The Enloe Dam Challenge

“Let’s just leave the car here and walk down,” Kristine and I said in unison as our little Ford Fiesta bottomed out on the steep, rocky road. We were intent on getting to the abandoned dam and waterfall below, but we were also intent on getting to Republic that evening in one piece. So we walked, well, scampered down to the river.

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I’d been wanting to check out Enloe Dam ever since Ava gave a presentation on this endangered property back in February. When I found out this was named one of the 2016 Most Endangered Historic Properties by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, I insisted that we add it to our summer road trip itinerary. After hiking down to see it, I’m glad I did.

Henry and Ruby beat Kristine and me to the bottom. As I approached the river, I saw Ruby scaling the chain link fence at the river’s edge. I heard myself scream, “Ruby, haven’t you ever seen the Niagara Falls scene in Superman II!”

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The Similkameen River falls are stunning. The mist rising up from the rushing water was very welcome, given it had turned into a warm day. We hiked down river to the point right across from the powerhouse. The building is in pretty bad shape, but I found myself imagining what could go on there if somebody restored it. Given its perch on the river and view of the falls upstream, it’d make a pretty spectacular restaurant. It would have been a great place to work 100 years ago, before Bonneville Power made the dam unnecessary.

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After snapping some photos to document our accomplishment, we began the long walk back up the hill. The Fiesta made it out, but I’d recommend 4-wheel-drive to anybody planning on checking out Enloe Dam.

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The Birthplace of Smokejumping

Six weeks ago, Andrew Thibodeau stood at a doorway. He slapped both sides of the door frame and then grabbed a pole to his right. A guy crouching behind him yelled “Get ready!” A moment later, that same guy slapped the back of Andrew’s leg. That was his signal to jump through the door. He was 1500 feet above a forest.

“I was doing fine until I grabbed that pole,” said Andrew, telling the story of his first parachute jump during a 6-week training course at North Cascades Smokejumper Base just outside of Twisp, Washington. Today, the ProjectWA team was lucky enough to get a history lesson and tour from Andrew on his first official day as a rookie smokejumper. After a rigorous training, he joins an elite group of 25 other parachuting firefighters stationed at an airfield situated in the Cascade foothills.

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A CASA C-212 Aviocar sits ready to fly within 5 minutes of the alarm.

The Methow Valley became the birthplace of smokejumping in 1939, when fire guards, Francis Lufkin and George Honey, made 58 experimental parachute jumps to determine under what conditions firefighters could safely land in inaccessible mountainous areas to fight wildfires. Lufkin, who had spent several years dropping supplies by parachute into wilderness fire areas, said, “If we can deliver boxes via parachute, why can’t we also deliver people?” Today, smokejumping is the most cost-effective wildfire fighting method employed in the U.S. More than 400 smokejumpers are stationed at nine main bases and dozens of satellite bases in the western U.S.

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Francis Lufkin, ready for his first experimental jump in 1939.

The critical role smokejumpers play in fighting wildfires has received more attention in recent years, as forest fires have increased in frequency and intensity. The 2015 Okanogan Complex fire was the largest in Washington State history.

Most people don’t realize the other critical contribution smokejumping has made to history. Until 1939, people didn’t voluntarily jump out of airplanes. Parachutes were for in-air emergencies, usually at high altitudes. Francis Lufkin’s new firefighting method demonstrated the feasibility of parachuting from low altitudes, with extreme precision, into a hostile environment.

In 1940, U.S. Army Major General, William C. Lee, visited the North Cascades Smokejumper Base to better understand how this new skill could be used for military purposes. Later that year, Lee became the first commander of a new parachute school at Georgia’s Fort Benning, which became the U.S. Airborne Command. Paratrooping was born. Four years later, 13,000 American paratroopers made night drops during D-Day, which turned the tide of World War II.

After taking Andrew’s tour, I understand the similarities between preparing for war and training to be a smokejumper. As if parachuting and firefighting aren’t hard enough, smokejumpers must also be expert rappellers and tree climbers. Though landing in meadows is the goal, sometimes they land in trees; so smokejumpers have to be in great physical shape to first get themselves untangled and then make their way to the ground, sometimes 40 feet below – all while wearing Kevlar jump suits and a 100 pounds of gear. They can’t just leave their chutes in the tree, which means climbing back up to retrieve them.

Once on the ground, parachuters turn into fire fighters and survivalists. They bring supplies that allow them to fight fires for as long as three days: axes, chain saws, shovels, food and drinking water. Everything gets dropped in boxes at the same time as the smokejumpers. The firefighting is done by digging 18-inch-wide paths, creating lines around a fire area – effectively starving the fire of the vegetation that fuels it.  After a few days of nonstop work, the crew has to hike to the nearest accessible road to be picked up.

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The job doesn’t end when smokejumpers get back to base. The work simply transitions into other tasks so that the crew is prepared for the next jump: sewing up ripped chutes and suits, packing boxes with gear, food and water; and packing parachutes. All so that, within 2 minutes of the alarm, smokejumpers are suited up and on the plane. Then there’s all the other chores associated with day-to-day living.

Smokejumpers are self-sufficient on – and off – the fire line.  They cook for themselves, tend their own garden and mow the lawn. And they sew.  Every smokejumper knows how to operate a sewing machine – a tool just as critical to the whole operation as axes, shovels and airplanes.  With an average of 45 jumps per year (the record is 1066 in 1970), chutes and suits get torn and have to be immediately, expertly mended. I was surprised to learn that all the gear – shirts, suits, pants, and chutes – is made by smokejumpers right there on the base.

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One of the most important smokejumping tools.

