The ongoing effort to place a lookout tower atop Mount Peak, providing a destination for hikers as well as a tangible link to Enumclaw’s past, is in line for another financial boost.
A committee of the King County Council has approved legislation that would direct $250,000 toward the volunteer-driven project. The council’s Local Services Committee gave its blessing Jan. 26 and it’s assumed the item will go before the full council Feb. 9 for a final vote.
The plans, now several years in the making, call for the building of a lookout tower at the top of popular Mount Peak. The project is being spurred locally by the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association. The idea is to put up a tower that is historically representative and accessible to the public.
If things progress without a hitch, the tower could be in place before the close of 2021, according to Doug Borst, who continues to spearhead the tower’s booster group. The organization is hoping its design plans and permitting will get a final blessing from the county by springtime so a contractor can be brought on board.
The project involves some specialized work, Borst said, potentially involving a helicopter. He goal, he emphasized, is to protect the rugged Mount Peak landscape as much as possible. The critical first step will be getting footings drilled into the rocky outcropping to make the free-standing tower as safe as possible. There likely will be a period of weeks when a small portion of the summit is fenced off, he said.
Once the footings are in place, “the tower itself is not a complicated structure,” Borst said. The supports, stairwell and catwalk will be steel while the enclosure at the top will be wood construction.
“We’re trying to stay true to the original,” he added, while acknowledging that the original tower was all wood. “There will be more metal than we originally thought,” Borst said, explaining that safety and longevity made steel a logical choice.
There was a time when the state’s Department of Natural Resources had lookout towers scattered the region. They were staffed throughout the fire season, usually by college students armed with binoculars and a telephone. Times changed, technology advanced and, eventually, live observers became a thing of the past.
Like other towers, the Mount Peak lookout – with its glowing light that could be seen for miles around – was eventually taken out of service. Having an unoccupied tower within easy reach of trail visitors presented safety issues so the DNR had it taken down.
A second major development came in 2000 when the property was transferred from the DNR to King County Parks.
Now, Mount Peak is visited – on popular days – by hundreds of visitors. The Cal Magnussen Trail takes hikers up the north side while a still-new trailhead, built by the county, offers a route up the south side. Once reaching the top, hikers can view the four pillars that supported the tower in the 1960s.
IT JUST TAKES MONEY
The legislation now winding through county government channels was sponsored by Councilman Reagan Dunn, whose district extends to the county’s southern reaches and includes all of the Enumclaw Plateau. It would authorize a 10-year community grant partnership between King County Parks and the Mount Peak Historical Fire Lookout Association. The agreement would award $250,000 to the tower boosters.
In exchange for the quarter-million dollars, Borst said, the volunteer group would agree to handle the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the tower for a decade. It will be owned by the county, which would take care of any major repairs.
“Our goal all along was for this to be a community effort,” Borst said, noting that volunteers will be called upon to maintain the tower once it’s built and open for public use. For now, the effort is being steered by a core committee of seven people.
From the early days, Dunn has been a liaison between King County resources and the tower group.
“I’ve been working with the Enumclaw Plateau community for many years to find a way to restore the Pinnacle Peak Fire Lookout and am excited to see this project come to fruition,” Dunn said in a prepared press release. “This is a valuable opportunity to give visitors a peek into past fire surveillance practices and provide a destination that outdoor enthusiasts from across our region can enjoy.”
Dunn’s comment shows a historic-and-lasting difference in terminology. The county refers to the area as Pinnacle Peak while, to Enumclaw locals, it has always been Mount Peak.
Putting a tower on rugged, rocky terrain, especially one that will be open to visitors, is not an inexpensive proposal. Initially, costs were pegged at about $500,000, but a few passing years have seen the budget grow. In particular, Borst said, material costs have leaped.
With dollars in mind, numerous funding options have been explored.
At the grassroots level, the volunteer association has sold T-shirts and hosted a benefit concert. On a much larger scale, the group was awarded a $381,000 grant through the state’s budget process, news that was shared in summer 2019. Two years earlier, the county had dedicated $10,000 to assist with design work and to help finance the permitting process.
When all is said and done, costs could land in the neighborhood of $650,000, Borst said.