At the western edge of Daubenspeck Park in Bingen, a small section of the old Broughton Lumber Co. lumber flume sits all by itself, propped up on a steel frame. Most people driving past on nearby State Route 14 probably have no idea what it is, much less recognize its historic significance to the area.
The display is a portion of what was once a nine mile long flume that was used to float timber cants from Willard down to a Broughton planing mill at Hood, just west of Underwood. The flume was constructed primarily of Douglas fir and cedar, and was filled with water taken from the Little White Salmon River. The river water, which flowed at about nine miles per hour, moved as much as 150,000 board feet of lumber per day to the Hood mill during its peak years.
The lumber flume was in use from 1923 until 1986, when operations ended and the Broughton mills closed.
In 1988, the lumber company donated the section of the flume to the city of Bingen for display in Daubenspeck Park.
Last week, however, the Bingen City Council decided to move the historical artifact to what the council considered a more suitable location.
In a 4-1 vote, council members opted to contact the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center in Stevenson to see if the museum would like to put the flume section on display there.
"It's a safety and vandalism issue," explained Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel. "If the Interpretive Center wants to take it and display it appropriately, that would be a more appropriate place for it."
Prigel explained that the piece of flume is an "attractive nuisance."
"We haven't had anyone hurt on it, but it does get graffiti all the time," Prigel said, adding that there are no interpretive signs with the flume to explain what it is or what its purpose was.
"There is no display with it, it's kind of just sitting there," he said. "A couple years ago, the Interpretive Center said they were interested in taking it. We need to call them to see if they would take it. It was a Skamania County landmark. If they can take it and display it, that would be a good thing."
Council member Laura Mann cast the lone vote in favor of keeping the flume section in Bingen.
"I felt like people come into town and see that and think about what it was," Mann explained. "The people who work at the mill have an appreciation of what it is, and I just wasn't convinced I needed to see it go."
Mann agreed that the piece does need some repair.
"Wherever it's going, it's going to get spruced up. I don't know why we can't spruce it up," she said.
Prigel pointed out that if the Interpretive Center no longer wants the flume, the issue would be reconsidered by members of the Bingen City Council.
"I don't think anybody wants to see it destroyed," Prigel said.
Prigel added that he wanted a provision in any agreement whereby if Broughton representatives want the flume section back as part of the proposed "mini-resort" development near the old Broughton Lumber Co. mill west of Underwood, the Interpretive Center would return it.
Cam Thomas, whose grandfather, Harold J. Broughton, founded the Broughton Lumber Co., said if the city did not want the flume section in the park, the Broughton Lumber Co.'s board of directors would consider retrieving it.
"We have a board meeting in about two weeks," said Thomas, who lives in Underwood. "The board will probably say, we, the Broughton Lumber Co., would like the opportunity to take the flume back to the lower mill site [at Hood], and figure a way to keep it on public display."
Prigel pointed out that the section preserved in Bingen's park is unusual in that it is made of steel instead of wood, like almost all of the rest of the flume. Because it was a section that crossed a road, it was built to stronger specifications for safety reasons.
"It's ironic that the flume was almost entirely wood, and we got a steel section," Prigel commented.
Portions of the old flume are still visible in Skamania County. The hills above Drano Lake represent one of the best places to see the remnants.