This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM
What a year. At times, 2020 felt like a decade crammed into one 366 days (it was a leap year, after all) with an astounding series of events that would have already been historic on their own. In 12 months, we saw a presidential impeachment, the most closely watched presidential election in modern history took place, the nation was roiled by civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, Oregon’s worst wildfire season on record destroyed homes and choked the skies, all during the backdrop of a global health pandemic that has killed millions across the globe and sickened and killed in Oregon, in Washington County, in Banks, in Gales Creek, while the toll also included shuttered businesses, broken school plans, and more.
Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of a few of the top stories we covered during these trying months in the Banks and Gales Creek areas. And while 2021 is sure to bring more difficulty, here’s to writing a few more cheerful stories in this new year.
January started with an eye to the national stage. The U.S. House of Representatives had voted to impeach President Donald Trump on December 18, 2019, and a Senate trial to acquit or remove the president began on January 16, 2020.
Locally, an effort to celebrate the centennial of the city of Banks’ incorporation began the same day with a centennial kickoff party held at Sunset Park. It would be just one of a few of the city’s plans that wouldn’t be derailed by the impending pandemic, which at this point had likely already spread beyond China’s Wuhan region where it is believed to have originated. January 20 saw confirmed cases in Japan, South Korea and Thailand, according to the World Health Organization, and in Washington, the first case was reported on January 21.
The little white house burns. Photo: Chas Hundley//Banks Post
February saw an increasingly worried U.S. start to realize that the coronavirus was shaping up to have a significant impact on the world, and on the last day of the month, Feb. 29, the first confirmed coronavirus death was recorded, though health authorities would later discover that two others had already died in the U.S. from the disease, but their diagnosis was not confirmed until later in the spring. The first case in Oregon was recorded on February 28, in Washington County. On the national stage, the expected outcome of the Trump impeachment trial came to a close with the president’s acquittal by the Senate on Feb. 5.
Meanwhile, in Banks and across the state, rural conservative activists were gearing up for a Timber Unity rally, with big rigs and trucks descending in a convoy on Salem in the morning of Feb. 6 to protest Senate Bill 1530, a cap-and-trade bill designed to address some aspects of climate change in Oregon. The bill — and others that were unrelated — went nowhere after Republican legislators abandoned the capitol and fled, in some cases, to other states to avoid having to vote. For the second year in a row, Oregon’s elected Republicans had scuttled another legislative session. More than 200 bills died with the session in early March.
Meanwhile, in downtown Gales Creek, flames engulfed the Gales Creek Church-owned “Little White House” and shot into the sky on Feb. 1 as dozens of firefighters filled the area. The fire was set on purpose, by those same firefighters after the church donated the rickety former home and storage structure for a training burn. One Banks Fire District volunteer sustained minor injuries during the exercise.
Banks School District. Photo: Chas Hundley
In March, everything changed. Schools shuttered, businesses closed, local jurisdictions declared emergencies, parks closed their gates, people were asked to avoid groups, and the first of many state edicts to stem the novel coronavirus’ growth was issued in the form of the sweeping "Stay Home, Save Lives” order. Politically, Oregon House District 32, which covers Banks and Gales Creek and the North Coast, saw a change as well: first term State Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell abruptly said she wouldn’t seek a second term. With hours to go before the filing deadline closed, a new candidate to take up the Democratic Party mantle was underway.
Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, a Clatsop County trial assistant and George Kiepke, a former Clatsop County commissioner threw their hats into the ring.
The Banks Pharmacy. Photo: Chas Hundley
April saw more tumultuous impacts from the coronavirus pandemic. A few wildfires also sprung up in the Tillamook Forest, a harbinger of what was to come in September in Oregon. In Banks, longtime business owner Philip and Gene Darrah said that the Banks Pharmacy would close forever. “Sadly, we are selling. It breaks our hearts but that's what we must do,” said Gene in an email to the Banks Post, and also noted that the long hours — 6 days a week, with 10 to 12 hours a day — factored in their decision to close up shop. The month also saw a $2.5 million lawsuit against the Banks School District begin after a former assistant softball coach was arrested on several sex abuse charges on December 2, 2019. The Banks 4th of July parade, planned to commemorate the city’s centennial, was cancelled due to the virus. In Gales Creek, Coleman’s 9N Shady Rest forever closed due in part to impacts from the economic toll of the pandemic, shuttering a long tradition of this roadside diner.
