To The Present

Loggers Build Eatonville an Airport

Loggers and their equipment at Eatonville Airport, 1952
Loggers and their equipment at Eatonville Airport, 1952

In 1952, John Swanson, Eatonville councilman and logger, told the council that there was a need for an Eatonville airport. His expense statement was hard to argue with — it would cost the town nothing.

John’s plan
Roy Swanson, John’s son, who was 15 at the time and a budding pilot, says his dad had scouted a plot of land that would work. John and his brother Eric owned a piece of the land and deeded it to the town. They also paid $250 to Weyerhaeuser for an easement to the rest.

Next came manpower and the logging community and others rallied. “Dad got ahold of all of the local loggers, and they built it in about 15 days,” says Roy. “They donated all their time and their machinery.”

It wasn’t just the loggers who helped out. John Van Eaton and Cecil Jordon supplied thousands of gallons of fuel and Dan Christensen of the Mashell Telephone Company along with Hugo Pravitz and Keith Predmore offered to assist with moving power lines.

Celebration

arial of Eatonville at the time of building the airport
arial of Eatonville at the time of building the airport

Before the 1,850-foot airstrip was complete, Roy witnessed the first landing from atop of a hanger he was building. “Ernie Lodin from Mineral was the first. He flew in under the telephone line and landed.”

The town officially dedicated the Swanson Airfield at the 1953 Community Day celebration. The festivities included the high school band and a small airshow. Even stamp collectors got into it. The town got airmail from across the nation asking to be cancelled on the date of the event.

Primitive to First Class
The grass airstrip was primitive — the first lights were coffee cans filled with sand and gasoline, upgraded later by the pilots to army surplus lights. But in the 1990s, the airport got a big upgrade. One thousand feet were added, it was blacktopped and new lights were installed. Again everything was done with volunteer time, energy and equipment.

The men who built the Eatonville Airport
The men who built the Eatonville Airport — (back row, from left) Preston Parrish, Seg Osterdahl, Ralph Weigard, John Swanson, Earnie Christian and Fritz Guske, and (front row from left) Earnie Osterdahl, Norm Olden, Roy Block, Woody Wilson and Chuck Medlock. Not pictured — Roy Treadwell and Clarance Gemmel, heavy-equipment operators, Don Murphy who owned equipment and John Van Eaton and Cecil Jordon who supplied fuel. (Photo taken by Bud Blanchar)

To lengthen the runway, waste material from the resurfacing of the Cutoff Road was used as well as dirt from a nearby hill. Townspeople arrived with their dump trucks, scoops, dozers and various skills. This time the volunteer force included names like Severson, Swanson, Urich, McTee, and Van Eaton.

The pilots also got a grant from the Washington State Aeronautics, which they used to pave the runway and add new lights.

Your Airport
Today the airport is a great asset to the town. Not only can pilots play around, but it’s also a check point for the military and used to airlift folks needing immediate medical care.

And to think, it all started with a logger.

Eatonville’s Close Encounter

Janet Ahrendsen and her two daughters
Janet Ahrendsen and her two daughters, Photo from 1975 Dispatch

In 1975, two years before Steven Spielberg’s movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind hit the theaters, Eatonville was already the hub of supernatural activity.

In October, Janet Ahrendsen and her two daughters were interviewed by the Dispatch after seeing a UFO firsthand. “It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Janet said. “My two girls and I were very scared.”

The three said the lights were in the shape of a horseshoe and alternating red and bluish-green, with a big red light at the opening.

“All of a sudden it was right over our car,” Janet said. “The girls opened the window and looked up and said, ‘It’s on top Mommy’. The car was then acting funny, like it was missing and had a flat tire. It was about as high as a plane landing at the airbase and made no noise.”

She wasn’t the only one to see the UFO that night. Don Cook, then Operations Director at Northwest Trek and other employees also saw it, but didn’t speak up because they thought people would say they were making it up.

UFO Group Sets up Camp
Also in 1974 (completely unrelated to Janet’s sighting) Major Wayne Aho made an announcement that Eatonville would be the headquarters of his UFO and self-realization group — The New Age Foundation.

Major Aho, a colorful character in his own right, was a retired logger turned UFO cult specialist. In an interview with the Dispatch he said, “In 30 years of research, I have come to the conclusion that the Biblical teachings about the Rapture, the taking up of great numbers of people in the sky or heavens in time of great strife and chaos, will be carried out by space ships which our civilization still calls UFO’s or flying saucers.”

He chose Eatonville in part because of the June 24, 1947 UFO sighting at Mount Rainier by Kenneth Arnold of Boise, Idaho. Arnold spotted nine flying saucers and it became the first time the term “flying saucer” was used.

