Members of the all-volunteer Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association ”have continued to work behind the scenes to continue to shepherd this project along,” according to the group’s president, Doug Borst.
For the uninitiated, a fire tower was a longtime fixture on Mount Peak. The volcanic cone rises from flat land just south of Enumclaw and is visited daily by hordes of hikers. After a run of nearly four decades, the era of “fire watchers” came to a close in 1964. Not long after, in 1966, the Mount Peak tower was torn down to eliminate safety concerns.
A few years ago, a band of local citizens found a shared passion – placing a tower on top of Mount Peak for the enjoyment of those making their way to the top. They came together, gained nonprofit status, received a county blessing and set about clearing the many hurdles standing in their way.
MOSTLY IT’S ABOUT MONEY
Setting about such an ambitious project requires a substantial cash outlay and association members now figure the tower will cost about a half-million dollars. There are special requirements for placing such a structure in a wooded area that is owned and maintained by the King County Parks Department.
The latest news, Borst said, is that funding has been secured to pay for the final phase of tower design and structural engineering. Even better news came early in 2019 when the state Legislature set aside $381,000 for the tower project.
Now in the works is an application for a Community Partnership Grant with King County Parks that is intended to close the funding gap on the construction portion of the tower project.
“We are hopeful that our proposal will be presented and voted on during the first quarter of 2020,” Borst said. Obtaining the grant requires approval of the King County Council.
Finally, there’s local fundraising. The association had sold T-shirts, sponsored a concert at the Chalet Theatre and, now, is talking of a more ambitious effort. The idea, Borst said, is to “sell” the individual steps that will lead to the tower’s viewing platform. Sponsorships will likely by $1,000, available to both individuals and businesses, and sponsors will have their names permanently attached to a stair riser to show their support for the tower project.
Indications are there will be 50 steps to the top.
MAINTENANCE WILL BE ONGOING ISSUE
The Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association is in this for the long haul, Borst said.
When accepting a Community Partnership Grant from the county, recipients agree to remain involved for coming decades. In the case of the tower project, the association is looking at a 20-year commitment.
The agreement is common with other entities that have sought to upgrade their local parks. County partners include equestrian groups, soccer clubs or, in the case of Marymoor Park, a group of dog fanciers. The time commitment to maintain each facility is dependent on the size of the project.
“Ultimately, King County Parks is at maximum capacity to maintain more facilities,” Borst said, so it requires groups to make a commitment before projects are allowed on park land.
“If we had not agreed to keep an interest in future maintenance of the tower then this project would not have been approved,” Borst said.
SO, WHEN WILL A TOWER BECOME REALITY?
Borst admits it’s a question he is frequently asked: when should the public expect to see a tower gracing the top of Mount Peak?
He estimates that construction could begin in a year or so, emphasizing there are s teps that need to be navigated.
“There are multiple entities involved in this and ultimately we are dependent on grants and donations,” he said. “If we don’t hit too many speed bumps on the way and are awarded the community partnership grant then I think a year out is reasonable.”