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KNKX Connects

Daniel Lyon and his girlfriend, Megan Lanfear, on a recent road trip.
Courtesy of Daniel Lyon

As soon as Daniel Lyon jumped out of the wrecked fire engine in Twisp, he was burning alive.

“It was the loudest, brightest thing you’d ever seen,” he said of the wall of flames. “It sounded like a freight train all around you.”

Lyon crawled up the ravine to the dirt road and took off running, toward the wildfire safety zone. That, he says, was the easy part.

A tree is gradually sliding into the water at Priest Point Park in Olympia. This beach is a favorite of "Welcome to Olympia" podcast host Rob Smith, who showed KNKX his favorite places in town.
Ed Ronco / KNKX

Olympia is home to about 52,000 people, and it’s growing. Rob Smith is one of the new arrivals. He came here about six years ago, and was so taken with the city that he started a podcast about it.

“Welcome to Olympia” explores not just the sights in Washington’s capital city, but also the stories. As we explored stories from Olympia for our KNKX Connects reporting project, we wanted to journey beyond the Capitol Campus. Smith showed us some of his favorite places.

WATERSHED PARK

Cory Walster, Lewis Conway Jr. and Tarra Simmons
Courtesy of Cory Walster, Lewis Conway Jr., and Tarra Simmons

We all fall somewhere on a spectrum when it comes to political participation. Maybe we just skim the news or vote in big races, but sometimes we're pushed to do more: join a march, testify in Olympia, or even run for office.

Getting involved can be risky, because it's public and there's no guarantee your voice will be heard. Those risks are amplified when you have a criminal record.

New Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Stephens speaks from the bench after she was sworn in, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. Stephens replaced former Justice Mary Fairhurst as Chief Justice, who retired in January as she battles cancer.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Debra Stephens became chief justice of the Supreme Court of Washington — the state’s highest court — on Jan. 6. She’s been on the court since 2008, and is currently the only sitting justice from Eastern Washington.

We visited Chief Justice Stephens to talk about the law, being chief justice, and more. We aired this conversation during a special broadcast on Jan. 13, 2020, from the Temple of Justice, as part of our KNKX Connects reporting project.

Julie Blecha

What is it like writing speeches for the governor? Turns out it’s far less bureaucratic than the corporate world. During a break in her radio career, KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick worked at the state Capitol during Gov. Gary Locke’s second term. She worked in the communications office, alongside speechwriter Mike Wiegand.

The two reunited to talk about the art of writing for someone else — specifically, the leader of Washington state — as part of our KNKX Connects to Olympia series.

Soo Ing-Moody, who became mayor of Twisp in 2010, stands in front of blackened trees in the Methow Valley.
Ed Ronco / KNKX

Author's note: One of the best parts of this job is the opportunity to learn new things from smart people. In June, producer Geoffrey Redick and I traveled to Twisp, in the Methow Valley. That’s where we met Mayor Soo Ing-Moody. Her town dealt with large wildfires in 2014 and again in 2015, when three firefighters died. We were looking to Twisp for some lessons learned, for a program we did exploring wildfire danger here in Western Washington. Ing-Moody took us to an overlook along a highway where we talked about how the landscape changed after the fires, the difference between fear and preparation, and how tragedy changes a community and its people. (This story originally aired July 9.)

Deanna Bender, owner of Over The Moon Cafe, says she wanted to do more than feed people at her restaurant. She wanted to create a space where diners could “check their stuff at the door,” break bread with the people they love and celebrate life.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Author's note: I’ve worked at KNKX Public Radio just over a year now. And it’s stories like this that brought me here. The words scribbled on love notes hidden in boxes at Tacoma’s Over The Moon Cafe belong on the radio. As I said in this story, reading them over a tasty meal feels like being engrossed in a good book you never want to put down. But hearing them spoken — by the woman who dreamed up the restaurant where they live in anonymity — is that much better. The audio injects life into these stories of everyday people, which is precisely what KNKX does best. I hope everyone enjoys this story as much as I do. And if you have time this holiday season, stop by for a meal and leave a note of your own. (This story originally aired Sept. 12.)  

Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

  

In July, Washington House Democrats chose Rep. Laurie Jinkins to be the next Speaker of the House. She represents the 27th Legislative District, which includes downtown Tacoma, Hilltop and Point Defiance.

She succeeds Rep. Frank Chopp, who stepped down from the speaker’s chair — but not the House — earlier this year. He served as speaker for 20 years.

Industry is ever-present around Commencement Bay in Tacoma. Citizens for a Healthy Bay is among the organizations that are invested in improving and maintaining the health of those waters.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

David Bean remembers when his family didn’t have enough room for all the salmon in their boat. 

