The fog cleared just on time to allow several landings and takeoffs for Airport Appreciation Day Saturday at the Ocean Shores Municipal Airport.
What remains unclear is the future of the airport after the Federal Aviation Administration recently declassified the city-run facility because it has fewer than 10 planes based on site.
On Saturday, members of the volunteer citizens committee that oversees the airport and about 25 people listened to longtime resident Lee Funderberger give a history of the airport, with this cautionary conclusion:
“I really hope this airport continues to be an attraction to this city,” Funderberger said. “A city without an airport, to me, is a city that is not alive.”
Funderberger told how in the 1960s he first flew from Oregon to Ocean Shores when the airport used to be located on what is now the 14th fairway to the golf course, behind Shores Bowl and the Bank of the Pacific. Prior to that, the family would fly to Copalis Beach and land on the beach. A few planes still exist that land there to this day.
“We would fly to Copalis Beach, where there is a natural beach runway there, dig clams and then fly back and land at Ocean Shores and walk over to the Ocean Shores Inn for lunch or dinner,” he recalled. “We found out about Ocean Shores that way, and that was the late 1960s or early ’70s.”
While the airport being in downtown Ocean Shores was convenient, it also proved to be hazardous. The move of the airport to the current site on the harbor side of the peninsula was caused in large part by the inevitable accident: a plane clipped some of the power lines behind what is now the pharmacy.
“Luckily, the plane landed safely but it did take the power lines down and thereafter they were buried,” Funderberger said. “We learned something, and that brought up the idea of moving the airport and building a bigger airport, because there was no room for expansion there.”
In late 1980, the search began for funding and design, along with wetlands and shorelines reviews, since the new proposed site off Duck Lake Drive needed to be filled in several areas.
In July 1984, the bids were opened and Quigg Brothers from Aberdeen were the low bidders on the project. Construction took about two years.
“What a change that was, out here in the open and not in downtown,” Funderberger said.
The airport back then was named for Gale Stokes, a former chief of police, who also was an avid pilot.
“According to many reports, he was the very first person to do a touch-and-go before the paving was completed,” Funderberger said of the chief.
Transportation, however, always has been an issue for the airport. Funderberger’s father, Glen, and other pilots who used the airport once created a pilot’s lounge and started a volunteer taxi from the airport using a former city patrol car that had been surplussed. No such facility or service now exists.
“That’s our biggest challenge to this day, getting to and from town,” said Bill Capron, who chairs the city’s airport committee.
Funderberger noted the airport became a political issue within city government after it moved to the new location away from downtown and the pilot’s lounge was deemed to be a non-conforming structure as a trailer in 1992.
“Pilots to this day still have to arrange transportation to and from here,” Funderberger said.
Until its recent move, when it failed to classify the Ocean Shores Airport, the FAA had provided a needed boost in funding some of the maintenance and upkeep, along with improvements at the airport. That money now appears to be in jeopardy.
In recent years, the runway has been extended, there are new lights, and the taxiways are no longer grass. Most of the improvements have been paid for with grants and matching funds from the FAA and the city. But the federal money will no longer be coming in if the airport cannot regain its classification as a general aviation runway. Currently, there are only three airplanes based at the airport, the City Council was told in a report last month.
“The FAA has changed the ruling on things. If you don’t have ten airplanes at home on the field, they are not interested in funding too much any more,” Funderberger explained.
“So what does the future hold here? Where will the general aviation go in the next couple of decades? We’re not sure. But I can tell you this, many good people have given their time and their lives, and some of their personal funds as in hangars being built, to make this field what it is today.”