Making the Cut: Whether to cut trees on Mt. Peak | In Focus

Creating a view of Mount Rainier will encourage people to use the public hike.

Editor’s note: For more information on this topic, read “A little off the top — King County proposes Mt. Peak tree cutting for view of Enumclaw, Rainier”, published June 17.

The 33-foot replica fire lookout on top of Mt. Peak was completed on Oct. 23, 2021. Mt. Peak is now a King County Park with two routes to take to the top. The north side is shorter but steeper, taking 20-35 minutes to the lookout. The south side takes longer—about 50-60 minutes. On the south side, you can take either the gravel road up or follow numerous side trails.

There currently is a hot debate about whether to cut 50 trees surrounding the lookout station to provide a view of Mount Rainier, Enumclaw, Buckley, and as far west as Tacoma. Most letters-to-the-editor have spoken against cutting the trees. The major arguments against providing a view are that cutting the trees would destroy the natural environment potentially, increase trail use and make them crowded. However, providing a view is what a lookout tower is designed to do. It would also increase the enjoyment of the hike. This fits with what a park is designed for: a piece of nature set aside for human enjoyment and recreation.

Mt. Peak has had several names over the years: Mt. Pete, Pinnacle Peak, or the Cal Magnuson Trail. It had its first fire lookout constructed in 1929. The tower was 30 feet tall. In 1934 the tower was increased to a height of 60 feet. According to a contour map, the official height of Mt. Peak is 1759 feet, not counting the tower which stood there from 1929 until it was torn down in 1966.

If you look at photos of Mt. Peak in the early 1900s you can see that the area was clearcut where the tower now stands.

Enumclaw used to be a timber town with the Weyerhaeuser mill to the east until it closed in 2002, laying off 350 workers. If you look to the Cascade foothills, you can still see areas that were clearcut. At one time in the 1980s, the west side of Mt. Baldy (east of Mt. Peak) was clearcut. It has since grown back. Mt. Peak itself is second growth timber.

Some see a conspiracy since talk of cutting trees was not discussed when the tower was first proposed to the Enumclaw City Council. Had the proposal to cut trees been stated at the beginning, the argument goes, there would have been angry protests, and the tower would likely not have been approved.

The two major arguments against providing views seem too narrowly focused. What will cutting fifty trees do to the environment? Not much. The logs will be left to rot. As noted above, whole swaths of trees were cut with nary a complaint as late as the 1980s. Why the concern now?

As noted, one purpose of a park is to provide recreation for the residents. Getting to the top of Mt. Peak requires a lot of exercise. That’s good for people. If we incentivize the effort by providing spectacular views, it seems to be worth a few trees.

Enumclaw has trees that block the view of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade foothills for residents. It’s likely that you might like to cut down a few obstructing trees in your neighborhood. How is that desire any different from providing views of the whole plateau from atop Mt. Peak?

As J.P. Morgan once noted, “A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing; one that sounds good, and a real one.”

The real one is that some people in Enumclaw don’t want any more visitors and people coming to Enumclaw. It’s a fear of change.

Enumclaw’s economy is based upon people passing through on their way to the Expo Center, Mt. Rainier National Park, Crystal Mountain, and Chinook Pass. Without tourists passing through Enumclaw, we wouldn’t have the revenue to allow us to maintain our small-town charm. Local businesses need customers to survive and prosper. Visitors leave money which reduces residents’ taxes and provides jobs so people can work close to home.

The King County Council made the necessary purchases to create the park in order to keep the mountain undeveloped and rural. Had they not decided to create the park, it’s likely the mountain would have been turned into a place for more houses and more people and less nature.

Cutting fifty or so trees benefits us all and incentivizes making the hike to the tower. Consider the big picture rather than getting tripped up over some felled trees.