When they’re not jumping out of planes, firefighting or sewing, smokejumpers are staying fit. They devote at least an hour and a half to exercise every day. Their 6-week training course is what I’d imagine boot camp to be – probably harder. Andrew showed us the tower from which smokejumpers practice their “PLFs” (Parachute Landing Falls). “A lot of misery went down here,” Andrew mused as he gazed up at the 40-foot structure, which he referred to as “Torture Tower.”

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Andrew Thibodeau, Rookie Smokejumper in front of the “Torture Tower.”

There were many things that impressed me about smokejumpers. What struck me most is their culture of complete trust and reliance on each other. Every smokejumper knows how to do every job on the base – from sewing and packing chutes to being the “JIC” (Jumper in Charge). It’s all about efficiency. When every second matters, there’s no time for figuring out who within a jump crew has seniority. Whoever is in the seat closest to the airplane door automatically plays the role of JIC – whether they are an 18-year veteran, like Kathlyn Russel, or a brand new rookie, like Andrew.

So who is in charge of the smokejumpers, overall? They are part of the U.S. Forest Service, which is run by the Department of Agriculture. Though they are federally funded, there are gaps.  The smokejumpers sell souvenirs to raise money for the Fallen Firefighters Fund (I bought myself a cool smokejumper coffee mug).

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If you are anywhere near the Methow Valley, the North Cascades Smokejumper Base is a must stop.  You’ll get one of the best free tours around, learn some important history that’s relevant to all of us, and get a chance to thank a group of individuals that put their lives on the line to keep us all safe. Before you go, download the Washington State Insider app so you can get your points for visiting.

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As of June 23, 2016, the jump counter is still set at 0. The average number of jumps per year is 45.

Pybus Market: From Steel Foundry to Gathering Place

According to his April 5, 1961 obituary in the Wenatchee Daily World, Elias “Tom” Pybus’s first impression of Wenatchee was “of board sidewalks, dusty streets and a stifling hotel.” He used to say: “the whole valley seemed like a furnace.” Two decades later, the U.K. immigrant blacksmith constructed his own furnace along the banks of the Columbia River in Wenatchee, which grew into one of the region’s most successful steel foundries. E.T. Pybus Steel Company started out making wagon parts and auto springs, and eventually provided steel for the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, Hanford and WWII ships for the U.S. Navy and Air Force. By the time he died in 1961, E.T. Pybus’s contribution to economic growth in Chelan County rivaled that of the apple industry, for which the area is mostly known, historically.

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Over the years, the early pioneer’s steel company was eventually split into separate companies, and the large warehouse that used to house Pybus’s foundry became the home of pigeons floating in off the Columbia. Despite the impact E.T. Pybus had made on Wenatchee in the 20th century, later generations had no idea what that building on the corner of Orondo Avenue and Worthen Street represented.

“As a kid growing up in Wenatchee, I had no idea this building even existed,” said Caitlin Gillespie, Operations Administrator for Pybus Market, as she gave me a tour of one of the coolest structures in Wenatchee.

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The Pybus building emerged from obscurity when, in 2012, Mike and JoAnn Walker established the Pybus Market Charitable Foundation to work in collaboration with the Port of Chelan County to refurbish the 25,000-square-foot space. The year-round Market was opened in May 2013 and now houses some of the best businesses that Wenatchee has to offer: a produce stand, florist, brewery, wine tasting room, cheese shop, restaurants, butcher and more.

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On the recommendation of Cascade Loop Association Director, Annette Pitts, I popped in on Steve Robinson, the Executive Director for the Pybus Market Charitable Foundation. Steve, along with Caitlin Gillespie, manages day-to-day operations and marketing for the Pybus Market.  After they showed me the space, my assessment is that their most important marketing job is to simply get people in the door. The building does the rest.

The Pybus Market has a very inviting vibe. After my official tour, I hung out for another hour, drinking coffee and writing while periodically lifting my head to people watch. The Market is nicely situated along the Columbia River between downtown Wenatchee and the Apple Capital Loop Trail that runs along the river. It’s a natural spot for people to congregate – visitors and tourists alike. The design of the Market was inspired by the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. When I saw the Pybus Market from the outside, it immediately reminded me of the indoor market in San Francisco.

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One of things that gives the Pybus Market its cool vibe is the live music.

Even better than the architecture and location are the extremely friendly local merchants. The Pybus Market has a concentration of high quality regional businesses – from locally brewed beer to produce to local meat. On my way out, I bought some local beef from Mike’s Meats to take back to this week’s ProjectWA headquarters in Lake Chelan.

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Mike’s Meats at Pybus Market

A big focus for ProjectWA so far has been preservation of historic properties, so I asked Steve about the impact the restoration of the Pybus Market has had on the community. “When cities develop waterfront, good things happen,” Steve said.  “It has put [Wenatchee] on the map.” The Market has created more than 100 local jobs, and the rest of the waterfront is starting to redevelop. A new hotel is going in down the street, which Steve suggests probably would not have be happening without the presence of Pybus Market.

After more than three years of year-round operation, the Market has evolved into a community center. “People congregate here,” said Steve. It’s no wonder, then, that the Pybus Market was named “Best Place to take an Out-of-Town Guest” by the Wenatchee Business Journal Readers’ Choice Awards.

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The creation and growing popularity of the Pybus Market has coincided with the emergence of an evolved identity for Wenatchee – from a small town known almost singularly for its apples, to “an outdoor mecca” known for skiing, biking, and countless other types of recreation. E.T. Pybus would be proud.

If you want to see the intersection of Wenatchee’s history and future, I strongly recommend you check out Pybus Market. If you download the Washington State Insider app, remember to collect your points for visiting.

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