What started as a project for the U.S. bicentennial celebration became a massive effort involving thousands of people that would improve the Tolt-MacDonald park for decades.
John MacDonald, banker, Navy veteran of World War II and volunteer for the Seattle Council of Boy Scouts of America, had a development idea for a park and campground that had been acquired by King County in 1964.
Alan Sinsel, King County Parks District Maintenance Coordinator, explained that a notice from the president to the Boy Scouts of America is what spawned the idea in MacDonald.
“During the Nixon administration, he put out a notice to Boy Scouts to do projects for the (United States’) bicentennial,” Sinsel said.
A campground had already been built on the Carnation park, but the area on the west side of the property had not been developed. Developing that portion of the park was MacDonald’s brainchild.
He wanted a bridge that could connect the two sides of the park, split by the Snoqualmie River, and found help in completing the project from the Army Reserves’s 40th Engineering Company, which worked on the approximately 500-foot suspension bridge. He also organized all the Boy Scouts in the greater Puget Sound area, approximately 20,000 of them, and over a four-month period, they cleared the land, built campsites, shelters, cabins, and an amphitheater that are still there today.
The bridge was the Army Reserve’s job, but they didn’t have much experience in building suspension bridges so they went up to Canada and got help from some of the armed forces there who had experience in building that type of project.
MacDonald was able to bring together a massive amount of people to work together on this community project, but was unable to see the result of all the work they had done.
“Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died on May 10, 1976, weeks before the project was finished,” Sinsel said.
The park was named the “Tolt-MacDonald Park and Campground” when the project was finished in June, 1976.
Years later, one of MacDonald’s sons was volunteering at a King County Parks event and got in touch with them to share some of the historic photos and newspaper clippings that his family had recorded and kept for over 30 years.
On June 26, 2011, the 35th anniversary of the development’s completion, King County Parks held a rededication to celebrate the work that John MacDonald, the Army Reserve and the Boy Scouts did all those years ago.
“We rededicated the campground to him and to bring awareness to the project because the history had been lost.” Sinsel said.
Many of MacDonald’s family attended the event along with King County representatives like Dow Constantine and Kathy Lambert, and about 200 Boy Scouts.
In fact, according to Sinsel, King County Executive Dow Constantine was one of the Scouts who helped out on the project.
Today, the bridge is kept up-to-date with annual inspections and has seen some improvements as recently as 2014 where additional support weights were added to each side.
The Tolt-MacDonald Park footbridge as it stands today. Additional weights were added to improve stability in 2014.
John MacDonald stands at the construction site of the suspension bridge.