Journey to the center of the state

CASHMERE -- Ever wonder where the center of the state is? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, dead center for Washington is in Chelan County, 10 miles west by southwest of Wenatchee. It's been a source of pride for Cashmere, the closest town to where a brass marker was placed 21 years ago.

But there's room for debate about where the center of the state really is. Old timers put the state center closer to Rock Island and say there's a marker on a rock in the middle of the Columbia River. And the era of satellites and handheld global positioning system gear has led to other possibilities.

Members of the Chelan County Centennial Committee partnered with members of Cashmere's Centennial Committee in 1989 to place a brass survey marker on a spot they thought was pretty darn close to where the center would be. The marker has been sort of a Holy Grail for hikers and mountain bikers traveling on the popular Devils Gulch Trail, where it was placed about 10 miles south of Cashmere. Those who come across the small brass stake by chance would have to read the fine print inscribed on it to realize its significance.

"The adventure is in finding it. Once you know where it's at, you can see it every time you pass," said Jim Fletcher, a Cashmere city councilman and avid hiker and mountain bike rider. The marker is on a rock face about four miles up from the Devils Gulch trailhead.

Other sites have been described with GPS coordinates. Netstate.com lists GPS locations for the center of each state. Click on the words "geographic center" on the Washington site and you'll be taken to a MapQuest map that puts the spot just off Upper Hedges Road on Stemilt Hill. A Google Earth shot of the coordinates puts the spot in a swimming pool next to a house surrounded by cherry orchards.

Netstate.com doesn't say how it came up with the GPS coordinates. A call to the company's New Hampshire phone number wasn't returned.

Another site is one computed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources Public Land Survey Office. It's the most accurate location, said Doug Popwell, DNR Land technician. Still, it depends on how the survey is done. The DNR survey takes into account the San Juan Islands in determing the center, whereas the USGS site doesn't. The DNR puts the state center about halfway between Cashmere and Blewett Pass, a few miles west of where the marker was placed.

The USGS purposefully is vague on the matter. In its online booklet on U.S. geography, it approximated the center of the state simply as Chelan County, 10 miles west southwest of Wenatchee.

Bob Kimmel, spokesman for the USGS central office in Reston, Va., said the information has not been updated since the booklet came out in 1995.

"It's a little bit of a laugh. There's more than one way to locate the center of the state," said David Warby, a former Cashmere attorney and chairman of the Cashmere Centennial Committee in 1989. It was Warby, his friend Randy King, a Cashmere High School teacher at the time, and Les Tiedeman, president of the Chelan County Centennial Committee in 1989, who were most responsible for placing the stake.

"We just said this is the center of the state as near as anyone can tell," said Warby, contacted by phone in Arlington, where he now teaches math at the local high school. He said he consulted with the USGS in determining the site.

"They told me it was 10 miles west southwest of Wenatchee, but they wouldn't tell me from where in Wenatchee," he said. The committees started looking at maps and taking hikes to come up with an accesible location that fit the vaguely described spot. They decided on a rock face about four miles up the Devils Gulch Trail that winds between Mission Creek Road south of Cashmere and Mission Ridge. A brass survey marker was inscribed with the words "Geographic Center of Washington" in preparation for a placement event Oct. 9, 1989.

Warby and King actually tried to cart the heavy drill and generator to the spot with a wheelbarrow the evening before the event. The tire on the wheelbarrow went flat and they had to ditch the equipment in some bushes until the next day, Warby said. A comical moment came when King dropped the generator right on top of a ground-level hornets nest.

"He came out yelling 'Bees! Bees!' We still laugh at that whenever we get together," Warby said. A horseman later pulled the equipment to the site. Warby brought a can of Raid to get rid of the hornets.

Les Tiedeman, who actually set the marker in the stone, said the center of the state -- or at least the marker -- likely will stay right where he put it.

"We had a sheriff's posse tow the generator and rock drill up there and then we put it in with cement," said Tiedeman, now 87. "That marker will never come out."