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How they built the bridge: Teamwork at Tolt-MacDonald Park, 1976

This is the last in a series of blog posts celebrating American Archives Month 2016, using King County records to highlight the history of King County parks. For more, see “Athletes with Disabilities: King County Parks as a Recreation Pioneer,” “From Coal to the Cold War: Cougar Mountain Regional Wildlife Park’s Former Nike Missile Sites,” and “Lake Wilderness Lodge: Mid-Century Modern, Pacific Northwest Style.”

How they built the bridge: Teamwork at Tolt-MacDonald Park, 1976


Clipping from the Seattle Times, June 19, 1976. Series 45, King County Executive John Spellman Clipping Files, Box 8, Folder 16, King County Archives.

Forty years ago, the 1976 Bicentennial, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, inspired projects celebrating American history and heritage, civic engagement, and community service.

One of the largest and most ambitious Bicentennial projects in the country happened at a King County park in the spring of 1976.

In 1973, King County had opened the Tolt River Park and campground near Carnation, on the east side of the Snoqualmie River where it was joined by the Tolt. Undeveloped park property also lay on the west bank of the Snoqualmie River. A connecting footbridge was envisioned but not initially built.


Aerial park site view, circa 1975-1976. The park is in the angle formed where the rivers meet. The undeveloped west portion area is the forested hillside in the upper left side of the photograph. Series 467, Park System Photograph Files, Box 6, Folder 25, King County Archives.

A Community Project for the Boy Scouts and the Marines


John MacDonald: photo printed in park dedication program, Series 468, Park System History Files, Box 1, Folder 63, King County Archives.

In 1974, Seattle banker John MacDonald approached King County government with an idea. President of the Chief Seattle Boy Scout Council and a longtime leader of his own church-sponsored Scout troop, MacDonald proposed a Bicentennial project involving all the area’s Boy Scouts. His idea? Scouts would develop trails and campsites on the west bank of Tolt River Park, and the U.S. Marines would build a 500-foot pedestrian bridge across the river.

“Just the type of cooperative project that we have been striving for!”King County Executive John Spellman to the King County Council.

King County contributed $150,000. Scout Council project manager Don Gerber later recalled, “One of the nice things was that the county merely said, ‘Here’s the money. Build a park.’”

But the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America first had to persuade its 12 component districts to turn their annual “camporees” into work parties. After eight months, 45 meetings, and two scale models of the site (built by Eagle Scouts), everyone agreed. By early 1976, 18 months of planning had resulted in an ambitious six-weekend construction schedule.


King County Parks Department representatives brief the public relations committee of the Chief Seattle Boy Scout Council at the Snoqualmie River bridge site, January 9, 1976. Series 467, Park System Photograph Files, Box 6, Folder 25, King County Archives.

U.S. Army Reserve Brochure, Series 468, Park System History Files, Box 1, Folder 62, King County Archives.

Community Service by the U.S. Army and Marines

Bridge construction would be led by the Army Reserve’s 409th Engineer Company, an Everett-based unit under the 124th Army Reserve Command in Seattle. They would be assisted by the Regular Army, the Marine Corps Reserve, and the 6th Field Engineering Squadron from North Vancouver, British Columbia, who worked on an exchange basis with the 124th. All units operated under regulations allowing for domestic action that provided community services.

Training for the Army Reserve

Building a suspension bridge was also a training exercise for the 409th. Plans came from the Army’s Technical Manual 5-270, with modifications: larger handrails, anti-sway cables, heavier footings, improved cable anchor design, and additions to increase flood, wind and earthquake resistance. The bridge was built to last at least forty years.


Engineering drawing for the bridge. Series 468, Park System History Files, Box 1, Folder 62, King Count Archives.

The project begins

In cold rain and hail, on April 24, 1,500 Scouts from the Shoreline and Viking (northwest Seattle) Districts and 400 leaders and parents turned out.

