40 for 40: Snohomish County
Green Mountain Fire Lookout

By Holly Chamberlainprevious story | next story | all stories

Though remote by the nature of their purpose, fire lookouts are just as iconic in Washington forests as barns are in the state’s rural landscapes or a fraternal hall on a Main Street. The Green Mountain Fire Lookout, built near Darrington in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is one of more than 600 such towers which formerly dotted the wilderness as part of the old-school fire detection system. Green Mountain also served as an US Army aircraft-warning site in World War II.

The “L-4” style lookout remained staffed into the 1980s but the gradual increase of aerial methods of fire detection rendered its original use less relevant, along with others of its type. Given the severity of winters in the North Cascades, and a 6,500 foot high site, the building was difficult and expensive to maintain, and threatened with removal when closed to the public in 1994 due to structural deterioration. Additionally, preservation of the building seemed at odds with its setting in a designated wilderness, despite being very popular with hikers.

The Green Mountain Fire Lookout, and five others in the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forests, were placed in the National Register in 1987. However, just being iconic and in the National Register does not save a building. That takes strategy and will and money, and the voices of hikers such as Trust board members Kate Krafft and David Harvey who were among those who spoke up early on for preservation of the vernacular building and its spectacular view in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Trust actions, such as including the lookout on the Trust’s Most Endangered list in 1999, and the awarding of a Washington Preserves grant that same year to assist in the rehabilitation, helped create a path to preservation. A federal award of $50,000 from the Save America’s Treasures program in 1999, cooperative planning from the U.S. Forest Service, and the volunteer efforts of the Darrington Historical Society and labor of Passport in Time participants, would have seemed to have sealed the deal.

However, challenges remained, and initial rehab efforts in 2000 did not adequately account for the detrimental effects of snow load. The lookout was systematically disassembled and removed by helicopter for work off-site. Damage to access roads from heavy winter weather made it extremely difficult to reach the site for several years to both conduct foundation repairs and reconstruct the tower. However, hundreds of volunteer hours were logged between 2003 and 2008 towards rehabilitation and a grant of $50,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office made possible foundation repair by National Park Service crews in 2009. That same year, the disassembled pieces were flown back and reassembled, and the structure seemed saved.

However, the lookout was once again listed in the Trust’s Most Endangered list in 2011 when Montana-based Wilderness Watch sued the US Forest Service and called for the structure’s removal, claiming rehabilitation efforts had violated the Wilderness Act. Preservation advocates, including the Washington Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Darrington Historical Society, filed an Amicus Brief in support of the lookout, but the preservation battle continued when a federal judge ordered removal of the structure in 2012. Ultimately, passage of the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act in 2014 permanently blocked removal. The legislation was sponsored by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with Representatives Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen. The Green Mountain Fire Lookout received the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s John H. Chafee Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy in 2014. Special recognition is due to Scott Morris of the Darrington Historical Society for the countless hours he spent advocating for the preservation of the lookout.

Photo by Scott Morris and Brian Turner.

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. This story highlights one of our most popular programs, the Most Endangered Historic Properties List, and shows just how much need there is for advocacy across the state. If you would like to support this program and spur more positive outcomes for Washington's historic resources, please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust to support the advocacy work we do through our Most Endangered ProgramContinuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

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