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Hikers: snow still lingering in area mountains

HIKING — "Road is open from Lightning Creek through to Trestle Creek," reports Mary Franzel of Hope, Idaho. But the photo she posted (above) indicates significant snow on the ridge at Lunch Peak Lookout

Creeks are still running high in most areas, making crossings a challenge.

Hikers are reaching Stevens Lakes near Lookout Pass without much problem, but the creek crossing can be a crux.

Farther north in Canada, snow is late to leave.  

Kootenay National Park rangers just called to cancel my camping permit for The Rock Wall Trail, a five-day trek I'd planned to start on July 5.   They said the famous trail would not be passable until at least July 10.

  • I knew I'd be pushing the envelope when I made the reservation months ago, but there are rewards to taking a chance on the early season in the high country.

Wilderness advocates contest fire lookout historic status

WILDERNESS — While historic preservation groups praise Congressional action to keep the Green Mountain lookout standing in the

North Cascades, wilderness groups led by Montana-based Wilderness Watch, say the effort falls short of historic preservation and flies in the face of wilderness values.

Gary Macfarlane of the Friends of the Clearwater forwarded the photo above with this message:

I saw your post about the new replica Green Mountain lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Here is some background. Attached is a photo of the lookout as it was being constructed recently. It is not a historic structure.  While the original lookout was ferried across a river, packed 20 miles to the top of Green Mountain with mules, and constructed by hand, the latest incarnation was hauled in by helicopter—60-plus loads worth—and constructed using generators and power tools. 

Wilderness Watch is a national organization with headquarters in Montana. It has staff in other states and board members from around the country, including a board member in Washington. I am a board member who lives in Idaho.

Historic preservation vs. wilderness in Green Mountain lookout debate

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:

Time to reserve forest cabins, lookouts for summer

PUBLIC LANDS — Most rentals for cabins and fire lookouts on national forests and parks are reserved on a national reservation system that allows the public to book dates no more than 180 days in advance.

Check out the National Recreation Reservation Service online or call (877) 444-6777 for a complete list of facilities, to check available dates or to make reservations for most federal facilities nationwide.

Click here for details on an exception to the national reservation system: the lottery for reserving the Red Ives Cabin, a modernized drive-up facility on the St. Joe River. Applications are due by the end of February.

  • Quartz Mountain Lookout in Mount Spokane State Park is a hot local item with a premium price of $88 a night for a room with a view. Reservations are accepted up to nine months in advance for the June 15-Oct. 15 season. Make reservations by phone at (888) 226-7688. 

Indeed, if you're making plans for prime time this summer, it's time to get your act together if you hope to reserve a night in a popular room with a view.

Read on for specific information regarding cabins and lookouts in the Idaho Panhandle and Clearwater national forests, including Kelly Creek areas.

Fire lookouts a high prize for winter trekkers

WINTER SPORTS — Looking for a winter trek to a somewhat cozy room with a view:

Here's a photo my daughter emailed to me from her recent backcountry ski trek to Winchester Lookout near Bellingham.  That's Mount Baker in the background.  Not a bad backdrop, even if you didn't have the additional eye candy featuring miles and miles of the North Cascades.

Norman Maclean had high perspective on lightning

MOUNTAIN STORMS — If you haven’t read Norman Maclean’s “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook and a Hole in the Sky,” Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune recommends it, and so do I.

It is one of the “other stories” in his book “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories.” 

Recently I wrote a story about a backpacking trek in the Glacier Peak Wilderness during which thunder storms pounded my camp with the shock and awe of the bombing of Bahgdad.

Maclean says this about thunderstorms from the perspective of a forest fire lookout staffer at  Elk Summit near Powell, Idaho:

“In the late afternoon, of course, the mountains meant all business for the lookouts. The big winds were veering from the valleys toward the peaks, and smoke from little fires that had been secretly burning for several days might show up for the first time. New fires sprang out of thunder before it sounded. By three-thirty or four, the lightning would be flexing itself on the distant ridges like a fancy prizefighter, skipping sideways, ducking, showing off but not hitting anything. But four-thirty or five, it was another game. You could feel the difference in the air that had become hard to breath. The lightning now came walking into you, delivering short smashing punches.”

