Field notes: Discovering history and renewing friendships

Suspension bridge at Tolt MacDonald Park

We discovered a great story here at King County Parks…and it all stemmed from an old park sign from one of our beloved parks, Tolt-MacDonald Park.

Not too long ago, Alan Sinsel, Park District Maintenance Coordinator of the Snoqualmie District, was at a volunteer work party at the park and met a volunteer who had a very special connection to the park. That man’s last name was MacDonald and was one of the sons of John MacDonald, for whom the park is now named.

Acquired by King County in 1967, the park, even then, was recognized as a very special place: it contained the confluence of two major rivers, the Snoqualmie and the Tolt and offered wonderful views of the Cascades. So enter John MacDonald, a local resident and long-term volunteer with the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America, who had a bigger vision for the park.

Through his tireless and collaborative efforts over the course of some 18 months in 1975-76, John brought together Boy Scout troops from all over the Puget Sound and the Army Reserve. Some 20,000 scouts (including three of John

Grand opening in 1976 - Photo courtesy of the John MacDonald Family and the Seattle PI.

MacDonald’s sons) and adult volunteers provided 75,000 hours in constructing the campgrounds, trails, viewpoints, and picnic areas, and the Army Reserve’s 409th Engineering Company constructed the iconic suspension bridge. This project was nationally recognized as part of the nation’s 1976 bicentennial celebrations, and the park was named the “Tolt River Bicentennial Park”. Although we’ve added yurts and done other improvements in recent years, the infrastructure from the bicentennial project stands as a testament to John MacDonald’s vision for the park.

Unfortunately, John MacDonald passed away two months before the project’s completion and the park’s grand opening in June 1976.

So back to Alan and the sign…although the old park sign was taken down years ago, Alan has hung onto it all this time with the hope of one day restoring it to help tell the story of the park. And now, thanks to the MacDonald family, we have more help in piecing together the unique story of the park: the family is donating a selection of their bicentennial project memorabilia for us to display at the park office!

Now, all of this is coming together just in time for the 35th anniversary of the bicentennial project, so we thought we’d celebrate! We are in the process of reaching out to the Boy Scouts, local residents, the Army Reserve, local history buffs, and the Snoqualmie Tribe for a re-dedication, currently scheduled for June 26, 2011. Stay tuned and save the date!

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