Stanwood smokestack lighting tradition to continue

STANWOOD — Changes are on the way for the Stillaguamish Riverfront in downtown Stanwood, where the city bought several properties last year with new parks and paths in mind.

Among the city’s purchases is the Hamilton Mill property with its landmark smokestack that rises above downtown. Though officials are starting to draft new plans for the waterfront, locals can expect the familiar smokestack — and the holiday decorations that have been lighting it up for two decades — to remain.

The Stanwood City Council is finalizing an agreement with the local Lions Club to continue decorating the Hamilton smokestack with themed lights for holidays and events. The Lions have been decorating the stack since 1995. Now that the city owns the property, a formal contract is needed.

The City Council reviewed the agreement Thursday and plans to vote on it June 11. The nonprofit Lions Club would pay $10 per year to store their equipment, and the document protects the city from legal claims if volunteers get hurt setting up the lights. There is no end date for the agreement.

“We’re just putting ink to paper,” Lions Club President Oisteen Boge said. “It won’t really change anything with the decorations. The city has been really supportive of that.”

Volunteers use a system of winches and cables to raise and lower decorations on the 150-foot smokestack, Boge said. The displays are made of bent and welded rebar decked out in strands of colored lights.

Their largest piece of the year is a Christmas tree, which consists of long strands of bright lights stretched down from a top central ring and fanned out in a larger base circle to create a cone, like the shape of an evergreen tree. It’s 75 feet tall and has become a downtown beacon during December.

“It’s a real team effort, what we do there,” Boge said. “We have a lot of fun with it.”

The club has about 60 members and at least 15 of them work on each holiday light project. A lot of people think the decorations are the city’s doing, but the Lions club has been behind the festive lights from day one, Boge said. They see it as a way for people to connect with and take pride in their hometown.

“I think what it does in a lot of ways is it draws the community’s spirit together,” he said.

The Christmas tree tops the smokestack in December, a red heart goes up for Valentine’s Day and the heart gets swapped for a shamrock before St. Patrick’s Day. An Easter egg and bunny are displayed in April and an American flag flies through most of the summer. A ghost and bat in October are followed by a turkey and pumpkin in November. The Lions also put up a white cane for the club’s White Cane Drive to raise money for sight and hearing programs, a pink ribbon to promote Relay for Life, and a soapbox derby car to advertise the Stanwood-Camano Island Soap Box Derby in June. The past two years, they’ve put up a giant “12” to celebrate the Seahawks’ back-to-back Super Bowl trips.

The decorations have become an important part of Stanwood’s traditions, City Administrator Deborah Knight said

“It wouldn’t be the same without it,” she said. “It brings so much joy to people who live in Stanwood and the visitors.”

Along with the 2-acre Hamilton Mill property and smokestack off Highway 532, the city bought the 15-acre Ovenell property at 10520 Saratoga Drive. All total, the properties cost $2 million: $1.5 million for the Ovenell acreage and $500,000 for the Hamilton land. The city paid $300,000 of that total, Hamilton Family Properties donated $236,000 worth of their land and the remaining balance — just under $1.5 million — came from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Program.

At this point, there are no specific designs for either the Hamilton or Ovenell properties, Knight said. City officials are meeting with local businesses, volunteers, tribes and neighbors to start sketching out some ideas. A wetland study and structural evaluation of the Ovenell property should be done by mid-September, and formal planning for that site is expected to be done in 2017.

Because the properties were bought with Conservation Futures dollars, they have to be passive parks, meaning they’re open to the public but cannot be built out with sport courts, ball fields or other large, man-made features. People will have a chance to weigh in as planning moves forward, Knight said.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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