Volunteers building new trail to Star Peak lookout

TRAILS — Volunteers are helping the Kootenai National Forest build a new trail to a stunning view from a forest fire lookout overlooking the Clark Fork River and the proposed Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.

The Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness already has put in multiple days of routing, brushing, log cutting and carving the tread to the Star Peak Lookout over the past two years.  

The peak where an historic lookout is located formerly was known as Squaw Peak.

  • The next work party is set for Friday ( Aug. 9).   Meet at the trailhead (see map) at 9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (10 a.m. Mountain). 

Following work days are Aug. 23 plus the weekend of Sept. 21-22.

The group also has set work days on the South Fork of Ross Creek on Aug. 16 and  Morris Creek in the Lightning Creek drainage on National Public Lands Day, Sept. 28.

"We are getting close, and I am very confident we will finish this trail this summer," said Sandy Compton, FSPW program coordinator. The Forest Service trail crew cut the rest of the trail out last week. If it's really warm, we will hike up to where the the new trail meets the old single track and work down the hill in the shade.

The friends group isn't all work and no play.   See the FSPW list of guided hikes designed to familiarize the public with the official wilderness in waiting.

To sign-up and help with the trail projects, contact Sandy Compton, (208) 290-1281.

Sen. Cantwell supports Green Mountain Lookout in wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged a key Senate subcommittee today to move forward on a bill to preserve the historic Green Mountain Lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness near Darrington, Wash.

Wilderness advocates have pressed the Forest Service to remove the historic lookout, in part because its precarious location requires helicopter maintenance in violation of wilderness rules.

Darrington-area groups are trying to keep the lookout intact for visitors.

Cantwell advocated for the passage of the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act (S. 404) on Tuesday, during a hearing in the Public Lands, Forestry and Mining Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

A representative of the U.S. Forest Service voiced the department’s support for S. 404 during the hearing, and said that local residents wanted the lookout to remain at Green Mountain.

Read on for more details and links to Cantwell's statements.

Spyglass Lookout gets TLC from Lutherhaven volunteers

FIRE LOOKOUTS - Volunteers are refurbishing a national forest lookout ravaged by age, weather and vandalism on Spyglass Peak in the upper reaches of the North Fork Coeur d'Alene River.

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests have partnered with Lutherhaven Ministries and the Forest Fire Lookout Association to renovate three historic structures, including Spyglass lookout tower, a groundhouse where workers who staffed the lookout lived when the lookout was operational, and an outhouse.

The structures have been vacant for more than 20 years.

Lutherhaven offered assistance with grant funding applications and a youthful labor force of volunteers from Shoshone Base Camp. Additional volunteers and expertise have come from the Forest Fire Lookout Association and local Forest Service employees.

Through Lutherhaven’s efforts two major regional grants were awarded totaling more than $25,000, the Forest Service officials said. Additional funding was granted by the Forest Fire Lookout Association and combined with funding from the Forest Service, which enabled the groups to begin work on the site this year.

Lutherhaven Ministries owns Shoshone Base Camp, a Christian youth camp which operates Idaho Servant Adventures, a program that brings youth from around the country to North Idaho for public service projects.

Steve Matz, retired Forest Service archeologoist, is coordinating the multi-year project with the goal of incorporating the site into the forest’s recreational cabin rental program, which generates funding for maintenance on-site.

Info: Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District’s Fernan office at (208) 664-2318.

Signs ready to memorialize Sundance Fire in Selkirks

Watch HOT SPOT on PBS. See more from Northwest Profiles.

NATIONAL FORESTS — Forest fire lookout historians have arranged to install a memorial at the site lightning struck in 1967 setting off a huge wildfire in the Selkirk Mountains north of Sandpoint. 

 Following is the update from Ray Kresek, author, historian and host to a forest fire lookout museum in has backyard in west Spokane.  (See video above. Call for a tour).

