles in the Forest Service and why they were excited about the work these students were doing. Marcus Owens then provided the visitors with a tour of the ongoing landscaping project at the Supervisor’s Office, explaining the natural materials and motifs from the 4 million acre forest that were incorporated into the 11acre site and outlining the work that remained to be done. This hands-on, place based learning was exactly what attracted many of the students to this class. “What’s most attractive about this class is the opportunity to get outside of the classroom and know a site and meet new people and stakeholders,” WSU student Trey explained.

The rest of the field trip focused on Kamiah’s existing riparian resources and the importance of the landscape they would be working on to Nez Perce people, whose homeland it has been since time immemorial. The students went to The Heart of The Monster, a highly sacred space at the center of Nez Perce origin stories and epistemologies. Roger Ammerman, a former interpretive ranger at Nez Perce National Historical Park, explained that “This area is a nirvana for the Nez Perce people. This is their Jerusalem.”

Students followed up their visit to the Heart of the Monster with a visit to a Nez Perce Tribal community center near the Kamiah waterfront and independent touring of the town to better understand the landscape they were working with.

The next day, the students visited Hells Canyon with Nez Perce Tourism LLC a tribal tourism group that further explained the significance and history of the landscape they would work with. After this extensive grounding in the landscape, these students are excited to envision the future of this important landscape. Soonjee explained why this matters to the students and the community they’re serving: “It’s my first time designing a real place. I’ve had studios before, but this is different. I want to design something that is aesthetically pleasing and that communicates w/ tribal history and heritage.”