Group moving ahead with plans for Mount Peak tower

The Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association may have to shift where the tower would be placed, and the cost is estimated at $450,000.

A digital rendition of what the proposed fire lookout would look like on Mount Peak. Image courtesy Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association

A digital rendition of what the proposed fire lookout would look like on Mount Peak. Image courtesy Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association

The lofty goal of restoring a lookout tower to Mount Peak continues to move forward.

Recent developments have been a mixture of good news and bad, but the all-volunteer organization behind the effort remains undeterred.

That band of tower enthusiasts — formally recognized as the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association — are looking to see the tower replaced. This time around, it would be strictly for Mount Peak hikers, providing a panoramic view of the immediate area.

The group has hosted public meetings, gained nonprofit status and received a tentative blessing (and some money) from King County. The county now owns Mount Peak and maintains the promontory as part of its park system.

On June 25, association members traveled for an afternoon pre-application meeting with the King County Department of Permitting and Environmental Review, along with staff from the King County Parks Department. That session, at the Snoqualmie permitting office, addressed the feasibility of re-building the lookout tower on the Mount Peak summit.

“The meeting was intended to identify any potential concerns or limitations prior to our group beginning our formal fundraising efforts,” association president Doug Borst wrote in an email. “I am happy to report that there were no outstanding concerns regarding the building site and project and that we will begin working toward our fundraising efforts in the near future.”

Before seeking a building permit, the nonprofit group will have to hire a consultant to survey the site “so that we can fine tune the exact location of the tower,” Borst wrote. He noted there are code considerations on the books that were not in place during the 1950s.

The bottom line is, a new tower may not sit exactly where previous towers were located. “We may have to move the tower slightly to accommodate steep slope concerns,” Borst wrote.

The news on the financial side is not great, but perhaps not entirely unexpected.

A cost analysis was done by Turner Construction of Seattle and now pegs the project cost at about $450,000. The greater-than-anticipated cost is largely due to the logistics of accessing the building site and an increase in the cost of both materials and labor. Additionally, the booster group will have to factor in permitting fees and any additional surveys that may need to be completed.

“We recognized that our early estimates were likely to climb but still feel that this project is in an acceptable price range,” Borst wrote.

SOME TOWER HISTORY

A lookout tower sat atop Mount Peak for nearly four decades, allowing Department of Natural Resources employees to spot woodland fires and guide firefighting teams to the blaze. Towers were common throughout the Northwest, with more than 800 lookouts in Washington and Oregon. Four of those dotted the hills around Enumclaw; aside from Mount Peak, there were lookouts at Grass Mountain, Carbon Ridge and Point McDonald.

The agency built its first tower on the peak summit in 1929. In 1934, it was replaced with a tower built by the Washington Forest Fire Association. That lasted until 1950 when the DNR built a live-in tower that was occupied 24/7 during the summer months. It was last used during the summer of 1964.

The end of an era came in 1966 when the tower was dismantled.

Anyone interested in learning more about the lookout tower project can stop by the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association’s booth during the July 27-28 Enumclaw Street Fair. Also, the tower booster group has a Facebook presence (Mount Peak Fire Lookout Tower) and can be contacted at buildthefiretower@yahoo.com.

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