Nonprofit promotes lookout tower atop Mount Peak

A digital rendering of what they new Mount Peak fire lookout tower may look like. Contributed photo

An iconic Plateau landmark, the fire lookout atop Mount Peak, has been nothing but a memory for more than half a century.

Now, a dedicated group of volunteers have gone public with a plan to see a tower returned to the pinnacle of the popular climbing destination on the southern fringe of Enumclaw.

The notion of returning a lookout tower to the prominent promontory “has been bounced around for decades,” said Paul Adams, treasurer of the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association. It was in the spring of 2016, however, when talk turned to action. Adams and Doug Borst had previously discussed the possibility of a tower and that led to a meeting with King County staff. Encouraged by the county, which owns the land, the association was given life.

“We jumped through all the hoops King County required,” Adams said. The association was formed, a business license was obtained and a connection was made with the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce, which acts as the group’s “fiscal sponsor,” thus providing the necessary nonprofit status. In turn, King County Parks contributed a Community Partnership Grant, money that has been used to bring a structural engineer on board and develop a preliminary tower design.

“They gave up $15,000 to get to the doorstep,” said Borst, president of the Lookout Association.

With details falling into place, tower boosters are looking to the public for input. It’s imperative, Borst and Adams said, for those who are passionate about Mount Peak to be supportive of the tower effort. So far, the response has been positive from Peak regulars who were queried during their trek to the top.

As part of an outreach program, Adams made a presentation Sept. 25 to the Enumclaw City Council and plans are in the works to appear before the Buckley Council. The public is invited to a pair of presentations that will also include representatives from King County; those open houses, both slated for 6 to 8 p.m. at the Enumclaw library, are set for Oct. 16 and Nov. 8.

At each meeting, architectural drawings will be available for viewing and tower backers will answer questions.

If the level of support is sufficient, the association will then launch a fundraising campaign. Adams and Borst envision a grassroots effort similar to how the Enumclaw community rallied to support the Loggers Memorial and renovation of the athletic field at the Enumclaw Expo Center. It’s estimated that construction and placement of a tower will cost somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000.

While tower plans are in their infancy, certain things are known. Regulations limit tower height to 40 feet and, to keep vandalism to a minimum, at least the lower portion of the tower would be made of steel. A platform would provide a 360-degree view and the inside of the tower would perhaps offer a history lesson with signage. The tower would not be staffed and overnight visitors would not be allowed.

King County is particular when it comes to cutting trees, but it has been suggested that some “viewing channels” could be created. It has been well documented that in the “old days”— when fire watchers lived in the Mount Peak tower and tree growth was minimal — the tower allowed visitors a northerly view all the way to the Seattle harbor.

A BIT OF HISTORY

A 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.

Newcomers are sometimes confused as the DNR, then and now, designates the area Pinnacle Peak.

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.