By Pat Jenkins
A new chapter in Eatonville's aviation history is unfolding with the purchase of Swanson Field by a private business group from Ashford that promises to keep it open to the flying public.
Landings at Mt. Rainier announced this month its purchase of the Swanson runway from Sharon Burlingame, the widow of H.W. (Hal) Burlingame, a former airline captain who was a manager of the airfield.
The two parcels of land stretching 2,600 feet were acquired "with the express intent of preserving it as an airport for the town of Eatonville, its residents, aviation dependent-businesses, and the next generation of Eatonville aviators," said representatives of the new owner.
They said Sharon Burlingame "felt this was the surest way of preserving her and her husband’s vision of the airport’s future." She will remain a trustee of the facility.
Landings at Mt. Rainier, a limited liability corporation (LLC), also owns four acres next to the landing strip, including a hangar built in 1976 and four smaller hangars that were built before Swanson was annexed into Eatonville. The airfield, which opened in the early 1950s, originally was outside the town limits.
Byron Adams, an officer of Landings at Mt. Rainier, said the company is "exploring a number of scenarios" for development of the airfield but has "nothing to share at this time." Any development plans "will include Swanson Field as a fully accessible, public-use airport."
Adams, who discussed Landings' purchase of Swanson Field at a Town Council meeting Sept. 11, said his group will continue a public-private partnership to maintain the airfield as an “essential” contributor to the local economy.
In a formal statement, Landings' officers said it "recognizes its responsibility as a steward of the airport, and will work diligently to maintain Swanson Field as a visitor destination, transportation hub, incubator for emerging aviation technology, and an economically prosperous transportation facility for generations of pilots in the 21st century and beyond."
Adams invited the public to e-mail Landings at firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas on how the airfield might "contribute more to our Eatonville community."
According to a report commissioned by the town in 2009, Swanson Field created $276,535 in economic activity through visitors and local business.
Business and development that is allowed by zoning regulations within the airfield and nearby land includes aircraft sales, repairs and rentals, professional offices, and single-family homes.
In February this year, the Town Council approved plans for a 21 single-family residences next to Swanson Field. The developer of the project, known as Aviator Heights, is Pacific Northwest Development and Land Co.
In recent years, as many as 20 single-engine airplanes have been based at the airfield. Part of its approximately 3,000-foot runway also is used occasionally by helicopters picking up patients in medical emergencies and as a touch-and-go landing site by military helicopters.
The airfield's namesake is John Swanson, a former Town Council member who in 1952 headed a group of fellow loggers and aviation enthusiasts that built the airstrip on land owned by Swanson. They also bought an easement for the project to adjoining land that was owned by Weyerhaeuser.
The airstrip was officially dedicated in 1953. In the 1990s, it received new paving and other upgrades through state funding.
Adams said Landings at Mt. Rainier is interested in preserving the airfield's history.
"We would like for folks in the community to share with us pictures and stories about the airport, individual stories from those who helped construct and volunteers who maintain it, and memorable occasions or events," he said.
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