History finds its horsepower

Percheron gelding horses Tom and Jerry with their driver Jerry Harpole prepare to move a log out of the woods. The logs will replace rotted ones at Yeomalt Cabin as it undergoes restoration. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Percheron gelding horses Tom and Jerry with their driver Jerry Harpole prepare to move a log out of the woods. The logs will replace rotted ones at Yeomalt Cabin as it undergoes restoration.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Park officials commit $50K to restore the historic Camp Yeomalt cabin.

Jerry Elfendahl’s voice shook as he made a sales pitch to save a weather-worn cabin at Yeomalt Point.

“We know the parks board supports this – but how much do they support it?” the island historian asked parks board commissioners Thursday night. “They’re talking the talk. But are they willing to walk the walk?”

His answer came in the form of a unanimous vote to commit up to $50,000 to help renovate Camp Yeomalt’s cabin, a Depression-era structure recently named to the National Register of Historic Places.

“This money’s absolutely essential,” Elfendahl said after the board’s vote. “They had to do it. They’re trying to walk the walk.”

Built in 1935, the cabin was a federal Works Progress Administration project employing jobless young men. It has served as a Boy Scouts meeting hall and campsite for most of its years.

Elfendahl and other local historical preservationists sprang into action to save the cabin after the park district announced it would dismantle the cabin last year.

As “Team Yeomalt,” the group rounded up numerous structural engineers and woodworkers to assess the cabin’s chances of survival. Their verdict: the cabin could and should be saved, but time was of the essence.

With a failing roof and rotting logs, the 71-year-old cabin was quickly becoming a safety hazard in a park frequented by children.

Team Yeomalt has begun felling trees for new logs to replace the cabin’s crumbling lower portions.

On Wednesday, a team of draft horses from Port Townsend and numerous volunteers hauled 17 trees out of a forest at Island Center for use at the cabin. The trees were felled several weeks ago by island woodsman Dave Ullin, using traditional hand tools.

“We had a great day Wednesday,” Elfendahl said. “It was a biggie.”

An even bigger task now looms as Team Yeomalt launches a fund-raising campaign to collect tens of thousands of dollars from grants and local donors in just over three months.

“We’re declaring April ‘Camp Yeomalt Month,’” Elfendahl said. “We’re going to hit the island like it’s never been hit before.”

Besides establishing the Yeomalt Cabin Fund, which has received a trickle of contributions, the cabin’s supporters plan to dot store counters across the island with donation jars.

Team Yeomalt aims to raise over $60,000 by May through the jars, donations to the fund and various grants. They will then apply this amount to a state capital projects grant, which will provide a one-third match. With a combination of the state grant, park district funds and private donations, Team Yeomalt hopes to pull together the estimated $150,000 needed to restore the cabin and its grounds. The group hopes to begin major construction in October, with completion set for February 2007.

Parks maintenance supervisor Roger Belieu was designated as the project’s lead and will coordinate future volunteer efforts.

Board members stressed that the total cost of the cabin’s restoration should be raised before construction begins.

“We’d like this to go all the way to the conclusion without breaks,” said commisioner Tom Swolgaard.

The park district’s estimated $50,000 contribution will likely come from reserve or contingency funds – so long as no substantial disasters hit park properties.

“We have emergency funds, but if a roof blows off or a pump blows,” the district may redirect some of the funds, said commissioner Kirk Robinson.

Commissioners want to see cabin supporters raise two-thirds of the project’s cost before chipping in their portion.

Robinson said similar fund-raising efforts to renovate the World War II-era transmitter building in Battle Point Park has come in “fits and starts,” with some financial goals yet unmet.

Park district director Terry Lande also said the effort to restore the transmitter building provides a forecast for possible challenges ahead for Yeomalt.

“One thing with the transmitter building is that you start finding (new) things” that have swelled the project’s estimated budget.

That’s why Lande and commissioners supported a cap on their one-third contribution in case Yeomalt cabin’s costs rise beyond $150,000.

Elfendahl is enthusiastically optimistic his group will continue to build momentum to save the cabin.

“This has been the most exciting, fascinating, most interesting 10 months of my life,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”

Contributions to the Yeomalt Cabin Fund may be sent to the Bainbridge Island Park Foundation, P.O. Box 10010, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-0010.

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