Preserving Mt. Constitution’s history | Guest column

by Rolf Erikson

Special to the Sounder

The stone tower on the summit of Mt. Constitution is open and there are ongoing projects that may be of interest.

There will be opportunities for people to voice their opinions about these projects. Among them are the renovated water system at Mountain Lake, improvements to the road to the summit, new bathrooms on the summit and renovations to the stone tower which will, hopefully, stop some of the ongoing degradation from water and wind erosion. The continued assault by the elements and some of the less-than-prudent public with their carving knives requires constant vigilance to avoid major failures of the stone, steel, concrete and wood that it is built from.

I am aware of the rich history that has contributed to the tower, which was saved from possible demolition in 1973. The reason that this special historical monument exists today is through the influence of KVOS and its longtime steward, Erling Manly. As the tower aged and went into disrepair, it became a communications installation, was boarded up and emulated a porcupine bristling with dishes and antennas of various types, shapes and sizes.

In 1973, (largely unbeknownst to Orcas residents) a plan was developed to demolish the stone tower and erect a space needle replica. This almost happened but luckily the citizenry of the island caught wind of this plan and raised a public outcry, which stopped it dead in its tracks. The actions of the concerned public led to the addition of the stone tower to the historic register.

I watched the demolition of the KVOS building with dismay as the memories of the summit disappeared with the tons of debris that was trucked off the island in dumpsters at incredible cost. Did you know that the KVOS crew constructed a 125-foot tunnel, through the rock, with hand drills from the building to the tower so the public would not be exposed to overhead cables? Did you know that Henry Lohman dug a water line from Summit Lake to the summit (986 feet) through the rock by hand? Did you know that Summit Lake was once drained and turned into a rice paddy? Stories abound. Let us hope they are not lost forever.

Finally, it seems puzzling that the state is spending $575,862 to build bathrooms when the building could have been saved and renovated. It seems curious that we have to beg for funds to continue to maintain the stone tower and a resource like the KVOS building is demolished. I am not at all sure that people care much where they go to the bathroom as long as it is clean and accessible, but they sure do care about the tower and the stunning views from the summit.

There is a plan to add an interpretive center to the bathrooms. There will be public meetings concerning this plan. It will be advertised. I hope, if you have concerns about the design, the cost or other input, you will attend.