Storms damage Fall City theater

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FALL CITY - Driving rains, blankets of snow and high winds have officials at the Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater looking at a busy schedule of cleaning up branches and felled trees to ensure that the show can go on when the summer season begins.

"We've had them [trees and branches] come down," said Ben Harrison, a longtime theater volunteer. "We've got more down than we've have in a long, long time. This is the worst."

Located off David Powell Road in Fall City, less than a mile from the bottom of Snoqualmie Falls, it's the location of the theater that makes it truly unique. But the theater's lush 95-acre surroundings are causing it problems this winter, and will likely have officials and hopefully volunteers hurriedly working to get the area prepared for the opening curtain this spring.

Felled trees have sheared branches off healthy specimens on the way down, timber leans against the lighting shack above the stage and limbs scatter the numerous walking trails on the property. Although the nonprofit theater company will have an engineer ensure the stability of the lighting shack once the trees are removed, the group's wardrobe A-frame and theater area escaped without major damage, said Rex Holt, a board member and another longtime volunteer.

Holt said with the presence of wetlands on the property and the strict regulations governing such areas, the theater is in the middle of the permitting process with the King County Department of Natural Resources that would allow the hiring of a logging company to help remove the trees. Holt is hoping that will happen in the upcoming weeks.

Harrison, a retired forester, said the theater company is hoping to break even financially by selling a portion of the logs removed from the property. The permitting and removal costs aren't extraneous, Harrison said, but for a nonprofit agency, breaking even through the sales would greatly benefit the group. Although he couldn't estimate total costs of the permits and removal at this point, Harrison did say he doesn't think the theater would make money on the deal.

Despite the setback, Holt said the group plans on making the best out of the site's cleanup. The smaller branches and scraps collected from the many trails and open areas at the site likely will be used as fuel for a bonfire for the theater's families. He envisions purchasing food and making a family evening out of the ordeal, because family is a cornerstone of the organization.

"Any thing we can do with family is bonus," said Holt.

Once the permit does arrive, Holt said he's hoping the theater can have a group of volunteers lined up to help clear the area. Volunteers will play an important role in assisting the group to prepare for the opening of the season, which this year features "The Sound of Music" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he said.

Volunteers likely will be responsible for smaller item pickup, as a logging company will be hired for the larger lumber, he said.

The theater was founded in 1965 as a place for the Fall City Methodist Church to perform its Passion Play. Those performances were so successful that the volunteers who founded the theater decided to start doing other dramas and purchased some riverfront property to build a theater in 1967.

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