A little off the top — King County proposes Mt. Peak tree cutting for view of Enumclaw, Rainier

This is your chance to comment on the county’s plan.

Should Mt. Peak get a haircut?

That’s the question King County Parks wants locals to answer, as there is a proposed plan to cut and prune some trees on the popular Enumclaw hiking trail in order to create or improve scenic views from the newly-constructed fire lookout tower at the summit.

The county and the Mt. Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association, the grassroots group that spearheaded the tower project, held a public meeting last Thursday to present a proposed plan and gather some opinions.

Before getting into the thicket of things, the county made it clear there is no set plan at this point.

“The decision isn’t made. To be very clear, we’re here to gather community input, because we’re trying to figure out what to do. It’s not like we’re standing here saying we’ve already decided all this is going to happen,” said Scott Thomas, King County’s Community Partnerships and Grants Program manager. “We’re here, genuinely, to hear people’s thoughts about what this project details and what you would gain from it, or not.”

There are a number of ways to officially o-pine on this issue. First, you can call King County Parks at 206-477-4527, or to email the department at parksinfo@kingcounty.gov. The county is also monitoring the Letters to the Editor section of the Courier-Herald; to submit a letter, email editor@courierherald.com.


According to Paul Fischer, senior forester with King County, the goal of cutting down some trees on Mt. Peak is to create or improve the view from the tower in three directions — north for a peek of Enumclaw, east to check out the Cascades, and south for a scene of Mt. Rainier. To the west is already a view of the Port of Tacoma.

Fischer and his team identified a total of 55 trees around the tower that would require “some sort of action” to create those views; 50 trees would be cut (48 live, two dead) and five would be pruned. Most of the trees being cut or altered would be to create the southern view, but the largest trees to be felled are to the north.

Fischer pointed out that the forest on the hill is what’s called “second growth” — woodland that has regrown after being cleared (Mt. Peak was clear-cut harvested in the early 1900s).

“That’s not to say that it’s not ecologically valuable, right? Almost all the forests in King County are second growth,” Fischer said. “But what comes back from a clear-cut harvest can be not really in line with what we would expect if there was some sort of natural disturbance like a wildfire or a big wind event.”

Second-growth forests (or secondary forests) tend to be more dense, tree-wise, than old-growth (or primary) forests, resulting in less undergrowth. According to the National Park Service, second-growth forests can lack in food or habitats for wildlife, due to the lack of low-growing plants and large, dead trees.

The county believes it would be best to “buck” a tree as its being cut, meaning it would be limbed and cut into various lengths, as opposed to just cutting it at the trunk. Felled trees would be left on-site.

The trails would most likely be closed during the cutting, which Fischer said should take only days, maybe two weeks at most, though he admitted this is not his area of expertise.

Shrubs and small trees would be planted where trees are felled in order to prevent tall conifers from regrowing and obscuring the view, as well as to keep the forest healthy and resistant to invasive plants.

“It’s great that we don’t have any [invasive plants] out there right now, and we need to keep it that way,” Fischer said.

A proposed timeline is to collect public opinion now, apply for permits over the summer, and start cutting in the fall — after nesting season is complete — with the hope of being completely done “by this time next year, maybe sooner,” Thomas said.

It’s unclear at this point how much this project could cost.


The small group that attended the King County meeting appeared split between supporters and opponents of the tree cutting proposal.

Those that are eager to get some sights from the tower pointed out that Mt. Peak was bare of trees until the 1970s, and that no old-growth would be cut down.

One person commented that the idea of opening up some view corridors is a constant topic at the tower, and could be a very popular decision.

“One of the most common conversations when you get up to the tower is, ‘When are they going to open it up?’” he said. “That seems to be the outstanding comment that everybody’s making. They can’t wait.”

A third called the lack of a view a “major disappointment” after all the time and money sunk into the tower project.


Some people were opposed to the idea of cutting down trees just for a view; two noted that there are already good views of Mount Rainier from the trail and near the top, and that King County could emphasize these viewpoints more, rather than alter the canopy.

Others said they were worried cutting down trees would cause additional erosion at the park.

In an email interview after the meeting, Fischer said King County Parks has taken erosion into consideration.

“Generally, tree cutting leads to more rainfall reaching the ground and increases the risk of localized erosion. The slope and physical properties of the gravelly loam soil on Mount Peak does mean there is a risk of localized erosion within the potential corridors, in the form of water-over-the-soil and small channels forming after heavy rainfall,” he said. “However, the robust native shrub and plant communities in all three of the potential corridors anchor the soil and mitigate much of this potential risk. Additionally, we would plant native shrubs and small trees in any locations within the corridors where trees would be removed. Finally, cut trees and their branches would remain on site, adding more protective cover to reduce the risk of localized erosion.”

One man said this would only serve to make Mt. Peak more popular with tourists, further crowding the trail and exacerbating the pressure on the public amenities like parking.

“We turn this into a destination where everybody and their brother starts coming to Enumclaw to see a view of Mt. Rainier… I don’t think the resource can support the additional traffic this will absolutely bring,” he said.