Learning through Listening

Sociology 499

Spring 2007

Ashlee Clair


On April 25, 2007 twenty OSU students gave up their Spring breaks, crammed into two white vans and began the long drive toward Chiloquin, Oregon.  In this remote town in Klamath County we spent six days speaking with stakeholders in the area on issues affecting the rural community as well as the Native population in the area.  We heard very differing opinions on many subjects but overall there seemed to be a general consensus that Klamath County is an area in transition.


The Changing Demographics of Klamath County


Klamath County has been experiencing renewed population growth.  After losing significant numbers of it citizens with the loss of timber Klamath Country is now seeing more people coming into the area.  Over the course of our discussions with stakeholders in the area we heard but positive and negative views on this growth.  However, looking at the situation it does not appear that this growth will stop, and will indeed continue on into the future.  However, with changing demographics in the area the Klamath County of the past may not look the same as the Klamath County of the future.


Running Y Ranch Klamath Falls, OregonThe Aging Population and Immigration of Retirees      

There have been many recent changes in the demographics of Klamath County.  First of all, much of the population is aging and there has been an overall outward migration of young people.  Additionally, many retirees have been coming in from out of the area, from places such as California.  They are able to sell their homes in California and then move to Klamath County and buy a much nicer home than they had before with the profits from the sale of their former home.  Developments such as the Running Y Ranch are being created to further entice this group into the area.  With an Arnold Palmer designed golf course, an ice rink, miles of trails and a huge lodge, the Running Y is a retiree’s dream.

            This boom in the aging population has filled up the assisted living facilities in the area and could put a strain on the surrounding healthcare facilities as well.  To meet the needs of the community the Merle West Medical Center in Klamath Falls is undertaking a $40 million dollar expansion project that will add hundreds of new beds and expand the emergency treatment area as well.  The project will make the hospital one of the most progressive on the West Coast.

It will use geothermal energy, natural lighting, alternative medicines, and will even have a healing garden at its center.



DSC00357.jpgThe Latino Community

            Klamath County has also seen increases in the number of its Latino community members.  This population is coming in not as migrant workers, as they were in the 1940’s, but as permanent community members.  This population has a very diverse background a represents numerous countries of origin from Guatemala to Cuba to Mexico. They are gaining prominence in the community and are sharing their various cultural heritages through community events such as the Cinco de Mayo celebration.  There have also been more restaurants and services popping up to cater to this group.  It would seem that this growth trend will continue on into the future with other diverse groups coming in as well.




The Klamath Tribe

            Since the Klamath tribes restoration in 1986 they too have been experiencing population growth.  They have built a new health care facility and a brand new tribal administration building as well.  They are working towards becoming more independent both politically and economically.  The Kla-Mo-Ya casino was built in 1997 to provide jobs to both tribal and non-tribal members.  Recently, the tribe has

 implemented its own court which will hear limited cases. 

One concern we did hear was concerning the blood quantum level.  As more and more tribal members continue to form families with non-tribal members some people are worried that the blood quantum

level, which is currently set at one quarter to be a part of the tribe, may have to be lowered.




Concerns with Changes

While most community members were enthusiastic about the changes taking place in Klamath County the class also heard various concerns voiced as well.  Some people stated worried that as retired persons moved in from out of the area they may not be as willing to contribute additional resources to community needs that they are not feel apart of such as raising additional tax dollars for schools. 

The Kla-Mo-Ya casino near Chiloquin, OR

            We also heard many people worried about the huge price increases in the local housing market.  One person stated that three years ago their home

was valued at around $67,000 and presently it is worth $300,000.  Some worry this will keep young families from obtaining home ownership.  Additionally, as more wealth comes into the area new services and shopping outlets are being demanded.  Many stores such as COSCO and Home Depot see Klamath Falls as a prime secondary market for expansion opportunities.  This worries some residents that Klamath Falls will become another “Bend” and will stop being a place of production, but one of consumption.  With limited industrial land available due to zoning and geographic limitations every retail outlet limits production and/or manufacturing opportunities.

            There were also worries that as greater number of upper income people move into the area it will create more stratification and polarization between residents.  In some of the very rural areas in the county it almost looks like a third world country while the new developments are fine testaments to modern construction.

            With the very limited water resources some residents are apprehensive that all of this growth could put a further strain on the water supply.  We heard of some ranches in the area being broken up into subdivisions, and with the passing of Measure 37 we might expect this division to continue.  However, as residents demand greater amount of water all year long for things such as showering, doing laundry and keeping their yards green this could make increased complications for the other water users in the area.



The Future

            People had various views on the renewed population growth and gentrification of Klamath County but overall it does not appear that there is going to be a sudden halt anytime in the near future.  The county has a strong economic development plan that includes playing up its proximity to California to attract business.   The area seems to be emerging from some of its historical rivalries and has developed new lines of communication that will help ensure all groups are taken into account as Klamath County enters the future.



City of Klamath Falls

Klamath Falls Chamber of Commerce

Klamath County Census Information

Department of Commerce Article: Growth in Klamath Falls

The Running Y Ranch

Merle West Medical Center Expansion