August 18, 1996

Standing Watch On History Despite Efforts To Save Them, Lookouts Are Destroyed At A Rate Of One A Week

Rich Landers Outdoors Editor The Associated Press Contributed
 

For several destructive decades, there was no one to look out for the lookouts.

But even the mounting support from volunteers who want to preserve the heritage of the forest fire lookouts, the burning and dismantling that surged in the 1960s and 1970s has barely slowed.

“The demise of fire lookout cabins and towers continues at a startling rate of about 52 a year, about one a week,” said Keith Argow, editor of the Virginia-based National Woodlands magazine and keeper of the National Historic Lookout Register.

During their heyday in the ‘30s and ‘40s, roughly 5,000 to 7,000 fire lookouts kept watch over American forests.

“We know of at least 5,000, but suspect there were many more,” Argow said. “The number is elusive because so many federal, state and local agencies were involved, and many of the lookouts were privately built.”

Today, fewer than 2,000 still stand. Most of the lookouts being shut down are in the the southern United States, the last region to convert to aerial surveillance.

“When an agency starts the trend, the closures can happen fast,” Argow said, noting that the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia stopped using all of its 27 fire lookouts in 1970. Today, only four are still standing.

“With heavy population pressure, they get vandalized quickly,” Argow said. “Land managers don’t want the headache.”

But three trends may help save some of the lookouts for posterity.

Dedicated volunteers, such as Ray Kresek of Spokane, continue to find new recruits for the Forest Fire Lookout Association, which encourages the restoration of lookouts throughout the nation.

Interest continues to grow for rental programs, in which the public can stay in unneeded lookouts, providing the funds to help maintain them.

The suburban sprawl that’s spilling into forest lands is giving some agencies reason to build new lookouts while others are being dismantled.

“In the last few years, lookouts have been rebuilt in Oregon on East Butte and Black Butte on the Deschutes National Forest near Bend,” Argow said. “In the areas of rural and urban interface, the initial attack to fight a forest fire is critical to prevent property loss.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the (Department of Natural Resources ) reactivate the Mount Spokane lookout as development spreads in that direction.”

The National Historic Lookout Register is sponsored by the American Resources Group, a privately financed conservation service organization that serves private landowners.

“It makes sense that private landowners would support the fire lookouts,” Argow said.

“Fire lookouts give a quicker report that aerial reports. Remote sensing and aircraft are fine. But the fire lookout has eyes on the forest all day. The planes fly only twice a day.”

Tight agency budgets are putting the heat on people who seek to preserve the fire lookout legacy.

Of the 651 lookouts known to have been built in Washington, only 108 still stand.

Last year, 32 Washington lookouts were staffed five days or more by eight different agencies or tribes. Only 17 lookouts are staffed by the Forest Service in Washington, plus one in Mount Rainier National Park.

About 15 Washington lookouts have been restored, and at least four lookouts are scheduled for restoration. Only two, both in the southwest corner of the state, are in a rental program.

Nineteen lookouts are available for rent in Idaho and Montana, while 15 are being rented in Oregon and Washington.

The Timber Mountain lookout on the Newport District of the Colville National Forest is being considered for a rental program.

While some lookouts are accessible by rough mountain roads, many are still reached only by trail.

Indeed, the core of the National Forest trail system was built to service fire lookouts and fire fighting operations.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: See related story under the headline: View From the Top

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. TAKE A TOUR To make an appointment for a free tour of a restored fire lookout and museum in Spokane, call Ray Kresek, 466-9171.

2. ON THE LOOKOUT Ten popular fire lookout trails in the Cascade Mountains: 1. Park Butte, elevation 4,052 feet. On southwest flank of Mount Baker. Views breathtaking. 3.5 mile trail gains 2,250 feet. 2. Lookout Mountain, off U.S. 20 through North Cascades National Park, elevation 5,719 feet. Beautiful 1920s cabin in disrepair. 4-mile trail gains 4,500 feet. 3. Hidden Lakes Peak, elevation 6,890 feet, of U.S. 20 through North Cascades National Park. 4-mile trail gains 3,500 feet. Upper end technical; carry ice ax. 4. Three Fingers, elevation 6,854 feet, east of Everett. Perched atop Three Fingers Mountain. 6-mile trail gains 3,700 feet; last third steep and technical, crossing glacier. 5. Mount Pilchuck, elevation 5,324 feet, east of Granite Falls. Shuttered lookout at end of rooty, rocky, rutty 2-mile trail that gains 2,200 feet. 6. Heybrook Lookout, elevation 1,701 feet. Reached by 1-mile trail off Highway 2 outside Index. Lookout closed for restoration of 14-by-14-foot cabin atop 70-foot tower. 7. Alpine Lookout, elevation 6,237 feet, off U.S. west of Wenatchee. Working lookout staffed in season by Forest Service. 5-mile trail gains 2,300 feet. 8. Granite Mountain, elevation 5,629 feet, Snoqualmie Pass area off Interstate 90. Most popular lookout in Puget Sound region. Steep, 4-mile trail gains 3,800 feet. Dangerous in early season because of avalanches. 9. Tolmie Peak, elevation 5,939 feet. Premier view of Rainier. 3-mile trail gains 1,200 feet. For status of trail, bridges at Carbon River, call (800) 891-5446. 10. High Rock, elevation 5,685 feet. Astounding views of Rainier. Built in 1929 on highest peak in Sawtooth Range. 1-mile trail gains 1,400 feet.

