When you learn about Concrete, a historical town located in the Baker River Basin, a scenic watershed of the North Cascades, you’ll also begin to learn about the critical role our state’s watersheds play in providing electricity to homes and businesses. Home to Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) Baker River Hydroelectric Project, which covers almost 300 square miles of eastern Skagit County, citizens of Concrete are no strangers to the 285 feet tall concrete Lower Baker Dam that sits above their city. PSE will soon help make this hydroelectric centerpiece of the basin more appealing than ever for both visitors and residents.
PSE’s Baker River Hydroelectric Project includes a variety of features to appreciate, including the Upper Baker Dam and Baker Lake, the Lower Baker Dam and Lake Shannon, trails and campgrounds, boat launches and PSE’s extensive fish-restoration efforts. In Concrete, the Baker River Project & Visitor Center orients you to the hydroelectric operations with replicas of the dams and regional maps.
Soon there will be even more to see and do.
The Club House Evolves
Starting this month, a team from PSE will begin renovating the Baker Club House—a unique structure on East Main Street in Concrete—with the goal of launching it as the new PSE Baker River Visitor and Interpretation Center this fall. The group will preserve the Neo-Classical Revival features of the 1914 building, including the roof parapet, cornice detail, wood-sash windows and Herringbone double-leaf wood doors.
The Club House is a remnant of the activities of the Washington Portland Cement Company (WPCC) in the early 1900’s. In those days, the neighboring communities of Baker and Cement boasted two cement companies: the WPCC and the Superior Portland Cement Company. According to the Concrete Heritage Museum Association, after landing the contract to supply concrete for the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Ballard Locks project in Seattle in 1912, the Superior Portland Cement Company dominated the scene. A few years later, Superior purchased the assets of the WPCC, the merged town was renamed “Concrete,” and area development was in full swing.
While the WPCC was in operation, offices and drafting rooms occupied the main floor of the Club House. The basement housed a chemical laboratory, lab screening room, testing room, office, and a garage. After Superior bought out its rival, activities moved offsite and the building was left vacant. PSE (at that time called Puget Sound Power & Light) purchased the property in 1924 and local staff used the building as a recreational gathering place, hence the nickname “Club House.”
The Future of the Club House
The PSE project team plans to address the entire Club House property during the renovation. Accessible walkways and ramps will enable everyone to be able to visit and explore the site’s history and educational resources.
Inside the Club House, exhibits, videos and photos will tell the story of the people and natural resources at the Baker River project. PSE collaborated with Tribal partners who have lived in the Baker River Valley for over 10,000 years, telling a story of culture, struggle and perseverance. Years of research and documentation of the WPCC plant creates a rich story of the people who worked there. A large panel in the Great Room will detail the development of hydroelectric power on the Baker River, highlighting how the dams produce electricity and the transmission systems that bring power to homes across Washington. Visitors will be able to orient themselves at the site and learn about the diverse resources that it contains before heading out to enjoy the recreation the Baker River Project has to offer.
“PSE’s Baker River Club House Visitors Center extends beyond that of information center: it is a historical site, providing a gateway to access the unique recreational opportunities at the Baker River Hydroelectric Project,” explains Elizabeth Dubreuil PSE cultural resource consultant. “It is the result of years of collaboration and consultation with cultural resource groups.”
Visitors to the site will not only be able to walk around the site to view remnant structures of the WPCC plant, but they will also have access to the preserved 1925 garage, where they can view the cement tanks that stored the final Portland cement product. New restrooms will be located onsite and will be able to accommodate everyone.
The New Day Use Park at Lake Shannon
Described in an adventure blog as a “recreational paradise,” Lake Shannon will soon offer more amenities for enjoying the clear water and sweeping views of Mt. Baker. A PSE project to develop a day use park at the Lake Shannon boat ramp also kicks off this month.
“After years of collaboration on a park design with the many recreation stakeholders we work with at the Baker River project, it’s great to see construction of this project finally begin,” says Tony Fuchs PSE consulting resource scientist. “By this fall we will have a new, beautiful Day Use Park on Lake Shannon, the first park on the largest fresh water lake in Skagit County.” Located on the east side of Lake Shannon, the existing boat ramp is quite large and regularly used by fishing enthusiasts, recreational boaters and people looking to beat the heat of summer. The new park will provide a new picnic shelter, restrooms and additional parking areas for vehicles and boats. Development should be complete by late summer or early fall of 2021.
Visiting the Baker River Basin
Nestled in a glacier-formed basin adjacent to the North Cascades National Park, the Baker River Basin is well worth the visit. The heavily forested area, with its jagged peaks and lush valleys, is less trafficked than many recreational areas. PSE’s Lake Shannon and Baker Lake, actually reservoirs formed by the two dams and fed by Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker, provide opportunities to get out on the water as well as camping sites and hiking trails.
To get to Baker Lake, take Baker Lake Road north off Highway 20, between the towns of Hamilton and Concrete. To find Lake Shannon, head into Concrete on Dillard Avenue, cross the historical Henry Thompson Bridge over the Baker River, and follow Baker River Road north along the lake.
Whatever you do, don’t bypass Concrete! “It’s one of a kind,” Cheri Cook-Blogett, a member of the Historical Society asserts. Like the Baker Club House, buildings that remain in the heart of town were constructed of concrete after devastating fires of 1915 and 1918. This gives Concrete a look that’s quite different than most western towns. If that’s not enough reason to visit, Cherie and her colleagues can tell you about the quirky character nicknamed “Peg-Leg” who discovered the deposits of clay and limestone integral to the making of concrete, and they’ll explain why a famous mural dubs the town the “Center of the Known Universe.”
Who could resist? Download the Historical Society’s Historic Walking Tour information, stroll past the Baker Club house and immerse yourself in Concrete, then drive to Lake Shannon for a picnic. For information from PSE, visit the Baker River Basin web page.