“We caught so much fish that we had to call folks to bring their skiffs over,” said Bean, chairman of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. “I remember one, we overflowed that skiff so much to one side it flipped over and we lost one skiff-load of salmon. But we still had three.”

The waters in and around Tacoma have changed since then. Still, efforts made in recent years have spurred progress. 

Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

  

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel contributed to our KNKX Connects to Tacoma project this week. A native of Tacoma, Thiel talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about how the city is on its way to becoming a major player in the region's sports scene. 

A Tacoma light rail car makes its way through downtown Tacoma in September 2019.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Before Sound Transit’s light rail took people from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown Seattle, there was the Tacoma Link.

The 1.6-mile line has stayed roughly the same since it opened in 2003, starting at the Tacoma Dome and bringing passengers down Pacific Avenue, past the University of Washington Tacoma, the federal courthouse, and several of the city’s museums.

Jonathan Clark, left, at work at Bob's Bar-B-Q Pit in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood.
Will James / KNKX

Tacoma has appeared on recent lists of the nation's fastest-rising rents and most-gentrified ZIP codes. 

It's a city in the throes of change. At the center of that change is Tacoma's historically black Hilltop neighborhood. Few communities stand to lose ⁠— or gain ⁠— more from the transformations sweeping the city.

The Grand Cinema is a nonprofit movie theater in Tacoma.
Amelia Vaugh / Courtesy of The Grand

The Grand Cinema is more than a theater — it’s like Tacoma’s living room. It’s where people come together not only to watch and appreciate films, but also to engage in conversation with their neighbors about those films. 

“There are a lot of theaters where movies are played,” said Jamika Scott, a board member for the nonprofit, in a conversation with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick. “But the difference is The Grand is an organization that was bred out of love for the community, and is sustained by the community.”

KNKX occupies the historic C.N. Gardner building at 930 Broadway in Tacoma's theater district, a neighborhood with a storied past.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

If you were in Tacoma in the early 1900s, you might have been able to score a ticket to hear opera singer Enrico Caruso. Or see a famous choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky, dancing on stage with the Ballet Russe. 

When the historic C.N. Gardner Building was built in 1906 — KNKX’s new home at 930 Broadway — downtown Tacoma was at the heart of a thriving music and theater scene.

Cranes have become more familiar fixtures of the Tacoma skyline as growth has increased in the City of Destiny in recent years.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

  

Cities, by and large, want to grow. But with growth can come new challenges.

Seattle and San Francisco, for example, saw a housing crisis emerge as the tech boom sent the cost of living sky high – leading many middle- and lower-income residents to feel priced out.

Tacoma is experiencing some of those pressures, too. But Ali Modarres says the city has an opportunity right now to avoid big problems other communities have seen as they’ve grown.

The vibrant view from above the Tacoma Night Market, a monthly gathering of vendors and artists at Alma Mater.
Aaron Bender / Courtesy of Over Tacoma

Aaron Bender is a transplant, but he understands what lifelong Tacomans know to be true about their city — even if what they know to be true is hard to put into words.

“Tacoma definitely has a unique feel. Almost a personality,” Bender said. “I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It’s not like dropping into any cookie-cutter area in the country.”

Nancy Leson and Dick Stein enjoy a tasty Philly cheesesteak at the Broadway farmers market.
Geoffrey Redick / KNKX

“It’s so much like the days of yore, when the marketplace was a place for people to meet and greet.”

That’s how food commentator Nancy Leson described Tacoma’s Broadway farmers market, after she’d spent a couple hours there with KNKX’s Dick Stein on a recent Thursday morning. It’s one of four around the city.

Mount Rainier is surrounded in a haze of wildfire smoke.
Rachel La Corte / The Associated Press

While the east side of the Cascades is no stranger to wildfires, communities in Western Washington are preparing for the possibility of bigger and more frequent fires.

In two interviews with KNKX Public Radio, officials with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service share their insights into the unique challenges of preventing and fighting wildfires in Western Washington.

Firefighters dig a fire line June 24 in Rainier, Washington, during one of the state's wildland fire training academies.
Simone Alicea / KNKX

Naaman Midyette has fought many fires in the past two decades. But fighting those fast-moving blazes that engulf wildlands is different.

“It’s scary just knowing the power a free-burning wildfire can have,” he said.

