A History of Packwood Station
The following are excerpts from the Forest Service's Environmental Assessment of August 2007:
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is proposing to offer the Packwood Administrative Site, formerly known as the Packwood Ranger Station, and adjacent facilities for sale during fiscal year 2008. The Packwood Administrative Site is located in the south half of Section 15, T. 13 N., R. 9 E., Willamette Meridian, Lewis County, Washington.
The purpose of this proposed action is to offer for sale the Packwood Ranger District Office, associated facilities and adjacent Forest Service property. The action is needed to comply with National direction and meet goals of decommissioning underutilized facilities to reduce fixed maintenance costs under the provisions of the Forest Service Facility Realignment and Enhancement Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-54.) Disposal of the Packwood site was acknowledged as a priority in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Facilities Management Plan, approved September 2004.
The Packwood Ranger Station was the district office from 1928 to 1996, and operated as a satellite work station until 2003. The approximately 20.5 acre property is located on U.S Highway 12 (White Pass Highway) in eastern Lewis County, in the unincorporated town of Packwood, Washington. There are 23 buildings on the property, including an office, shop, warehouse, and several residences. All but one of the buildings has been vacant since the fall of 2003; one residence was reopened during fall 2006 and is currently rented to a Forest Service employee.
National direction requires all National Forests to reduce 30% of existing support facilities within the next three years. To address this issue, the Forest Facilities Master Plan recommended several underutilized facilities be considered for decommissioning. This includes Packwood Administrative Site and the original Packwood Ranger Station located at the Skate Creek site, 1.3 miles north of Packwood. The properties were determined excess to administrative needs and would be considered among 60 Forest Service properties in the Pacific Northwest Region that are being considered for disposal.
Prehistoric Native American use of the local area has been documented through a number of archaeological investigations, and demonstrates use of the Packwood vicinity as early as 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. Early occupants of the Cowlitz River valley were highly mobile foraging people who did not make extensive use of food preservation or storage and did not build permanent shelters or settlements. Between about 4,000 years ago and 2,500 years ago adaptations shifted toward greater reliance on mass harvest and storage of key resources, particularly anadromous fish. At the same time, there was an increase in the use of more sedentary residences and the establishment of village settlements. Historical research and traditional knowledge indicate that the general area was home to a band of Taidnapam, or Upper Cowlitz people during the middle to late 19th century. Several sources indicate that a small settlement, known as cawacas, existed near the mouth of Skate Creek about a mile west
of the subject property circa 1860-1870. Taidnapam descendants are today members of both the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. Representatives of both groups have expressed a strong interest in the protection archaeological resources.
The subject property was within the federal lands that became part of the Mt. Rainier Forest Reserve in 1897. Settlement pressures led to homesteading within the reserve, particularly along the Cowlitz River valley bottom. Walter Combs, a native of Missouri, made application for 160 acres under the Forest Homestead Act in 1907, including the subject property. His claim included lands now comprising much of the community of Packwood. That portion of the Combs homestead corresponding to the subject property was cleared for use as a family garden around 1908. There is no indication that the Combs family erected any structures or buildings on this portion of their property. Most of the original homestead property was divided and sold after Walter Combs’ death in 1917. Menasha Woodenware Company purchased some of the property, including the present Packwood Work Center site.
Forest Service administrative use of the property began officially on October 1, 1928, the effective date of a lease agreement between the Menasha Woodenware Company and the U.S. Government. For an annual rental fee of $75.00, the Forest Service obtained use of the tract for the exclusive purpose of establishing a ranger station. The lease included an option to purchase the property. Funds were allocated in 1928 for initial construction of facilities on the property. A warehouse (#2260), completed in 1929, was the first building erected on the property, and is the oldest remaining on the site today. A new ranger station office was also built in 1929, and ultimately became the administrative headquarters for the Packwood Ranger District.
Initially part of the Rainier National Forest, the Packwood District was added to the Columbia National Forest in 1933 (renamed Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1949). During the early 1930s, District Ranger Bill Sethe oversaw the continuing expansion of facilities and improvements at the ranger station, including construction of a ranger’s residence, a two-room telephone operator’s cabin, and barn in 1931; a crew house, woodshed, and garage in 1932; a three-car garage and a woodshed/laundry building in 1933; and a four-room guard residence and woodshed/laundry building in 1935. By 1935, the complex consisted of 14 buildings, and in 1936 the site was finally purchased from the Menasha Company.
Environmental Assessment Packwood Admin Site Conveyance 25
The administrative site was expanded in 1948 through purchase of an additional 12.5 acres, adjacent to the east. The district anticipated the need for additional housing and developed a preliminary plan for construction of new residences on the tract, but the plan was never implemented. The “Timber Staff Officer” dwelling, a four-room residence, was added to the compound in 1949. Staffing needs increased during the post-war period and the growing workforce led to another expansion of facilities. In 1954 a new bunkhouse was constructed and in 1958 the Forest Service purchased a small lot with a three-bedroom house on Snyder Road, directly opposite the warehouse.
A new site plan for the Packwood Ranger Station was developed in 1959. The plan involved construction of a new, modern office building to replace the original, built thirty years earlier. The new office, designed by a Forest Service architect, was completed in 1960, and included private offices for the district ranger and fire dispatcher, a reception room, and two timber and engineering rooms. The original office and the gas and oil house were removed to provide for parking and access roads. Several additional buildings were constructed in later years.
The 23 buildings at the Packwood Work Center site include a variety of functional types spanning the period from 1929 to 1988. Until 1954, the compound retained the composition of its CCC-era building group. As new facilities were added during the following decade, older buildings were removed, including the original office, mess hall, a residence, gas and oil house, and two garages. The existing facilities are dominated by buildings constructed during the past 50 years. For this reason, the administrative site does not qualify as a significant building group or a historic district.
Buildings existing on the administrative site essentially represent two distinct phases of agency history. The earliest buildings (1929-1935) are associated with local administration of the national forest during the Great Depression, World War II, and the initial post-war period, often characterized as a period of “custodial” management of forest resources. Later buildings (1954-1964) are associated with the post-war shift toward intensive forest management and large-scale extraction of timber resources. They reflect the expansion of a workforce oriented toward the increasing federal timber sale program and, to a certain extent, changes wrought after 1960 with implementation of the Multiple Resources and Sustainability Act. At the local and regional level, the ranger station buildings are associated with significant Forest Service contributions to conservation of natural resources, outdoor recreation, and the development of the timber industry.
Eight of the historic buildings qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. These include the Ranger’s Residence (#1160), with associated woodshed/laundry building (#1160W) and garage (#1560); the Protective Assistant’s Residence (#1161), with associated
woodshed/laundry building (#1160W), and garage (#1561); the Bunkhouse (#2100); and the Warehouse (#2260).
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