Outdoors

Historic preservation vs. wilderness in Green Mountain lookout debate

Green Mountain Lookout is in the Glacier Peak Wilderness near Darrington, Wash. (Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)
Green Mountain Lookout is in the Glacier Peak Wilderness near Darrington, Wash. (Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

PUBLIC LANDS — Spearheaded by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a measure last week to save the popular Green Mountain fire lookout, which a federal judge has ordered removed from its perch in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

The U.S. House approved the bill by a voice vote on Monday and it's on the way to the desk of President Obama, who's indicated he supports it.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation responded to the vote with praise for the Green Mountain Lookout protection bill as a milestone in the ongoing national discussion about historic resources on public lands.

“The S. 404 legislation protects an integral piece of the Pacific Northwest’s heritage, a key contributor to its local economy and asserts that wilderness protection need not come at the expense of historic preservation,” said Erica Stewart, the group's media contact.

The structure was built on 6,500-foot Green Mountain in Washington’s North Cascades in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It served as a fire lookout and as a perch for detecting enemy aircraft during World War II. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Forest Service used a helicopter and machinery to repair it in 2009. That prompted a lawsuit from a Montana-based environmental group: Such methods aren’t allowed in federal wilderness areas, they charged, and the judge agreed.

But since the lookout preceded the 1964 Wilderness Act, and since its remote perch makes a major overhaul in today's budget climates prohibitive without motorized help, the use of a helicopter was justified, officials say. 

 “Obviously, we’re disappointed that they’re doing this,” said George Nikas, executive director of the Montana-based Wilderness Watch, shortly before the House vote. The group sued in 2010 to challenge the structure’s construction. “It’s not only harmful to the Glacier Peak Wilderness, it sets a very troubling dangerous precedent for wilderness.” 

The structure is popular with hikers, tourists and locals in nearby Darrington, which is reeling from a nearby devastating mud slide that blocked access through the area and killed at least 33 people.

Read on for more background and the full statement by Stephanie Meeks, NTHP president:

Washington (April 7, 2014) – Today, the House of Representatives passed S. 404, the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act. The bill enables continued operation of the fire lookout within Washington state’s Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. The following is a statement from Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

“After more than three years of joint advocacy with our local and national partners on this issue, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased that Congress has acted to protect this historically significant and locally cherished landmark. With this vote, the House joins the Senate in affirming that the preservation of this historic resource is compatible with wilderness protection.

“Since its construction in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Green Mountain Lookout has symbolized the American ideal of careful stewardship of the spectacular lands we’ve inherited. We owe it to our future generations to retain this integral piece of the Cascade Mountain landscape, where it has been a point of pride and a key piece of visitors’ wilderness experience. We commend the Senate and House champions of this legislation, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Reps. Susan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), for their leadership in sustaining a resource that enriches the local economy and preserves an important part of Pacific Northwest heritage.”

BACKGROUND ON GREEN MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT

Green Mountain Lookout near Darrington, Wash. was built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps for fire detection purposes. The U.S. Army used it to spot enemy aircraft during World War II. The land was protected in 1984 by the Washington State Wilderness Act and the lookout was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.  A lawsuit filed in 2010 resulted in a court order to remove it. The Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act (S. 404), passed the Senate unanimously on April 3, 2014. H.R. 908, the House-introduced companion bill, passed in February 2014 as part of H.R. 2954, the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act.  




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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