One year later, and the fate of the Enumclaw Forest Service Office remains unclear.
In November 2022, the Courier-Herald reported that the U.S. Forest Service was planning on closing the office, according to the Snoqualmie Fire Lookouts Organization, a nonprofit that both advocates for the preservation and restoration of fire lookouts in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and volunteers with the Forest Service to aid in various maintenance projects.
A former program manager at the Enumclaw office, now with the Lookouts Associaiton, said the decision to close the office by letting the lease expire next year was made in 2019.
At that time, the Forest Service did not respond to questions concerning the Enumclaw office, though the department did not deny the office was closing in what little responses it gave.
The Courier-Herald has again requested comment from various Forest Service offices, including the North Bend, WA office, headquarters for the Snoqualmie Ranger District (of which the Enumclaw office is a part of), and the Pacific Northwest District 6 regional offices.
Specific answers regarding the potential closure of the Enumclaw office and the difficulties of running the office were not answered.
However, Fire Service spokesperson Jeff Clark said at this point, no official decisions have been made about the office (a contradiction from what the Hearing has said), the lease has been extended into late 2025, and the department is continuing to look at other options to keep the Forest Service local.
Clark added that one of the issues with the Enumclaw office is that the cost is “exorbitant”, and likely one of, if not the most, expensive facility (square foot-wise) in Region 6, which covers Washington and Oregon, though he did not provide a specific amount.
During an Oct. 23 meeting with the Enumclaw City Council, Hearing said that the Snoqualmie Ranger District — which covers almost 350,000 acres of land (a little more than 14,583 Kingdome Stadiums), contains 38 multi-user trails, seven campgrounds (four of which are near Enumclaw), two ski resorts, and around 400 dispersed oriented recreation sites — is not just one of the busiest area in Region 6, but the country.
“The Snoqualmie Ranger District, the district we are in, is… believed to be the second busiest ranger district in the United States,” he said, adding in a later interview that the region’s accessibility via the highway is what contributes to its popularity. “As an example of that, just from the fire lookouts, this year at Suntop, we have 3,500 visitors in 90 days… we had 250 visitors in one day up there. This is one small place in the district.”
Because of this, he believes that it not only doesn’t make financial sense to move operations to the North Bend Office, which is about 22 miles away, but it would severely limit the services the Enumclaw-area trails and recreation sites would receive.
Hearing said volunteers would have to drive to the North Bend to check in and then through Enumclaw, which can be an arduous trip and discourage people from helping out the Forest Service, which is understaffed.
“I drove to North Bend… it took me well over an hour” from Maple Valley, he said. “And it’s going to be that way for another three years.”
Hearing estimated that at current gas prices, making this regular trip would cost up to $5,135 per year in additional expenses, as well as “at least” 1,280 hours in lost volunteer hours because of the drive.
“Somebody needs to look at the real dollars and cents of this,” he said.