Sultan Mayor John Seehuus started off the annual State of the City address by calling 2017 a “year of great change.”

That afternoon Henry Sladek was in attendance to represent Skykomish. Sladek owns the historic Cascadia Inn. City administrator Ken Walker talked about strides made in Sultan last year and what residents can look forward to in 2018.

“There is a lot going on in the city,” he said.

Walker started out by going over finances. The City of Sultan paid off about $700,000 in debt in 2017 as part of an ongoing approach. The Sultan City Council had put policy in place that prioritized limiting the deficit, and significant reductions have been made in the past 10 years, he said.

Last year was one of the most productive that the city has seen in terms of securing grant money, Walker said. Nearly $1 million was acquired alone in 2017, accounting for a chunk of the $13 million that was brought in throughout the past decade. Even more notable is the fact that Sultan may take close to $3.5 million in 2018, he said.

Walker said those funds will go toward different improvement projects. Some money is still up in the air though. He said the Puget Sound Regional Council has set aside $2.5 million for construction of a pedestrian and bicycle bridge planned to cross the Sultan River and parallel U.S. Highway 2. If the city’s application is approved, work will begin in August and take about a year to complete.

The current walkway is not ADA compliant and very narrow, Walker said. It’s a very important project for the city. He wants to encourage the public to send in letters, so the regional council will award Sultan the grant.

More major connections are planned for this year.

Construction of Susie’s Trail, which will link Osprey and Sultan River parks, is scheduled to begin. Reconstruction of First and Eighth streets north of High Street is planned, and the third phase of the city’s off-leash dog park will start.

Walker said much of the work in Sultan is accomplished with help from volunteers year after year. He estimates about 12,400 hours of labor or roughly $371,600 was saved last year because of their efforts. That includes clean ups, improving public safety and putting together community events.

Steady growth in certain sectors continued in 2017.

Walker said an emphasis on engagement was made last year. Sultan now has a stronger social media presence, and the website has been updated by grants and volunteer coordinator Chris Hendrickson.

The former Monitor reporter has taken over for longtime city employee Donna Murphy, who retired in December.

Walker said about 422 business permits were issued last year.

“We have a strong business community,” he said. “People don’t think of business as being a strong point in Sultan, but we actually do pretty well.”

More than a dozen single-home permits were approved last year and about 18 in 2016. That’s compared to the roughly three that were handed out in the prior five years combined, he said.

Even more growth is expected this year than in years past. About 118 and 83 units are anticipated in 2018 and 2019, respectively, Walker said. The construction will occur in areas throughout the city.

State of Skykomish

Sladek said his town is also anticipating some big moves this year. The cluster of roughly 130 houses is situated about 25 miles east of Sultan. It’s historically functioned more as a stop along the way. He said the community is now trying to move in the direction of becoming a destination.

Decades ago the economy was supported by the railroad, before the highway brought in more travelers, Sladek said. Prior to that it was reliant on mining and the harvesting of natural resources like timber, he said.

Sladek said the town is still in the midst of a transition from that early system. Interest is shifting over to a focus on outdoor recreation. The town is nearly surrounded by preserved wilderness, he said.

Most recently residents have been recovering from the contamination leftover from when railroad operations were a major driver in the area, Sladek said. The soil of a third or quarter of the nearly quarter-mile town had to be cleaned up, he said.

Sladek said it took about 10 years to complete, with work finishing up around 2014. The process was disruptive and the town got torn up as efforts addressed one block at a time during the summer months. Buildings had to be picked up and the ground beneath them replaced, he said. 

“Now we are coming out of that trying to reestablish ourselves with some of the businesses, not that there were that many ever in our little town, but the ones that were, most of them closed through that clean-up period,” he said. “We are still trying to get some of those businesses to come back.”

Sladek said about four to five new homes have been going up in Skykomish in recent years; they tend to be redevelopments. There is some space for new projects, which do look like they are coming down the pipeline. Not to the scale as some areas like Sultan though, he said.

About a third of the people living in town are there part time, Sladek said. Their homes are secondary residences. The annual budget is about $400,000 a year, and included in that is city water and sewer services, he said.

Restoration of the historic Skykomish Hotel continues, and it is anticipated that a motel previously operating on a lot that sits next to the river will eventually be reconstructed, Sladek said. Last year a mini pump track for BMX bikes was finished, and in the upcoming years work is anticipated to continue on the trail to Maloney Peak, Sladek said.

The town is partnering with Seattle-based nonprofit Forterra to secure the 320-acre Maloney Creek property. The Washington Trails Association and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance are targeting new hiking and mountain biking trails that leave from a trailhead that starts in town.

Forterra’s plan is to purchase the land that includes “old growth, critical habitat for endangered species, and protects the watershed above the town of Skykomish and the creek that flows through the town and into the Skykomish River,” according to the organization.