CLARKSTON – One of the best-kept secrets in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley appears to be the work of a world-renowned artist off the beaten path in Washington’s Asotin County.
The “listening circle” Maya Lin designed at Chief Timothy Park hasn’t drawn many visitors, but Confluence Project officials said signs should be installed this summer to help folks know where to find the stone-rimmed amphitheater, near the top of the island.
“We recognize it’s an issue that people don’t know it’s there,” said Colin Fogarty, executive director of the Confluence Project, based in Vancouver, Washington. “We’re working on signage and have the funding from the state. We definitely needs signs.”
With proper notifications, the roadside attraction could morph into a magnet for fans of Lin, who designed the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.
However, the park manager hasn’t seen a big influx of art fans at the island, eight miles west of Clarkston, since it was installed in 2015.
Jerry Pinkerton estimates Lin’s work attracted about 100 extra cars to Chief Timothy Park last year. Approximately 15,000 people passed through the gates, a record-setting season, but he said the majority were focused on camping, boating and family picnics.
Fogarty said the amount of interest was one of the unknowns when the project was launched.
“A lot of people are drawn to Chief Timothy for a lot of different reasons,” Fogarty said. “No one has ever built a project like this there before, so we didn’t have a template on how many people it would attract.”
As the park prepares to officially open May 1, the green grass around the stone seating area looks peaceful and inviting. Spring may be the best time for art enthusiasts to check it out, according to the park manager.
When July and August roll around, Pinkerton said the listening circle is hot and dry and may not be worth the third of a mile hike from the parking lot.
“It’s useless,” Pinkerton said. “You can’t go out there in July and do anything. The park is nice, but as far as the circle, I don’t know what you’d drive out here to look at, frankly. There’s not much to it.”
People who have visited the Vietnam Wall and expect a similar emotional experience may be disappointed, but Confluence Project officials believe Lin’s concept is special for this region. Lin wanted to keep the setting as natural as possible and focus on traditions grounded in American Indian cultures.
Her six Confluence Project installations follow the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the Columbia River Basin, from Washington to Oregon.
After years of work to get funding for the project, the listening circle was completed in 2015. Its dedication at Chief Timothy drew a full slate of dignitaries, such as Nez Perce tribal elders, elected officials and the well-known designer and architect.
The cost for the Chief Timothy circle came to about $1.5 million and was mostly funded by the state, Fogarty said. Asotin County kicked in $5,000.
“To me, that was a big statement of support for the project,” Fogarty said.
After visiting Clarkston several years ago, Lin reportedly chose the Chief Timothy site rather than the actual confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers because it was less commercialized.
The remote site was criticized by several people at public meetings because of access issues.
Pinkerton said the park’s $5 day-use fee has proven to be problematic for people who specifically want to see her work. Some park visitors have balked loudly at paying to see public art.
Fogarty said several of the Confluence Project sites have a fee structure and unfortunately, there’s not much that can done about it.
“We want people to have as much access as possible, but we can’t really change the fees charged at state and privately run parks,” he said.
He and other project supporters are hoping the new signage and an advertising campaign in travel magazines will spark more visits and get the Chief Timothy installation on the map, so to speak.
Several special events also are in the works, including a classical music concert and story gathering session in the fall, featuring native elders and a panel discussion.
In most places, the gatherings are held in theaters or museums, but Chief Timothy has a unique setting that is conducive to an outdoor event, he said.
“I think it will be a really fascinating, meaningful experience,” Fogarty said.
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