Coming Home to Downtown Mount Shasta
By Jon Lewis
Drawn to the MountainDecember 2015
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
Jacques Bleisae loves to tell about the time when, after recently relocating to Mount Shasta, he was out for a late-night walk on a brisk January evening when he heard a vehicle approach from behind and begin to slow.
“It was 11 o’clock at night and I was from the Bay Area, so I started thinking, ‘This isn’t good.’ And then I heard a window roll down and a woman asked, ‘Do you need a lift anywhere?’ It hit me that there’s really a sense of community here,” Bleisae says.
That feeling of community has only grown for Bleisae, now a 25-year Mount Shasta resident. The mountain draws people to town and the community keeps them together. “It’s amazing what we’re able to do when we come together,” he says.
As manager of The Fifth Season, the community’s preeminent outfitter for climbers, hikers and skiers, Bleisae has a front-row view on the parade of adventurists, alpinists, spiritualists, tourists and outdoor enthusiasts attracted to the 14,179-foot-tall Mt. Shasta.
“For outdoor stuff, we’re kind of at the center of the universe,” he says. “It’s neat to see relationships continue for all these years. It’s kind of neat to see it all happen, how people kind of collect. A lot of fantastic athletes gather here.”
Jessica Perriseau, a clerk at the Village Bookstore, gathered at Mount Shasta 18 years ago when she was in the sixth grade and her father, a Caltrans employee, was transferred to the area. “This just happened to be the last place we ended up,” she says. The relocation turned out to be a wonderful development. “It’s definitely a place you have to visit. It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous. The people that live here are so nice, it’s almost like you’re coming home.”
Perriseau says the only drawback to living in a city of 3,600 is that major grocery runs or visits to chain stores require an hour’s drive south to Redding or 90 minutes north to Medford. However, that slight inconvenience is more than offset by the ability to stop in at charming shops like the Mount Shasta Supermarket, where owner Keith Cool still draws in locals and tourists alike with the aroma from his Friday and Saturday curbside barbecues.
The namesake mountain that anchors the southern reach of the Cascade Range is the heart and soul of Mount Shasta, but there are plenty of other features that combine to give the city a one-of-a-kind status in the North State, says Jim Mullins, the Chamber of Commerce CEO.
“It’s just beautiful country. We’ve got four seasons, the headwaters of the Sacramento River, some logging heritage, the spiritualism of the town … there are a lot of unique things,” Mullins says.
Mount Shasta receives a lot of attention for its abundant winter sports—and the nagging drought that has idled the Mt. Shasta Ski Park for the past two seasons—but Mullins says there are plenty of outdoor attractions that don’t involve snow. Swimming, fishing, hunting, hiking, rock climbing and camping are just some of the options.
On the Fourth of July, when thoughts of snow are a distant memory, Mount Shasta’s population triples in size as people pour in for a classic small-town Independence Day celebration that starts with a two-mile walk in the morning and ends with a fireworks show over Lake Siskiyou in the evening.
“It’s our biggest event here by far,” says Mullins. “The walk/run has 4,000 to 5,000 participants, there’s a parade, a street fair with three blocks of vendors, a great fireworks show. And it’s at the height of the season for hiking, mountain climbing and water sports.”
All of those sports are just part of what makes life in Mount Shasta so fulfilling for John Kennedy Jr., the owner of Sportsmen’s Den, a full-line sporting goods store. “I went to school in Sacramento and got a degree, but this is where I wanted to be,” says the Mount Shasta native.
Not only is the community ideal for raising a family, he says, but it’s heaven for a sportsman. “When there’s snow, I can be skiing in 15 minutes. Or I can be fishing in 10 minutes. It’s not like Sacramento where you drive for two hours and there’s still 10 people fishing in the same hole.”
“It’s a small community where pretty much everybody knows everybody. You know your neighbors and people look after each other. Plus, there’s no traffic,” says Kennedy, who took over the family business in 1997.
Kennedy serves on the Little League board along with the principal at Sisson School, where last year his sixth-grader had the same teacher Kennedy had when he was at Sisson. A son in kindergarten is in the same classroom both Kennedy and his wife had when they were kids. “It’s kind of completing the circle,” he says. “Half the teachers at the school are my friends and we all pitch in to make it happen.”
Mt. Shasta always seems to have the final say when it comes to any discussion of the town. “You never get tired of looking at it. Ever,” says Bleisae, who worked as a professional climbing guide for years. “Every time I come out of the door, I never fail to look up, whether it’s dry or
full of snow. It’s pretty unique.”