Our View: Del Norte’s combination sustaining us

By Triplicate Staff October 31, 2011 07:04 pm

We’ve been enjoying “Chamber of Commerce weather” lately, and the visitors have been flocking — and floating — to Del Norte.

Consider Thursday afternoon on Pebble Beach.

Binoculars were getting a workout in the pull-off parking areas as gray whales spouted frequently. One in particular was a real show-off, keeping much of its bulky body above water even between the blasts of water and air.

Meanwhile, brown pelicans seemed engaged in some kind of Occupy Crescent City operation, mobbing close-in coastal waters by the dozens and staking out perches on the sea stacks. Local gulls, pushed away from their usual haunts by the glut of south-migrating visitors, were probably thinking, “Tourists.”

Alas, this isn’t exactly the height of tourist season for our human visitors. The North Coast’s autumn sunshine is pretty well known around the region, but school is in session and family getaways are generally of the day-trip or weekend nature, rather than weeklong vacations.

The switch to standard time, the holidays and the rains are approaching, reminders of what a challenge it is for coastal merchants and motel-keepers to maintain year-round operations.

It’s an especially good time to buy local. And to remind your out-of-town friends that we’re having our best weather of the year right now, to be followed by crab season and the stormier stuff that makes even better entertainment for some spectators.

It’s also a good time to appreciate that Del Norte enjoys a combination that people in many other remote, sparsely populated areas can only dream of: a setting of world-class natural beauty and a top job-provider that remains stable in a time of worldwide economic turmoil.

Some people say it’s best not to mention that our No. 1 employer happens to be a penitentiary. Hide that fact away, they say, just as the trees along Highway 101 conceal Pelican Bay State Prison from all but the most fleeting of views.

That might be true some places. But we have the redwood parks, the rivers, the harbor and the craggy coastlines that ensure a visitor stream that will strengthen in the coming years. Those visitors won’t be here to see the prison, but they wouldn’t find much of a community if it wasn’t here.

In case you missed this bit of good news from Thursday’s Triplicate, we’ll repeat the quote: Despite the fact that the state is sending out thousands of layoff notices to prison employees, “There should be no reason for existing Pelican Bay correctional officers to lose their jobs,” said Robert Downs, chief of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation office of personnel services.

Not every local prison job is safe in a time of statewide cutbacks, but most of them are. Unless you’re a hermit crab, that’s reason to rejoice.

Providing more than 1,500 good-paying state jobs, Pelican Bay is a crucial economic driver for Del Norte. With the loss of most of the timber industry and a longterm downturn in the fisheries, it’s hard to imagine an economically viable community right now without the prison. Even if you retire here already financially secure and content to gaze at the natural splendor, you wouldn’t find the grocery stores and other services Americans have come to expect even in small towns.

Del Norte’s unique natural setting guarantees an eventual increase in tourists and residents. Until then prison jobs, which will always be a key contributor, buy us time to economically survive here.

That’s something to celebrate, not hide.

— Del Norte Triplicate