Visitors explore and rest at “Distress Signal,” one of three art installations at Seattle Center. The pieces are part of “The Smoke Season,” an outdoor exhibit studying wildfires and their impact on human health and the environment.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

In 2017, smoke from the Jolly Mountain Fire in Eastern Washington engulfed the Puget Sound region. Now, the wildfire’s remains comprise striking art installations at Seattle Center. “The Smoke Season,” the outdoor exhibit by artist Ted Youngs, runs through Sept. 15.

Ready for his first jump during the 1939 experiment is pioneer smokejumper Francis Lufkin. Lufkin, a local fire guard as they were called at the time, headed up the North Cascades Base from 1940 until his retirement in 1972.
Courtesy of USDA Forest Service

The men and women who fight wildland fires have to be prepared for everything. Many of the people who sign up as recruits have never been in a wildfire in their lives. Others have experience as hot shots or smokejumpers. And that got us thinking: where did the idea come from to jump out of a plane and into a fire? The answer: Central Washington.

Community members gather at the site of the Oso landslide to remember victims and dedicate a mailbox sculpture in their honor.
Geoffrey Redick / KNKX

Oso, Washington — They gathered to remember their friends, their families, and the neighborhood that was once here.

Five years ago, a hillside gave way above the Steelhead Haven neighborhood, killing 43, injuring more and changing the lives of thousands. It was the deadliest single landslide in U.S. history.

Wooden signs hang from a gate at the site of the Oso landslide, which devastated the community of Oso, Washington, on March 22, 2014.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Oso, Washington — People in the tight-knit community of Oso, Washington, knew when they drove past Steelhead Drive. There weren’t any street signs pointing to their neighbors’ idyllic corner of the Pacific Northwest. But there was the familiar row of mailboxes.

This April 16, 2014, file photo shows a flag resting at half staff on a cedar pole in front of the site of the deadly mudslide that hit the community of Oso on March 22, 2014.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

 

Tomorrow marks five years since the devastating Oso landslide killed 43 people. It forever changed the lives of residents in the small Snohomish County town, and affected thousands of others from across the region who responded to help.

As part of the KNKX Connects project, we’re remembering the victims and the families and friends who continue to grieve. KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick spoke with Laura Takacs, who is a clinical director and therapist at Virginia Mason specializing in sudden and traumatic loss.

farmland in Skagit Valley
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

For many, Skagit Valley is known for its annual Tulip Festival. And while the million-plus visitors who flock here every year is a remarkable part of the story, this area’s identity runs much deeper.

All Things Considered host Ed Ronco and producer Geoffrey Redick take listeners inside the heart and soul of Skagit, from farmers helping each other thrive to vital programs for marginalized populations.

Skagit Valley is working to diversify its economy. All Things Considered host Ed Ronco talks about that and other stories ahead of our KNKX Connects broadcast.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

MOUNT VERNON, WASH. — Today, All Things Considered broadcasts from Mount Vernon City Library for KNKX Connects to Skagit Valley. Host Ed Ronco talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick — live from Edgewater Park on the banks of the Skagit River — about some of the stories you’ll hear this afternoon 3-6 p.m.

Craig Romano's wife, Heather, stands at a lookout in Mount Vernon's Little Mountain Park.
Courtesy of Craig Romano

MOUNT VERNON, WASH. — KNKX Connects to Skagit County this Thursday, when All Things Considered broadcasts live from the Mount Vernon City Library. In this sneak peek of our show we meet Craig Romano, who is an award-winning guidebook author. He hiked to the summit of Little Mountain with producer Geoffrey Redick.

Goose Point oyster farm in Grays Harbor.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

GRAYS HARBOR COUNTY, WASH. — The narrative you often hear about this place is that it’s depressed, that the economy has not been kind. Indeed, that's part of the story. But there’s so much more. In this special presentation, we offer a broader picture of the area — the challenges facing residents here and the reasons they love calling it home. Included in our coverage are stories about government, business and history. 

Grays Harbor has a long history of logging.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

GRAYS HARBOR, WASH.  —  As part of special coverage here last week, All Things Considered host Ed Ronco introduced listeners to a pair of local historical fixtures: the Polson Museum in Hoquiam and the Aberdeen Museum of History. The former focuses on the history of logging. The latter faces a long road to recovery after a devastating fire in June. 

Stefanie Ask gave her friend, KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco, a tour of her childhood neighborhood in Hoquiam. While they were there, they also attended the city's annual Loggers Playday festival.
David Dodman

HOQUIAM, WASH. — Stefanie Ask says it's natural to make jokes about where you grew up. But when someone else does it, protective feelings bubble to the surface. "You feel this swelling of rage and sort of pride for this place," she told All Things Considered host Ed Ronco.

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