In news that didn’t have anything to do with the coronavirus, this newspaper reported that the Balm Grove dam removal project stalled when Clean Water Services, which owns the historic tavern and park property on Gales Creek ran into permitting issues and subsequently saw their funding to remove the dam — which obstructs native fish species — evaporate. The fate of the project remains unknown, though stay tuned for more information from this newspaper.
A Frontier Communications truck in downtown Gales Creek. Photo: Chas Hundley
May started with what could be considered a minor shift for rural residents in Gales Creek, Timber, and other areas who have only one so-called broadband internet service provider. But that shift could have major consequences in the future.
On May 1, the much-maligned Frontier Communications officially completed the sale of their operations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana on to the company now known as Ziply Fiber. Initially, not much has changed. Internet services are provided via physical infrastructure, and projects involving improvements to telecommunications infrastructure are measured in years, not weeks or months. But the news that Frontier was out and a new company would be taking over was good news for many. And in a sign of changes to come, this newspaper — among the smallest of newspapers in the United States — was able to conduct an interview via email with the new company’s Chief Technology Officer, a feat unheard of in the old Frontier days, when the company’s leadership — based on the East Coast — largely seemed an unreachable monolith. If Ziply’s emphasis on rural broadband improvement proves to be true in the coming years, faster internet speeds and a more stable connection could be in rural Washington County’s future.
In May, Oregon took a few faltering steps to reopen parts of the economy closed from the initial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, trying to balance a tightrope of opening businesses and keeping residents safe. On May 19, Oregon’s primary election closed at 8 p.m. In House District 32, Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber won the Republican nod, while Dems chose Debbie Boothe-Schmidt. A public safety levy and a library levy were passed by voters.
On May 25, a series of events left one Black man dead in Minneapolis, and the U.S. is still grappling with what comes next.
A video taken by a bystander of an arrest went viral after it showed one of several police officers, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd died, the original arrest attempt over allegations that he had tried to pay for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill at a local convenience store. The events, and subsequent protests, shook the U.S., spawning protests — some of which became violent — all over the world.
Ron Hamilton speaks at the Black Lives Matter protest in Banks on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley
In June, the pandemic raged, and protests were held throughout Washington County over the inequality of how people of color are treated in America’s justice system and at the hands of police. In Washington County, more than 20 protests were held, in Forest Grove, in Banks, in Hillsboro, Beaverton, and other towns and communities in the span of seven days. As the rain fell on Greenville Park on the late afternoon of Friday, June 12, close to 300 people gathered to hear a handful of speakers, remember the life of a Black man killed by police, and to protest the culture and policies that led to his death, and others, by police forces across the nation. The demonstration was believed to be the largest protest in Banks’ history. It was followed by several other Banks-area protests, and spawned at least one group in Banks that met to discuss American racism and how to combat it. Also in June, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office faced their own racial reckoning. In a disclosure not made public at the time, Washington County Deputy Rian Alden — the same deputy earlier accused of sending a racist email 16 years ago — was investigated after a "concerning use of force" on a Latino arrestee during a booking at the Washington County Jail in 2018. The Washington County DA declined to press charges at the time, but reopened the case and charged Alden with “official misconduct.”
Meanwhile, at the summit of the coast range between Gales Creek and Tillamook, Brandon Sykes walked away from a South Fork Forest Camp prison detail on June 2. It wasn’t the first time Sykes had run from authorities; the attempt to locate Sykes was the second in his criminal career. According to Columbia County Sheriff’s Office records, an arrest warrant for Sykes, now 35, was issued in 2015 for assault and kidnapping, among other charges. But when Scappoose Police tried to arrest Sykes, a two day manhunt began that involved at least seven law enforcement agencies from at least three counties and the U.S. Marshall’s Service, according to the Columbia County Spotlight. Sykes was eventually captured in 2015 in Scappoose on the strength of a timely tip from an informant, and with the assistance of a K9 unit. After his escape in June, Sykes eventually turned himself in to the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office on July 30.
