A tale of two airparks

Dave Sclair was co-publisher from 1970-2000. He also is co-founder of Living With Your Plane and a renowned expert on airpark living.

I’m an optimist by nature. It’s a good thing I am, considering having spent the last 40 years not only in the aviation business but the aviation publishing business. During this major slice of my life, I can attest to the ups and downs of this business (no pun intended) as I’ve watched the number of pages we’ve produced expand and retreat, a nearly perfect mirror of the industry itself.

However, through all those years I’ve always felt the next month or next period or next year was going to bring improvements and, without fail, over the decades things have always gotten better. Granted, it has sometimes taken longer than I liked to see the turnaround, but it has consistently improved, given the time.

What brought this all to mind? An e-mail from a fellow in Alaska and a phone call from another person located close by.

The Alaskan, Maurice Wilson of Wolf Lake, wrote the following: “Last century, I was developing Wolf Lake Airport up in Alaska and used your magazine for ads and updates. I am pleased to report that after only 30 years the airport is basically finished. It is probably the finest residential airpark in the western U.S.A.

“With no state or federal funding, we managed to build the facility to FAA basic utility airport standards. As an example, the main paved runway is 500 feet between building lines and access is via taxiways only. Over 100 individual hangars, many built into homes on acre size lots, make it user friendly. I still credit General Aviation News for helping make this project what it is.”

Talk about optimism — how many people do you know who would stick to a dream for more than 25 years?

The phone call was from Jerry Nybo, a contractor who lives about 35 miles from me. He wanted to talk about advertising property he had for sale on a smaller, rural airport. He, too, had been working on his project for a while, but only about four years. He had subdivided land on the Eatonville, Wash., airport and wanted to build hangars on part and residential airpark lots on another section.

Interestingly, Jerry’s not a pilot. “My friend and I had figured when this project got moving we’d buy a plane together and learn to fly,” he told me the other morning as we toured the property.

Unfortunately, the Eatonville project is moving slowly, not a big surprise, considering the state of the economy in general and that of the general aviation industry in particular. He’s got roads and sidewalks built, all the utilities are in place, and in January he was scheduled to get a building permit for his first two hangars. One of them is sold and the other will be built on speculation, he explained. The home lots haven’t had much interest yet.

As I visited with Jerry I kept thinking about the perseverance of Wilson in Alaska. His determination faced a bunch of obstacles over the years. You can read his entire story, and that of those who also spent their time and money on Wolf Lake, by going to WolfLakeAirport.biz. Be sure to click on the history link and look at the photos. This has been an amazing project and I think a lot of it has to do with the optimism of Maurice and others with whom he associated himself.

The Eatonville airport — officially Swanson Field — has lots of potential, just as Wolf Lake did. The paved runway is in and there are some homes and hangars on the field. The field is close to town and is well accepted by the community. Jerry’s plan for Aviator Heights includes the homesites overlooking the runway and the hangars at runway level. It’s out of the metro traffic areas (both aviation and auto), but not so far out that it’s not convenient. (Jerry can be reached at 253-435-1880.)

Wolf Lake is about 50 miles north of Anchorage; Eatonville is about 50 miles south of the Seattle metro area and less than 35 miles to Tacoma and Olympia. The Alaska project kept going because the optimists — I guess you can also spell that dreamers — kept at it. The Washington State project has already had its ups and downs — one partner has had to file for bankruptcy and the bank has agreed to a major cut in interest on the loan to make things more workable.

Using the Wolf Lake effort as an example, I’m hoping that Jerry has the optimism, dream and perseverance to make his effort come to reality. I know things looked mighty bleak for me in the 1970s when I purchased what is today’s General Aviation News and the industry plummeted from selling thousands of planes a year to a hundred or two. But, the visionaries and the optimists kept at it … sometimes questioning their own minds, but going on anyway.

Wolf Lake is a good example of how aviation has lifted itself by the bootstraps. I think Eatonville’s Swanson Field with its Aviator Heights subdivision can do the same.

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