More Sightings
Maybe The Major was onto something. Maybe Eatonville was a UFO hot spot. A winning Eatonville Daffodil Festival float once featured flying saucers. In 1975 there were several UFO sightings near Clear Lake. And in 1980, (per Edith Erickson’s book Timber Town and Later) well-known Eatonville residents made reports of sightings from Ashford to Centralia. And in 1999, “flying saucers” were seen by thousands atop Mount Rainier.

Keep your eyes to the skies. You never know.

 

 

 

New Zoo Park – Northwest Trek

Original Northwest Trek Map
Original Northwest Trek Map

Forty years ago, in 1971, an article ran in the Dispatch about the development of a “535-acre Zoo-Park”. This facility, tentatively called Northwoods Trek, would “exhibit, propagate and preserve predominately native Northwest and Alaska species of wildlife in their natural habitat,” and potentially bring in 500,000 people a year.

Large Donation
A local couple — Dr. David Hellyer and his wife Connie — had already donated the large tract of land. He was a 58-year-old Tacoma pediatrician and they operated a cattle ranch outside Eatonville. Their gift was substantial in more than just acres. The couple had recently been offered $1 million for the site by a developer — approximately $5.5 million in today’s dollars.

Plans were already in the works for this self-supporting Zoo-Park. It would be stocked with elk, buffalo, antelope, moose, muskoxen and more; and the offspring would stock the Point Defiance Zoo.

Noah’s Ark
The whole thing sounded a little like Noah’s Ark. Then Parks Director, W.O. Glundberg told folks that for the next year, one pair of each kind of animal would be released in the park to determine the numbers of each species the acreage could support. A $50,000 loan was being secured to pay for a two-year animal acquisition program.

How they were going to move people around this zoo-park was still a mystery. There was talk though of an “aerial tramway” to allow visitors great views.

The article ran in 1971 and Northwest Trek opened to the public in 1975.

A few interesting facts 40 years later
• The park has grown to over 722 acres.
• Attendance never did reach 500,000, but a 210,356 record was set when the grizzly and black bear exhibit opened in 1993.
• Since it opened, over 4 million people have visited.
• In 2006 Dr. Hellyer passed away, leaving an amazing legacy.

 

 

40th Anniversary of Eatonville’s Rock Festival

Eatonville Rock Festival40 years ago, in the summer of 1970, Eatonville was gearing up for the Buffalo Party Convention and pig roast at Buffalo Don Murphy’s Flying M Ranch, east of town. It was supposedly a political gathering, but everyone knew what it really was — a rock festival.

I was in first grade at the time and even from my six-year-old perspective I could tell the townspeople were seriously worked up. Woodstock had taken place the summer before and people had images of thousands of hippies with their drugs and everything else that goes along with a rock festival.

Rock Festival, Eatonville (Dispatch photo)
Rock Festival, Eatonville (Dispatch photo)

Right before the event, a preliminary injunction was filed in Superior Court prohibiting “further advertising, opening, ticket selling, operating, or in any way furthering and having the event called the Buffalo Party Convention and Pig Roast.”  But the word was already out and neither the injunction nor the roadblocks put up by the police stopped Eatonville’s rock festival.

Police, townspeople and businesses got ready for the worst. My dad was even hired by the Eatonville School District to guard to the grounds from vandalism. He had a billy club, which he jokingly referred to as his “hippy cruncher”.

Eatonville Rock Festival Ticket
Eatonville Rock Festival Ticket

A man who attended the event posted on the web: “I hitch-hiked from Portland, Ore. Arrived in Eatonville late at night and the police were directing traffic through town, trying to tell us to go back where we came from, the festival is cancelled! We went around in circles through town like a parade. The locals were out on the sidewalks waving and we were waving back.  . . . the next day they let us in on the festival grounds ’cause there were just too many people to deal with.”

Swimming at the Eatonville Rock Festival (Dispatch Photo)
Swimming at the Eatonville Rock Festival (Dispatch Photo)

On a rather disgusting note, because of the injunction, the portable restrooms never arrived and attendees had to make due with one out building and a large ditch.

Despite the crowds, lack of restrooms and roadblocks, the three-day event held on the 4th of July weekend was more peaceful than rebellious. The Dispatch reported somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people attended and although drugs were openly sold at the three-day event, the only real damage to property was a car collision at Center Street and Washington.

Merchants and residents stated that, “the long haired youths were courteous, polite and considerate.”  It also appears the hippies turned out to be somewhat of a spectator sport. More than a few residents have told me they managed to get up there to take a look around.

Who played at the rock festival? James Cotton? Clear Light? No one seems to know for sure.

(Photos appeared in the Eatonville Dispatch.)