Also in late June, human remains found near Mountaindale were confirmed to be those of Allyson Watterson, who went missing in the area in December 2019. Her death has yet to be fully explained.
The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley
July saw a continuation of protests centered on the experience of Black Americans and policing in Washington County, and also a rally in support of law enforcement officers. What we wrote most about in July, aside from a handful of wildfires, was news about the coming school year in Banks and for Gales Creek students in Forest Grove. It was also the month that Governor Kate Brown called for one of Oregon’s special legislative sessions to address the pandemic.
A 24-hour ballot drop site at the Banks Public Library. Photo: Chas Hundley
Our stories in Banks were dominated by interviews with candidates and stories about ballot measures as several community members threw their figurative hats into the ring for public office. August also saw a mass layoff at the Banks School District, where 13 classified employees were laid off on August 4 as the district grappled with a school year that was fated to start online. And finally, Banks lost a longtime business when the Banks NAPA announced they would close.
Meanwhile, in Gales Creek, we highlighted an ongoing stream restoration project on Gales Creek conducted by ODF and ODF&W, and elsewhere in the Tillamook Forest, a Hillsboro man met a grisly end after being gored to death by a wounded elk. That same forest and others became drier and drier, prompting Governor Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency on August 19 for the entire state as wildfire risk climbed.
GRONER K-8 school in Scholls on Wednesday, September 9. Photo: Brad Burke
September 1 began with a story that would come to be prescient for what would come next. “'Worst fire danger of the year:' ODF warns of hazardous conditions ahead of Labor Day weekend,” read the headline, and seven days later, the words of ODF Forest Grove District Forester Mike Cafferata were proven true as fires large and small began across the state.
In September, we published at least 44 stories about wildfires, ran through forests at night to get photographs in Hillside, and survived the ash-choked skies as best as we could with the rest of western Oregon. In the end, thousands of homes were lost, towns burned, swaths of land were torched, lives were lost, and Oregon experienced the worst fire season in recorded history, all while dealing with a pandemic. There were some examples of humans being decent and kind to each other, including our story of how the Banks community rallied around the Clackamas Community College wrestling team.
Campaign signs line the median on Oak Way in Banks on Wednesday, October 28. Photo: Chas Hundley
In October, we moved over to covering the impending election, which saw record-breaking turnout across the country. While all eyes were on the national stage, a number of important local races were on the ballot, including a two-person race for Banks mayor and a three way race for a Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District seat. Washington County’s Elections Office made a series of blunders during the process, misprinting ballots and voters guides, and dropping an entire ballot measure inadvertently from the voters guide. In Glenwood, the Glenwood Store reopened under new management, while the Washington County Sheriff’s Office launched a new initiative to reach more Banks citizens with information from their agency.
The new Hornshuh Creek Fire Station in Buxton. Photo: Chas Hundley
Polls closed on November 3, but America had to wait to see who won. Eventually, the race was called for Biden, sparking a dispute that was certainly not resolved in November, and will be a defining force of 2021 and America’s politics for the foreseeable future. However, we’re a hyperlocal paper, so our coverage was a little more local. Stephani Jones won the seat to Be Banks’ Mayor, and Republican candidate and now-former mayor of Tillamook Suzanne Weber became the new state representative-elect for Oregon House District 32, among other election results. Oregon also remembered the fate of a whale and some dynamite 50 years ago, and in Buxton, a brand-new fire station opened on Highway 26.
Ansu Drammeh, R.N., a cardiovascular intensive care nurse at OHSU, is given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday, December 16 by Ryan Thrower, D.M.D., who, according to OHSU, is the first dental resident in the United States to administer a COVID-19 vaccine.
Oregon reached a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, with 1,000 dead in the state from the virus. A former Gales Creek woman shared her story of COVID-19’s impact on her health and life, and the first vaccines arrived in Oregon. Lawmakers were back in Salem, passing several bills to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the wildfires from September, working while right-wing protesters broke windows and fought with police. In Banks, residents still found a way to spread some holiday cheer, turning what would have been a parade into a stationary lighted display.