TACOMA – For 47 years, the Camp 6 Logging Museum at Point Defiance Park has kept a window open on Western Washington’s steam-logging history.
But that window soon might close.
The camp and its railroad – shut down for the winter in December as usual – might not reopen in April unless its owner can find some entity with the money to maintain and operate them.
“We may have to close it,” said Tom Murray, a managing director for the Northwest Forest Industries Museum, which established the logging camp in 1964.
Options are few. Metro Parks Tacoma could take over the camp, if it had the money, or a white knight with money and a love of old trains and logging might be found.
Neither seems probable.
The camp – several bunkhouses, a short-haul train and pieces of historic logging equipment – sits on 14 acres leased from Metro Parks Tacoma.
For many years, the camp drew enough visitors to cover operation costs, insurance and even some maintenance on the equipment. Its Santa Train in December has been a hit.
But more recently the camp has taken a financial hit as grants dried up, timber companies cut their support, competition from other Tacoma museums grew, and park attendance fell.
In the camp’s best year since 1980, it made $27,000. Last year, income from train rides and the camp’s small souvenir store fell to $11,000, down 40 percent from the year before. Ridership fell to 3,600 last year from 5,982 in 2009.
Reopening the camp in April would cost $4,000 for insurance alone.
“In a nutshell, we didn’t make enough money to stay in business,” said Rick Bacon, who has been associated with the operation and managed it as a volunteer for 22 years. “There is nothing in the bank and no money coming.”
If the camp doesn’t reopen, it’ll be hard to take, Bacon admitted. He also plays Santa Claus on the Santa Train each December. With his white beard, suspenders, jeans, boots and engineer’s hat, he was well-known to visitors.
“I tried to do the best I could with the resources available,” said Bacon, 60. “I love this place. I love it so much I bought a house a block away.”
Late last year, the board of the Western Forest Industries Museum voted to end its management contract with the Tacoma chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
The museum also operates the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad out of Mineral. The society operated Camp 6 for more than 20 years, and its members have been involved with it since it was built.
Bacon will oversee the camp while the museum board decides the camp’s future, Murray said. It wants to preserve the camp’s tracks, trains and exhibits, but maintaining them would be expensive and needs to be ongoing, he said.
The camp’s one-car train now is pulled by a gasoline-and-propane-powered engine that doesn’t provide the same sound and atmosphere of a steam engine, he said.
It takes visitors past replicas of logging sites where equipment is rusting away. Also needing repairs are the wooden bunkhouses and the deteriorating rail cars on which they sit.
“Camp 6 has had its heyday,” Bacon said.
Though Camp 6 is closed and no train is running now, the site is open during park hours to visitors. They can see the camp’s bunkhouses and some of the equipment, including an old steam donkey engine that once dragged logs from the woods.
The Tacoma chapter is hosting the 2011 national convention of the National Railway Historical Society in late June. A tour of Camp 6 was to be on the agenda. The tour, however, has been canceled.