In 1981, upon receiving funding for the National Park Service’s new Hotshot Crews, Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park was assigned as the host unit for Arrowhead, but it had not yet been determined where the crew would live and work. Park AFMO Ed Nelson and Maintenance Lead Ralph Wass provided a tour of the Park to Crew Superintendent Jim Cook, including visits to both Ash Mountain and Swale. While Swale was an ideal location to house the crew, at the time powered only by a single diesel generator, it was not yet viable to house a 20 person handcrew here before the Fire Season would take off. As the 1981 Fire Season began, Arrowhead began their park residency in the Ash Mountain Recreation Hall. As the season progressed, the crew was eventually moved into Swale.
“Ralph Wass and Ed Nelson took me to Swale the last week of May in 1981 and showed it to me as the site they recommended for the crew's new station. There was the two old campground latrines and a kitchen on concrete piers (no mess hall attached) and a bunch of abandoned campsites with old picnic tables and metal fire rings...that was Swale Campground and then summer YCC camp, before it became our Swale Work Center in 1981.
Ralph never hesitated to help us make our station a better place...one of the first things we had to do was build cabins for crew quarters (the same ones are still used today), the Park Superintendent at the time would not let us cover the cabins with real roofs because that would make them "permanent structures." In the early Spring of 1982 Ralph procured and helped smuggle metal roofing into Swale (when the road was still covered with snow) to replace the canvas tent tops on the cabins we built in 1981. There is not a finer place for a hotshot crew to be than Swale Work Center and a lot of that is a because of Ralph's support in the early years.”
Jim Cook, Arrowhead Superintendent
During the 1981 season, concrete pier blocks were laid out, and plywood floors were constructed on top of them. These 14x16' plywood floors with 2x4' framing functioned as the base for the canvas tent cabins that would shelter the crew in their new primitive accommodations. The crew constructed a small mess hall building, and attached to it was the kitchen built by the YCC, which continued to serve as the site of operations. When weather did not allow for operations to take place, the crew would move back to Ash Mountain and resume their duties.
In 1982, as the crew operations grew, crew overhead needed more of their own work space. Thus construction of the Superintendent and Foreman cabin began. During this time, canvas tents were slowly converted to cabins as money and supplies became available. This slow process of conversion and construction continued on through 1985, where Swale now had living quarters, a kitchen, and mess hall, which doubled as a training facility. Though more equipped than when they had begun, the crew still relied on a diesel generator, which was powered off at 2200 during quiet hours.
During the Fall of 1985 and Spring of 1986, additional concrete slabs were poured, establishing more focused workspaces with the raising of the saw and tool caches. This year also brought the development of the Park’s new water treatment facility. Due to the need for utilities at this facility, Arrowhead was able to take advantage of their proximity to the facility, with the Park extending utilities down to Swale. Hard line power was introduced to the camp for the first time, moving Swale away from the diesel generator used to power the camp for 5 years.
1987, As crew operations continued to grow, the demand for proper work space grew proportionately. Construction of the Squad Leaders’ cabin began. This completed workspace accommodated two squad leaders, and one saw boss, which increased the number of beds available at Swale.
Between 1990-1992, long-term plans for a multi-use building became a reality . This multi-use building would include a kitchen, additional overhead workspace, as well as a training facility consolidated under one roof. At the end of 1990 season, work on the foundation began. By 1991, it is estimated that 80% of construction had been completed primarily by the crew. Only specialized labor ( electricity and the use of heavy equipment ) assisted with the construction of the new Mess Hall. By 1991, water had been tapped, lines were buried and protected, improvements were made, and the Mess Hall officially became a structure able to withstand all four seasons. Post the 1992 election, the new Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt had come to visit Kings Canyon. At this time, Babbitt was present during the acknowledgement and dedication of the Mess Hall. Also present were Park Superintendent Tom Ritter, Crew Superintendent Jim Cook, Foreman Dan Buckley, and the rest of the 1993 Crew. By 1993, the new Mess Hall was officially in service and has served as our main area of congregation and work since.