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Thun Field Master Plan

by Carl Vest

Pierce County is about to enter into a planning cycle for the Pierce County Airport (known popularly as Thun Field).  This is a formal exercise to update the airfield’s Master Plan and the effort should start within the next few weeks.  Operations are now controlled by a blueprint that was put in place about 30 years ago.  The original Master Plan was developed in 1985 and was updated and modified in 2000.  Subsequently, in 2003, all undertakings at the airfield were brought under the umbrella of the South Hill Community Plan.

Pierce County Airport was first established in 1944 by a group of Puyallup businessmen.  Among other objectives, the group wanted to take advantage of the World War II GI Bill by offering flying instruction to returning veterans.  It was closed in 1948, falling victim to wartime restrictions on the use of private aircraft and other post war problems. 

John Thun, a local resident, bought the abandoned property in 1948.  He sold it in 1967.  During the nearly two decades that he owned the facility Mr. Thun managed to develop the acreage into a well-known and significantly important part of South Hill.  The Army at one time, for example, used the facility for flight training operations, private flight instructions were offered, and a number of non-aviation uses were started.  It was this successful development that caused the name Thun Field to be adopted and attached to the airdrome to this day.

The Puyallup Development Corporation purchased the land in 1967.  During the early 1970s attempts were made to sell it to the City of Puyallup but the City, even in the face of a recommendation and pressure by the Puyallup Valley Chamber of Commerce, rejected all the efforts.

In 1980 the company successfully sold the acreage to Pierce County, following an environmental and public review process.   The County paid $1,108,000 for the land and improvements, funded in part by a grant by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Almost immediately after purchase the County started a planning effort to articulate how it would operate and develop the airstrip.  This process led to the development of the airport’s original Master Plan, which was done by the consulting firm of Bell-Walker.  The work was funded by a grant from the FAA through its 1982 Airport Improvement Program.  Within the County the Parks and Recreation Department assumed administrative responsibility for aviation operations.

After some fifteen years of operations the original Master Plan was updated and modified in February 2000, the work being done by the engineering firm of Bucher, Willis & Ratliff.  The objective was to identify both short and long-range airport needs and to provide guidance regarding future development.  The County Public Works and Utilities Department managed the effort.

The current endeavor will be the second update of the original plan.  The intent is to involve all parties that have a stake in Thun Field, as a user or as a citizen living under the footprint of its aviation operations.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.