County considers petition to rename road for Hunter Mountain
By Marcy Stamper
The creek that flows into the Methow River about 3 miles south of the town of Methow will officially be known as Swaram Creek instead of Squaw Creek, following a unanimous decision by the state Board of Natural Resources on Dec. 5.
The board considered an October recommendation by the Washington Committee on Geographic Names, in which committee members agreed with the proponents of Swaram Creek that the term “Squaw” is derogatory. At the October hearing, one committee member said the state “is not willing to have a racial slur on a public map”
“Swaram,” which was proposed by a linguist with the Confederated Tribes for the Colville Reservation, means torch fishing and is what Methow natives called the creek more than 100 years ago, according to documents submitted to the committee.
The board’s decision makes the name change official in Washington — and on any maps the state produces — but doesn’t mean it will be changed on all new maps, particularly digital ones.
Although the committee only has jurisdiction over creeks and other natural features, there’s a chance that Squaw Creek Road will also be renamed. Okanogan County, which has jurisdiction over road names, received a petition last month seeking to change the name of the road to Hunter Mountain Road. The petition was signed by 15 people, representing almost all the private-property owners on Squaw Creek Road. Hunter Mountain is north of the creek and road.
“The request was generated by residents on the road and has the support of everyone on the road they could get ahold of,” said Okanogan County Engineer Josh Thomson, who received the petition on Nov. 20. Squaw Creek Road runs along the creek, heading southwest from Highway 153 for 2.2 miles, where it intersects with the National Forest boundary.
To change the name of a county road, people must submit a petition to the Okanogan County Department of Public Works or the county commissioners, preferably signed by people who live on a road, said Thomson. The county charges a $500 processing fee, which helps cover publication of two legal notices and a public hearing.
If a proposal is successful and the commissioners approve a name change, the petitioners are also responsible for the cost of fabricating and installing new signs.
Efforts to reach people who signed the petition supporting the Hunter Mountain name change were unsuccessful.
Joanna Bastian, who submitted the Swaram Creek proposal to the state — on behalf of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, a linguist for the Colvilles, and several local residents — said last week that they were planning to ask the county to rename the road Swaram Creek Road to match the creek, but were waiting until after a decision by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
The U.S. board reviews state decisions, and its decision holds more practical importance than the state’s because it’s entered into the official database used for printed and online maps, said Caleb Maki, executive secretary for the Washington Committee on Geographic Names.
Maki submitted the proposal and all the public comments to the U.S. board last week, right after the Board of Natural Resources approved the Swaram Creek change.
It usually takes several months for the U.S. board to consider these applications. Maki said the proposal could be scheduled for the board’s February or March meeting.
Washington follows the same policies as the U.S. board. The board looks to see that the state has conducted outreach to local governments, area residents and tribes, and it’s rare for them to reject a state’s recommendation, said Maki.
The Swaram Creek proposal drew an unusually high degree of interest, attracting more written comments than just about any proposal in the history of the committee, said Maki. Several people traveled from the Methow Valley and Wenatchee to testify in support of the name change at the October committee hearing in Olympia.
Bastian, who also writes a column about the Lower Valley for the Methow Valley News, mentioned the Swaram Creek initiative in her column, which spurred a lot of comment to the state committee. Hundreds of people signed petitions both for and against the name change.
If the U.S. board approves the change, all public comments and historical documents will be preserved as part of the record so that people will understand the rationale behind renaming it Swaram Creek, said Maki.
Bid for Hunter Mountain
Some of the proponents of the name change to Hunter Mountain Road had submitted their own proposal to the Committee on Geographic Names to change Squaw Creek to Hunter Creek a few weeks before the October hearing on Swaram Creek. Barbara Rains, who lives on Squaw Creek Road, said in the application that “Swaram Creek” had no relevance to their community. She proposed Hunter Creek — for the nearby mountain and the area’s popularity with hunters — as a compromise.
In the application, area residents said they didn’t want to rename Squaw Creek but, if it had to change, wanted to use Hunter Creek.
The names committee considered the Hunter Creek proposal in October, but members said they were persuaded by the extensive documentation and support for Swaram Creek. The committee has a two-step process, and they had already vetted the Swaram Creek proposal, they said.
Okanogan County doesn’t have a procedure to handle more than one road-name change petition for the same road, said Thomson. Since a hearing on the Hunter Mountain Road petition has already been scheduled, if another proposal comes in, the commissioners could postpone or continue the hearing and advertise a new proposal to consider both names, he said.
The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the proposal to rename Squaw Creek Road as Hunter Mountain Road for Dec. 19 at 3:30 p.m. in the hearing room in Okanogan. People can submit comments in advance to Jo Ann Stansbury at firstname.lastname@example.org or can testify at the hearing.
For the name change on the creek, the U.S. board will receive the entire file and comments on the Swaram Creek proposal. People can still submit comments to email@example.com.