I'm working with a coalition trying to educate visitors to the county park of Big Lagoon (thirty miles north of Eureka on California's northwest coast) about the history of the Yurok who made O-puyweg – as they called Big Lagoon – into an important economic and cultural center for hundreds of years until the Gold Rush made them into strangers in their own land.
Some signage and educational materials might be a good start. "You want more signs?" asked my friend Tom, surprised. "Don't you know how many signs are down there already?" I didn't know, and I guessed wrong.
Out of curiosity I walked down to the meadow that once was at the center of Yurok life to do a count. In an area about the size of a football field, there are fifteen signs, none of which try to stop people from parking their cars on top of O-puyweg or even mention the word Yurok.
There are two redundant NO CAMPING signs at entries to the windswept, damp beach that can be bone-chilling at night, tent or no tent.
There are two signs introduced by a red-lettered ATTENTION asking if "Day Use Fees Paid?" and "Receipt Displayed?" in order to AVOID A CITATION. Another two signs on the same subject are a few yards away – STOP FEE STATION 100 FEET BACK and STOP AHEAD FEE STATION 100FT. Nobody can plead ignorance about the need to pay for parking at Big Lagoon. But the excessive signage also recently caught the attention of some literate thieves who in the middle of the night tried to drag open the steel box into which law-abiding visitors had dropped their dollars. The petty thieves couldn't figure out how to extract the petty cash.
At entrances to the beach are two signs WARNING DANGEROUS UNDERTOW that many parents from out of town unwisely ignore.
There is a lengthy, complicated sign with some seventy words in a variety of scripts, organized into four boxes like a chart, aimed at DOGS AT BIG LAGOON COUNTY PARK. If you or your dogs pay close attention and have good eyesight, you'll learn about the meaning of voice control: YOUR DOG IS WITHIN VIEW AND WITHIN VOICE AND COMES AT YOUR FIRST CALLING. I don't know anybody whose dog comes at first calling, not even Wilbur. If you devote your well-earned time-off reading through the whole sign, you'll eventually come to the stumper in small print: RULES ARE DIFFERENT ON STATE PARK PROPERTY – LOOK FOR SIGNS. At which point you sensibly take your dog off the leash.
At the south-east corner of the meadow is three-in-one signage: The BIG LAGOON PARK COMPANY warns drivers and strollers that this is PRIVATE PROPERTY, that NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH will REPORT ALL SUSPICIOUS PERSONS AND ACTIVITIES TO OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY, and that a private road leads to a DEAD END NO TURN AROUND.
If you ignore these warnings and walk or drive a hundred yards without drawing suspicion, you'll soon come to another sign announcing NO PARKING PRIVATE PROPERTY. And a few yards later in case your short-term memory is really bad, you're told PRIVATE PROPERTY OF BIG LAGOON PARK COMPANY, plus given a DANGER warning to STAY BACK FROM BLUFF EDGE. Here anybody can sit (unless I missed a NO TRESPASSING sign) on the Big Lagoon Park Company Memorial Bench, on which the names of departed private property owners – but none of the previous communal residents – are etched. The sign next to the bench announces that you have reached the END.