The Bonneville Power Administration owns one of the buildings and towers at the summit of Marys Peak, and it is planning upgrades. To its credit, it has sought public input, and has come up with seven alternatives for replacement of their outdated facilities. But this narrow focus planning doesn’t address the long term needs of all users of the mountain.
Marys Peak is a special place. Where else can the ordinary person drive in an ordinary car on a paved road nearly to the top of the highest point around? Where else can you get a 360-degree panorama with views of surf on ocean beaches, snowcapped mountains from horizon to horizon, and the world spread out below? Add spectacular spring wildflower displays and miles of great hiking trails, and you have Oregon’s Eighth Wonder, which rivals any of the other wonders of this state.
But the peak is special in other ways. Because it is the highest point in the Coast Range, it is valuable as a communications site. From the summit there is direct line of sight in every direction to everywhere else. More than a dozen government agencies, including police, fire and emergency services, have communications equipment in the Forest Service building at the summit. But the piecemeal addition of multiple buildings, towers and antennas with a large surrounding fence spoiled what once was the peaceful serenity of the summit, and has created what the editor of the Gazette-Times referred to as the “hideously ugly” mess on the peak.
Many in the public would like to see the communication site at the summit removed. But it would be very expensive and inconvenient for all the communication site users to move to multiple places elsewhere. The Forest Service building wasn’t designed to survive a major earthquake. When the big one comes, we will lose emergency services communications that will be most vital in the aftermath. And as our population increases more and more people will be visiting the mountain, placing additional strain on the fragile ecosystems at the summit.
We need to look to the future and ask what can be done to improve Marys Peak for all users. I have a suggestion.
In 1941, after the first road was constructed up the mountain, the Forest Service built a public lookout platform and observation room at the summit, with a smaller fire lookout on top. This facility met all of the needs on the mountain.
We should consider something of this sort today. An earthquake-proof communications building would serve as the base. The roof of this building would be an observation platform for the public, with an enclosed observation room for those chilly windy days. And on top of this would be the antennas for the communications equipment. The public would get an observation deck with spectacular panoramic views. Communications users would get an earthquake-proof facility to ensure emergency services when they are needed. And a single public focus point would reduce the trampling of the rare native plant communities at the summit.
City, county, state and federal governments should all work together to plan for the future and give the public something we can be proud of on Marys Peak. It is a very special place worth the effort.