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In The News…

Appreciating the Pit

June 15, 2003
Klamath Falls Herald and News

River Center explores an overlooked watershed.

Pity the poor Pit.

As a name for a river, it's the pits.

Some even dispute if it's Pit or Pitt. Most agree the river and its drainage are named after Indians who dug conical pits with a small opening at the top, which were covered with brush to trap bears, deer and hostile tribesmen. Sharp stakes, placed in the bottom, impaled the animals or the Indians that fell in.

Because of its location in the far northeastern corner of California, it receives relatively little attention. That's why members of the Pit River Watershed Alliance and others have created the recently opened River Center in Alturas.

"We focus on the watershed and how important and unique the Pit River system is," explains Paula Fields, the center's education coordinator. "The biggest thing now is to create an awareness that we're here."

The Pit River watershed encompasses about 4,324 square miles. Its headwaters are drained by the North and South Fork of the Pit River. The North Fork originates at the outlet of Goose Lake while the South Fork begins from tributaries in the South Warners.

The two forks merge in Alturas and flow southwesterly to Lake Shasta and, eventually, the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay Delta.

The importance and significance of the Pit River is little known. A goal of the River Center is to change that.

"Everything really focuses around water and how important water is for all life," says Fields of the displays at the center, which, appropriately, is just a short walk from the Pit River.

"We've had a whole lot of students come to see the River Center in recent weeks. Our goal is to accommodate teachers and their students."

Excellently prepared displays make learning easy, and interesting. Most of the work was done locally, from a series of historic photos that have been hand-colored to a stunning mural by Sophie Sheppard, a hands-on collection of cones and tree bark, and an aquarium with fingerlings. There's also a dark section, which is entered by crawling through a narrow opening, that features night creatures.

Another exhibit features items produced in the watershed, including Harris beef, Lay potato chips, Stringer wine, Tulelake horseradish, HC Ranch wild rice and Eagle Peak herbals.

"The biggest thing right now is to create an awareness that we're here," says Fields, noting that along with classes the center has hosted an Alturas Rotary club, library board and other groups.

But even as the center gets established, she is planning more projects, from landscaping with native plants to developing a trail along the Pit River into the neighboring Modoc National Wildlife Refuge to eventually moving the center into a larger facility.

"That's the next big goal, to move it to a larger facility so we can pickup more visitors," says Fields. "We have quite a story to tell."