By Eric Rosane / [email protected]
A 250-acre irrigation project along National Highway 6 which belongs to the town of Chehalis has a new name, says city manager Jill Anderson: poplar farm.
Since it was acquired by the city about two decades ago, the land has been known as the “poplar plantation” for its use of the namesake trees which soak up reclaimed water and recharge a local aquifer. But an extensive examination of perceptions of the breed in America in recent months – along with a decaying wooden sign – has prompted the city to rethink the name.
While the word “plantation” seems appropriate in describing the land, to some it evokes the centuries-old practice of using bonded black labor in the American plantation economy.
Simply put, this is not a positive reflection of what the site is. At least that was the reasoning behind an email Anderson received from a member of Rural Americans Against Racism. Anderson said he received a polite email from a member of the group suggesting that the city rename the site, located at 1026 State Route 6 in Chehalis.
“In reference to the word, it has a more loaded meaning,” Anderson told The Chronicle, describing the email’s position on the use of the word plantation.
Anderson said she found the group’s reasoning articulate and respectful. So she called to change the name.
In a post on the Multiculturally Minded Lewis County Facebook group in late June, Michelle Conrow called for action to change the name of the site after it was brought to their attention that black visitors to the area were felt “unwelcome and left with a negative feeling because of the sign.
“The word plantation, although technically correct, cannot be dissociated from (the) association with the enslaved blacks (on) whose plantations were built. Plus, the trees in Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” are poplars, “Conrow wrote.
Normally, a city council vote would be required to change the name of a city-owned facility, site or property. But because the poplar farm has never been officially named except in city documents and background documents, city leaders have the right to make the appeal, Anderson said.
The name used is just a descriptor, she said.
“There is no formal declaration of this plot of land, as far as I am concerned,” she said. “That’s kind of what it’s called.”
Anderson said they plan to replace the wooden sign with a more weather-resistant metal sign, similar in theme to the city’s direction signs. She said she didn’t have a timeline for when this new one would be in place.
Before the irrigation site was home to thousands of poplars, the large land was once owned by the Hamilton family, according to previous articles in The Chronicle.
Water recovered from the city’s sewage treatment plant is periodically pumped to the poplars when the water flow from the Chehalis River drops below 1,000 cubic feet per second, according to information on the website. from the city.
The irrigated poplar plantation is divided into 11 management units, one or two of which are watered at a time, and planted with nine different hybrid varieties. Treated water also strengthens an underground aquifer. The trees grow 8 to 10 feet per year and are harvested every 10 to 15 years to make paper.