Boosters of the Mount Peak Fire Tower project have quite a story to tell these days.
Their tale has gone beyond the hopes and dreams of building a replica of the fire lookout towers that loomed over the Plateau for years. Now, it has become a reality being played out in the form of helicopter crews and construction teams.
For the uninitiated, building a tower atop iconic Mount Peak is a project now five years in the making. The brainchild of the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association, the effort went from brainstorming to fundraising and, finally, to the current homestretch.
The end result will be a tower reminiscent of the fire towers that once graced the top of the popular promontory on Enumclaw’s south side. Some changes have been made (steel construction rather than wood, for example) but much of the design will remain the same. That means a footprint 14 feet square and a tower that measures 25 feet to the viewing platform and totals 40 feet in height.
While ongoing construction is largely out of sight, there was a noticeably visible element on display last month during the light of day. The construction site at the top of Mount Peak had to be cleared and, eventually, seven trees were sacrificed in the name of tower placement and inspired views. Once the trees were felled by experienced lumberjacks, helicopters hovered over the peak, plucked them from the ground and carried them away.
With necessary space created, workers went to the top and began the laborious process of drilling 16 holes into the columnar basalt formation. Those holes – drilled 6 feet deep with a diamond bit – will provide a stable base for the steel posts creating the tower.
Simultaneously, crews from Tacoma-based Pease and Sons have been constructing the lookout tower on a level plot of land partway up Mount Peak’s south side. Eventually, separate sections will be airlifted to the top and assembled.
When that happens is, ultimately, out of the hands of the booster group. The helicopters, and their crews, are the same ones called into duty for fighting wildfires. The raging wildland blazes sweeping across western states will be the No. 1 priority and Mount Peak construction will wait in line.
The dedicated band that makes up the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association looks forward to the day when peak visitors can share a vantage point from decades ago. Their hope is that the replica tower will be in place by late August and, after some tidying up, be open for public use in September.
The replica tower will welcome anyone who successfully navigates the north or south flank of Mount Peak and arrives at the summit. After making their way to the top, hikers will be able to climb the 47 steps from the peak of The Peak to the tower’s cabin. It’s meant to be an awe-inspiring experience with places to relax both inside the cabin and on the surrounding catwalk.
Original cost estimates were in the half-million mark but the final price tag is now pegged at $600,000, at least. That made things mighty interesting for the organizing committee, which prevailed after receiving a state grant of $373,000 and two grants from King County that total $260,000.
While those grants – combined with smaller donations and fundraising efforts – appear to cover the cost, boosters acknowledge there can always be unanticipated expenses. Additionally, there will costs associated with ongoing upkeep.
For that reason, the tower booster group will continue fundraising this year. A major effort will be selling small plaques that will grace the front of each of the tower’s 47 steps. Those were selling at the recent Street Fair booth, along with Mount Peak T-shirts.
Information about fundraising efforts can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the pre-technology days, this part of the Pacific Northwest was protected by firewatchers who staffed four towers scattered throughout the woods in the general Enumclaw area. Mount Peak was home to three towers through the years, with the last one decommissioned in 1965.
Soon after, for safety reasons, it was torn down.