The following post was written by the founder of Nenamusa and president of Way of Life Ministries, Dave Mickey, some years ago. It explains the history of the property and how he acquired it.
They Called It Nenamusa
Dave Mickey, Founder Nenamusa Sanctuary
Deep in the heart of northwest Oregon’s coast range mountains lies a small valley closed in at both ends except for the rocky passage of the Nestucca River, and protected on both sides by fast rising mountains. Near the lower end of the valley, two large tributary streams draining large canyon areas pour over rapids and waterfalls to enter the Nestucca River. Here in this small valley with only about fifty acres of reasonably level ground was a summer encampment area for Native Americans of the coastal Salish tribes as well as tribes from the Willamette Valley area.
The main east-west Native American trail that connected the Willamette Valley with the northwest coastal area was only four miles to the south of the valley. Willamette Valley Natives traveled to the coast to fish and trade with coastal tribes. This small valley and waterfalls was called Nenamusa by the Natives, which roughly translated means “place of nurture and joyful rest.” In addition to its obvious attraction as a superb fishing site at the falls, it also provided a good camping site. Besides fishing, Nenamusa was a place for tribal ceremonies, spirit quests, trading and relaxation. These activities probably took place for hundreds of years. The weather there is warmer than the coastal area and somewhat cooler than the hot Willamette Valley in the summer. With the coming of the explorers, trappers and settlers, the Native culture was devastated by the white man’s diseases. From about 1800 to 1850, the total number of Tillamook Salish Indians fell from about 2,500 to less than 200. In 1855, the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation was formed on 60,000 acres about 10 miles south of Nenamusa. Natives from nearly a dozen western Oregon tribes were forced onto the reservation.
One of the saddest events at this time was what is known as the “trail of tears” when the U.S. Army marched members of the Rogue River and Umpqua tribes to Grande Ronde from southwest Oregon in mid-winter. The reservation was diminished in size over the years and closed in 1956. In the 1960’s and 70’s there was a national movement to restore many reservations and in 1983 the Grande Ronde Reservation was re-established with 9,800 acres. What connection would there be between Nenamusa Valley of the past and today?
In the 1940’s, I was a serious minded boy of 14 living on a farm near McMinnville, Oregon, 30 miles east of this mountain area, who mused over maps of the coast range. The valley area named Nenamusa particularly captivated me. I had a love for nature and the mountains, but at that time there was no real road into the area from the east, and I was too young to drive. Answers to my questions would have to wait for a few years. In due time I finished high school, went to college in California and moved back to McMinnville in 1962 to start a business. In 1963 it was announced that a new road had been pushed through the mountains and down the Nestucca River to connect with an existing road coming in from the coast. Now, at the age of 26, I was able to take a drive over this new road. It was crude with heavy rock and huge mud holes. There were no road signs or names of waterways. Driving through the forest, I suddenly broke out into a small valley with a house, barn, and some open fields. Startled and intrigued by this oasis in the middle of forest country, but not knowing exactly where I was, I followed the road that reentered the forest area at the lower end of the valley. More years would pass with business, family, Christian work, and more school. Occasionally I would drive the route and was always fascinated by the farm in the middle of nowhere. Still more years would pass and in 1995, development pressures took part of the family farm near McMinnville. The Lord made it clear that I was to look for property elsewhere to be used for Him. The search took me to Montana, Idaho and back to Oregon. The Nestucca River area was a consideration, but I resisted because of the earthquake predictions for western Oregon.
After looking many places without satisfaction, I was finally directed to look back to the Nestucca River area. The farm house in the little valley had burned down several years before. The word was that the property was in an estate tangle and no-one could buy it. Other properties closer to the coast were looked at but nothing worked out. Finally I decided to send a letter to the registered owner of the main valley property. Soon a phone call came from a lady in California who had gotten sole ownership from other family members. She said that many people had wanted to buy the property but she had not responded to any of them. Just the same week as receiving my letter, she had contacted a realtor and wanted to sell. I had just about exhausted myself in a four-month search for the right property. I had worn myself out looking at wrong places. It was November and I knew the search must come to an end for the winter. Of course, I was immediately struck by the unusual exact timing of my request and the response, as the property had been vacant for four years. I knew that God was up to something. I went back up to the property to walk it and see what the Lord had to say. As I walked and talked to Him, I received such strong positive affirmations; it seemed my feet were hardly touching the ground. What was this wonderful sense of His presence? Was I getting carried away with something that might by my imagination? As I walked back to my car to eat my lunch, I asked the Lord for some kind of very definite confirmation that He was directing this. I opened the car door, sat down and turned on the radio. The first sounds that came out were the beautiful strains of the gospel song Beulah Land. Beulah Land means “God is married to this land.” I couldn’t have had a stronger confirmation. It was settled. Through tears, a deep peace came over me. After lunch I walked back up to a little opening in the trees, built a small warming fire and dedicated the property to God for whatever purpose He would choose for it.
Purchasing negotiations were challenging. The lady that owned the main property was a drug addict in Los Angeles and very unpredictable. I was directed to pray for the lady and God would take care of purchasing the land. There was a logging contract on the property that would have to be canceled. Building lots in McMinnville would have to be sold to provide funds. There is an IRS mechanism for tax-free exchanges, fairly easy to use when exchanging one property for another. Multiple properties can be combined, but all the transactions must be completed within 180 days. To make a long story short, a small miracle occurred in that 5 lots were sold in McMinnville and 3 separate properties at Nenamusa were purchased, (the main farm property plus 2 adjoining properties) none of which were even for sale to start with. There were eight real estate transactions completed all within 180 days.
The word from the Lord was clear. An ungodly man who, along with his wife, died suddenly had owned the main farm for a short time. The property was now being released to new ownership to be dedicated to God. The question is, will we be obedient discerners and stewards of God’s will for the property?
Since purchasing the properties, a lot of work has been done. A severe infestation of scotch broom has been eliminated, but must be constantly maintained. Brush land has been cleared, and new trees planted. Roads and trails have been built. Approximately 200 tons of firewood has been salvaged and sold from land clearing. Some of the wetland areas have been tiled to improve agriculture and garden use. Two new buildings have been built and new equipment has been purchased. A well has been dug and is almost ready to be up and running.
Much, much more important than the physical improvements that have been made, is the ongoing discernment process regarding God’s will for the ministry of the property. I try to be a blessing to the people that work for me on the property. The following posts will relate what I believe is the most fundamental purpose for Nenamusa and those involved with it. To be continued…