The large 3” thick cedar signs have now been carved, painted, linseed oiled, and are ready to hang on the posts

already planted atop Sundance Mountain as soon as the snow is gone at the site. It’ll be a while though. At last report, there’s still almost 15’ of snow on the ground at the memorial site 300’ from Sundance Lookout. It is situated just over the leeward edge of the summit, where winter snowdrifts are last to leave. An average snow year, the fire origin site would be free of snow by the 4th of July. This year, a near record snow year, it’s anybody’s guess.


We wish to thank the Webley Brothers Lumber Company in Colville, WA for their generous contribution of three fine cedar planks, with a personal attachment (both were among the 1967 Sundance firefighters); Dave Kresek and Altek Company for computer carving the signs; and those members of the Forest Fire Lookout Ass’n. for their help building the interpretive site trail.

Ray Kresek
Fire Lookout Museum
Contact:(509) 466-9171; email rkresek@comcast.net

Applications ready for Red Ives cabin rental

PUBLIC LANDS — Here's another wake up call for anyone contemplating a summer Forest Service cabin or lookout rental.

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests St. Joe Ranger District is accepting applications through February for a lottery to select reservation rental dates for the popular Red Ives Cabin.

The rental season for the former ranger home along the St. Joe River is Memorial Day weekend through September.

Most federal lands cabin and fire lookout rentals as well as camping reservations are handled online or by phone through Recreation.gov, the national first-come-first served reservations system.

For example, the Surveyor's Ridge Lookout rental in the mountains high above the St. Joe is handled by the national system, allowing reservations to be made up to 180 days in advance.

However, the Red Ives Cabin, which includes a former ranger home, is handled locally in a lottery drawing.

More than 400 applications were submitted for 50 reservations in 2012 (and 500 applications for the 50 slots in 2013), said District Ranger Wade Sims.

Click here for a previous post on renting the popular Kelly Creek Cabin and other sites on the Clearwater National Forest.

Read on for details on applying for the Red Ives Cabin, Surveyor's Lookout and the Clarkia Bunkhouse. 

Time to reserve forest cabins, lookouts

PUBLIC LANDS — Most rentals for cabins and fire lookouts on national forests and parks are reserved on a national reservation system that allows the public to book dates no more than 180 days in advance.

Check out the National Recreation Reservation Service online or call (877) 444-6777 for a complete list of facilities, to check available dates or to make reservations for most federal facilities nationwide.

Click here for details on an exception to the national reservation system: the lottery for reserving the Red Ives Cabin on the St. Joe River.

Indeed, if you're making plans for prime time this summer, it's time to get your act together if you hope to reserve a night in a popular room with a view.

Read on for specific information regarding cabins and lookouts in the Clearwater National Forest, including Kelly Creek areas.

Forest fire lookout museum in Spokane available for tours

NATIONAL FORESTS — Ray Kresek, author of “Fire Lookouts of the Northwest,” maintains a Fire Lookout Museum in north Spokane available to the public by appointment.

Contact:(509) 466-9171; email rkresek@comcast.net

Kresek recently was honored by the U.S. Forest Service with a national Smokey Bear Award.

Kresek began leading the effort to preserve the Salmo-Priest Wilderness in 1968. Wilderness status was achieved in 1984.

Idaho forest fire lookouts featured on Public TV

FORESTS — I've had a long fascination with hiking into forest fire lookouts, sometimes reserving and renting one for the ultimate room with a view.

The next-best thing is the Outdoor Idaho program that premiers Thursday on Public TV.  

Eyes of the Forest explores the history of Idaho's forest lookouts through reminiscences of those who lived in them and studied them — and through journeys to many of Idaho's mountaintops.

Some lookouts are still being staffed. Others are in disrepair, while some are being restored.

More than 8,000 lookouts once dotted the nation at the peak of their usefullness a half century ago. Idaho boasted the most, with nearly 1,000 overlooking its vast forest lands and wilderness areas.