TOPPENISH - Travelers coming down Satus Pass on Hwy. 97 into Toppenish usually see the 144-foot water tower with the city's name printed in bold letters on it. In the very near future, they will still see the tower but flying next to the tower high above will be the American Flag.
What started as an idea by Blaine Thorington and Dan Eshleman, two Toppenish men, became reality yesterday as the Toppenish Flag Committee broke ground on a site in Pioneer Park where a 160-foot flag pole will be erected.
Eshleman said the pole will be the tallest in Washington State. "We've done some research and we haven't been able to find another one that's taller," he said. "There are some flag poles on buildings that are higher but none that are taller."
Flying from the giant flag pole will be a 30 x 60 foot U. S. flag and on special occasions, such as the Fourth of July and Veteran's Day, an even bigger 40 x 80 flag will be flown.
Eshleman said the city has an ordinance limiting business signs on private property to only 40 feet. "A flag can be flown as high as we want, though," he explained.
He said the water tower did a good job of letting people from the highway know Toppenish was there but he thought a huge U. S. flag would draw even more people from the highway.
"We wanted one more reason to bring people to Toppenish and have them stay a little longer," Thorington said.
The Toppenish Flag Committee is hoping the giant flag will entice travelers from Hwy. 97 and Interstate 82 to visit the city, enjoy the restaurants in Toppenish, the famous murals or the museums and shops.
Eshleman said after everything is completed, the cost of the project will be around $85,000. To pay for the project, the committee received a $25,000 grant from the city. To pay for the landscaping of the project, the Toppenish Garden Club applied for and received a grant from the city for $25,000. The city used money from the Federal Communtiy Development Block Grants matching program. The rest of the money was raised by selling sponsor and memorial plaques, which will be engraved with the buyer's name or name of a love one. These plaques will be positioned around the base of the flag in the shape of a wagon wheel.
The wagon wheel design was created by students in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington.
Eshleman doesn't think the giant flag pole will benefit other cities in the Yakima Valley much but hopes it might inspire cities in the valley to start their own projects in their communities.
"This flag will be a huge tourist draw," he added.
The pole is being constructed by Rob Saxey Construction from Salt Lake City, Utah. The owner, Rob Saxey, said the pole will come in five or seven sections. They will need to be put together, welded and then painted before being raised. The pole itself will weigh just a bit over nine tons at 18,500 pounds.
Saxey expects the pole to be completed by Monday afternoon, May 15, or Tuesday morning, May 16.
A formal dedication is planned for the 2006 Fourth of July holiday.