For directions to these and other lookouts in Washington and Oregon, call Outdoor Information Center, (206) 220-7450, or consult guides by The Mountaineers-Books: “100 Hikes in the North Cascades,” “100 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes,” “100 Hikes in South Cascades and Olympics,” “50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park,” or “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.” -Associated Press

Five popular fire lookout trails in the Inland Northwest: 1. Lookout Mountain, Idaho, elevation 6,727 feet. Offers premier view of Priest Lake region. 2-mile trail leads from end of Forest Road 44, gaining 1,525 feet. 2. Snow Peak, Idaho, elevation 6,760 feet. Home of mountain goats and classic view in Mallard-Larkins roadless area of St. Joe National Forest. 5-mile trail gains 1,240 feet. 3. Columbia Mountain, Wash., elevation6,782 feet. Great views of Kettle Range and home of region’s oldest lookout cabin still (somewhat) standing. 2-mile trail from Sherman Pass gains 1,200 feet. 4. Little Snowy Top Mountain, Idaho, elevation 6,829 feet. Restored lookout cabin in Salmo-Priest Wilderness northeast of Sullivan Lake, open to all on first-come basis. Accessible by several trails, requires at least 9 miles of hiking one-way. 5. Oregon Butte, Wash., elevation 6,387 feet. Active lookout, staffed by volunteers, at northwest edge of Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in southeastern Washington. 2-mile trail from Teepee Campground gains 890 feet. For directions to these and other lookouts in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana, call Forest Service Information in Spokane, 353-2574, or consult guides by The Mountaineers-Books, including “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.” -Rich Landers

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Rich Landers Outdoors editor The Associated Press contributed to this story.

See related story under the headline: View From the Top

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. TAKE A TOUR To make an appointment for a free tour of a restored fire lookout and museum in Spokane, call Ray Kresek, 466-9171.

2. ON THE LOOKOUT Ten popular fire lookout trails in the Cascade Mountains: 1. Park Butte, elevation 4,052 feet. On southwest flank of Mount Baker. Views breathtaking. 3.5 mile trail gains 2,250 feet. 2. Lookout Mountain, off U.S. 20 through North Cascades National Park, elevation 5,719 feet. Beautiful 1920s cabin in disrepair. 4-mile trail gains 4,500 feet. 3. Hidden Lakes Peak, elevation 6,890 feet, of U.S. 20 through North Cascades National Park. 4-mile trail gains 3,500 feet. Upper end technical; carry ice ax. 4. Three Fingers, elevation 6,854 feet, east of Everett. Perched atop Three Fingers Mountain. 6-mile trail gains 3,700 feet; last third steep and technical, crossing glacier. 5. Mount Pilchuck, elevation 5,324 feet, east of Granite Falls. Shuttered lookout at end of rooty, rocky, rutty 2-mile trail that gains 2,200 feet. 6. Heybrook Lookout, elevation 1,701 feet. Reached by 1-mile trail off Highway 2 outside Index. Lookout closed for restoration of 14-by-14-foot cabin atop 70-foot tower. 7. Alpine Lookout, elevation 6,237 feet, off U.S. west of Wenatchee. Working lookout staffed in season by Forest Service. 5-mile trail gains 2,300 feet. 8. Granite Mountain, elevation 5,629 feet, Snoqualmie Pass area off Interstate 90. Most popular lookout in Puget Sound region. Steep, 4-mile trail gains 3,800 feet. Dangerous in early season because of avalanches. 9. Tolmie Peak, elevation 5,939 feet. Premier view of Rainier. 3-mile trail gains 1,200 feet. For status of trail, bridges at Carbon River, call (800) 891-5446. 10. High Rock, elevation 5,685 feet. Astounding views of Rainier. Built in 1929 on highest peak in Sawtooth Range. 1-mile trail gains 1,400 feet.

For directions to these and other lookouts in Washington and Oregon, call Outdoor Information Center, (206) 220-7450, or consult guides by The Mountaineers-Books: “100 Hikes in the North Cascades,” “100 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes,” “100 Hikes in South Cascades and Olympics,” “50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park,” or “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.” -Associated Press

Five popular fire lookout trails in the Inland Northwest: 1. Lookout Mountain, Idaho, elevation 6,727 feet. Offers premier view of Priest Lake region. 2-mile trail leads from end of Forest Road 44, gaining 1,525 feet. 2. Snow Peak, Idaho, elevation 6,760 feet. Home of mountain goats and classic view in Mallard-Larkins roadless area of St. Joe National Forest. 5-mile trail gains 1,240 feet. 3. Columbia Mountain, Wash., elevation6,782 feet. Great views of Kettle Range and home of region’s oldest lookout cabin still (somewhat) standing. 2-mile trail from Sherman Pass gains 1,200 feet. 4. Little Snowy Top Mountain, Idaho, elevation 6,829 feet. Restored lookout cabin in Salmo-Priest Wilderness northeast of Sullivan Lake, open to all on first-come basis. Accessible by several trails, requires at least 9 miles of hiking one-way. 5. Oregon Butte, Wash., elevation 6,387 feet. Active lookout, staffed by volunteers, at northwest edge of Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in southeastern Washington. 2-mile trail from Teepee Campground gains 890 feet. For directions to these and other lookouts in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana, call Forest Service Information in Spokane, 353-2574, or consult guides by The Mountaineers-Books, including “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.” -Rich Landers

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Rich Landers Outdoors editor The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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