“It’s fun and it’s work….I think this is a great project because all the parks and campgrounds are so crowded and this will add more room for outdoor people.” — Mark Reed, age 12
“We guys would never work like this at home, but out here it’s a real project. It’s neat to see what we did today and to think about all the people will be able to come out and use this park.” — Jim Krie, age 13

On May 8, cool morning air gave way to a blistering sun. Thirteen hundred Scouts of the Cascade District (Bellevue and Redmond) continued work. Said a reporter for the Bellevue American newspaper, “Perhaps the most notable example of teamwork was the 200-person chain [of Cub Scouts] which passed rocks [for erosion control], one at a time from a rock source at the bottom of the hill to a destination on top.”

Remembering John MacDonald


John MacDonald, on a trail built by the Scouts, spring 1976. Photocopied Seattle Times photograph originally published July 23, 1976. Series 468, Park System History Files, Box 1, Folder 60, King Count Archives.

John MacDonald was often on site. “This will be remembered by every one of these kids every time they come back here,” he said. “Whenever they go to any park, they’ll remember the work that goes into it and they’ll appreciate it.”

MacDonald, aged 61, suffered a fatal heart attack on May 10, 1976. On June 1, the King County Council, honoring his “efforts and examples of community spirit,” added his name to the site known today as Tolt River–John MacDonald Park.

Site development work was completed by Scouts from the Polaris District (northeast Seattle), the West Seattle District, and the Mount Olympus District of Clallam and Jefferson Counties.

At the project’s end, 20,000 Scouts and adult leaders had put in some 75,000 hours of work. They had constructed forty hike-in campsites, five shelters and two large service centers; assembled ten picnic tables; opened miles of trails and drainage channels; and undertaken preliminary landscaping. King County estimated that the volunteer work had saved the county $1.5 million in labor costs.

The large scale of the project, and the amount of community cooperation and coordination that had accomplished it, drew local, regional and even national media attention.

Some of the regional and national magazines which featured stories about the Bicentennial bridge project. A feature story also appeared in the Scouting magazine Boys’ Life, October 1976. Series 468, Park System History Files, Box 1, Folder 63, King County Archives.

Time to Celebrate


Color guard crossing the bridge, June 26, 1976. Series 467, Park System History Files, Box 6, Folder 25, King County Archives.

On a bright, sunny June 26, 1976, a crowd of 2,000 — County, Scouting and military representatives, members of local pioneer families, and onlookers — gathered to cross the new footbridge. A Scout color guard followed. On the west bank of the Snoqualmie River, the U.S. Navy band played, a historical pageant of Native American and pioneer folklore was presented, a Liberty Bell replica was rung, a monument to John MacDonald was dedicated, and a time capsule containing names of project participants was buried. Mrs. MacDonald cut the symbolic ribbon, an unidentified Girl Scout declared the park open, and Boy Scouts showed off their hard work.

“Kids get a great deal of satisfaction doing something on their own…. Let a kid build something, and it is his forever.” — John MacDonald

Where were you during the Bicentennial? Were you a part of the Scouts or the Army Reservists who helped develop Tolt-Macdonald Park in 1976? Tell us about your experiences!


Clipping files, 1973-1980, County Executive John Spellman. Series 45, King County Archives. Additional records from the administration of John Spellman are held by the Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.

History files, 1949-1997, King County Park System. Series 468, King County Archives.

King County Document Collection. Series 872, King County Archives.

Motion files, King County Council. Series 306, King County Archives.

Ordinance files, King County Council. Series 305, King County Archives.

Photograph files, 1900-2002. King County Department of Transportation, Road Services Division. Series 400, King County Archives.

Photograph files, c. 1948-1998; King County Park System. Series 467, King County Archives.

October is American Archives Month!
The theme chosen by the Washington State Archives for 2016 is “we love parks.” This is the last of a series of four posts from the King County Archives on the history of King County Parks.


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