Don Tuttle passed away at home May 15, 2020 at age 81. He was a resident of Arcata and Big Lagoon, and a dedicated Humboldt County historian.
Don moved to Arcata in the late 1960s having decided Humboldt County was the place he wanted to live.
He was raised in Indiana, the son of Lyle and Bessie Tuttle, graduating from Purdue University in 1962 where he majored in civil engineering. The day after graduation he sped west to the allure of California, working with CalTrans on the survey of the new Santa Monica – San Diego interchange.
Ambition returned him to school for a master’s degree at UC Berkeley, studying coastal engineering under Drs. Joe Johnson, Robert Wiegel and Hans Einstein. Here he met his wife Andrea, a sophomore, on the rare evenings when he left his studies to practice gymnastics for exercise. They were married seven years later at Patrick’s Point in March, 1971.
Don worked as a coastal engineer designing small craft harbors and the breakwater for the Diablo Canyon power plant under Omar Lillevang, a renowned coastal consultant. But the urban scene of Los Angeles drove him to a career change.
For over a year he travelled the country, including Alaska, climbing glaciers and camping in almost every national park and monument, intensely studying the natural history, geology and history in the visitor’s centers.
This turned into desire for graduate work in environmental science. The beauty of the redwoods and recognition that Humboldt State University provided one of the best programs in natural resources brought him to Arcata where he completed a second bachelor’s degree in 1971.
The environmental movement was just coming into its own. Humboldt County Supervisor Ray Peart, an avid fisherman and rare voice for the environment on the board, enticed Don to take a job in the Public Works Department as Environmental Services Manager.
Don’s unique combination of engineering skills and environmental science allowed him to take on the complexity of the newly passed National and California Environmental Quality acts, setting the requirements for environmental permitting for projects in Humboldt County for the next 31 years.
The need to assess the impacts of proposed projects on historic resources, flood plains, landslide and erosion sites, wetlands and wildlife habitats led to Don’s ambitious work to develop the Humboldt County Environmental Data Base.
This collection of historic maps, rare documents gleaned from state and national archives, and aerial photographs, many of which he took himself, continues to serve project developers, engineers and county staff in assessing potential impacts and mitigation.
After retirement Don continued consulting with the county, providing institutional memory on many public works projects. Decision makers relied on Don’s work over the years – not only because it was thorough and well researched, but because of Don’s unique temperament that allowed him to navigate the span of personalities.
He was kind, patient and helpful. He took teasing from his breakfast buddies and loved to toss it back.
Don pursued his love of Humboldt history, serving two terms as President of the Humboldt Historical Society and many years on the board. Don and Andrea’s cabin at Big Lagoon, purchased in 1972, was their weekend retreat, and he served as Board President of the Big Lagoon Park Company for over 20 years.
The fun of a chainsaw to buck up fallen trees and a tractor to groom the meadows filled many sunny days, and he loved the comradery of friends.
The phenomenon of episodic bluff erosion became real when high surf in 1983-1985 forced the emergency relocation of many cabins, calling his engineering skills into action to design and permit new cabin sites. This led to one of the first plans in the state to pre-permit cabin relocation for a next round of coastal retreat, developed in cooperation with local planners and the California Coastal Commission.
Don’s own research traced the growth of the infrastructure systems that have made the county’s growth possible. From the earliest paths of Native Americans and early settlers that became the highways of today, to the first river crossings and bridges, wells, jetties and other systems that underlie the land use we see now, Don loved to tell stories of the new nuggets of history he had just discovered.
He is survived by his wife and companion Andrea of 50 years, niece Penny Lecklider and nephew Nathan Welsh of Indiana. His sister Joy Welsh predeceased him in 2018. Donations in his memory will be gratefully accepted by the Humboldt Historical Society and Arcata Historical Sites Society. In lieu of a memorial gathering at this time he wished everyone to raise a glass and celebrate their loved ones.