Letter to the editor: An end to 20 years of lost public benefit due to government failure

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In 1992 two sisters, Virginia Durkee Richards and Dorothy Durkee Harris, gifted to Clark County the farm they inherited from their father, R.S. Durkee. The gift deed specified that the property would be developed for park or public open space purposes. This 34.9-acre parcel, located a few miles outside the city of Battle Ground, is very well suited to such purposes. The sisters were born and raised on this family farm by their parents, May Engelsen Durkee and R.S. Durkee. When the sisters were growing up on the farm, it featured a pear orchard, prune orchard, a small filbert orchard and a holly orchard. There was open land where R.S. raised hay for his horse and milking cows, and some pigs. But the girls favorite place was the swimming hole in the forested stream that ran through the property. Today, the property brings back memories of a rural, small-town and farming history. There’s some evidence of the holly orchard. 

As with many family farms in the Northwest during the early 1900s, May and R.S. were the descendants of European immigrants. May was the daughter of Anna and Engel Engelsen, who immigrated from Norway in 1866. The family believes that R.S. descended from five Durkee brothers who immigrated from the Netherlands. R.S. was born in Groton, South Dakota and first came to Clark County in 1906 where he taught at Maple Grove school. 

In 2012, Clark County quitclaim deeded the Durkee property to the city of Battle Ground. This seems a natural fit because of R.S. Durkee’s many contributions to the local community. He taught at Maple Grove and continued to teach there when it was consolidated to form Battle Ground’s first school. He served as principal at Gravel Point. From 1932 to 1948, he was the principal of Battle Ground elementary schools. In 1955, he came out of retirement to serve as the Clark County superintendent of schools. He served as a member of the board of directors of the Washington Canners Cooperative and as a trustee on the Washington State Council of Farmers Cooperatives. 

Although Dorothy and Virginia lived well into their 90s, they did not live to see the Durkee property opened to the public. At age 80, I am now the same age as my mother when she and her younger sister gifted this property. I hope that I will live to see the public fully enjoying this property in keeping with the original deed of gift.

I write this letter, joining Susan Tripp, an Engelsen descendent and Brad Richardson, Clark County Historical Society, to appeal to the public and city staff to honor the intention of the donors, my mother, Virginia, and her sister, Dorothy. 

We are advocating that the Durkee property trail opening becomes a top priority as Battle Ground undergoes a 2021 PROS inventory and plan, as an end to 20 years of lost public benefit due to government failure. 




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