Lookout at risk

DARRINGTON — The Green Mountain forest fire lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness east of Darrington topped this year’s list of the state’s most endangered historic properties. The list is issued annually by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Last year, Trafton Elementary School in the Arlington School District was on the list. The old school building remains, but its former students attend school elsewhere.

Other buildings on the list released this week are the former Northern State Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, Tacoma’s Old City Hall, the McMillin Bridge over the Puyallup River and buildings at the McNeil Island Penitentiary.

Chris Moore, field director of the Trust, said the lookout is a rare example of an original fire lookout in its original location.

The lookout was built in 1933 by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the forest fire detection system in the North Cascade Mountain Range. The lookout is on the national and state registers of historic places.

Between 1980 and 2010, a cooperative effort by volunteers and the Darrington Ranger District of the National Forest Service worked to save the lookout from sliding down the mountain.

After the rehabilitation and restoration project was complete, Wilderness Watch, a national environmental group based in Montana, sued the Forest Service, arguing that by using a helicopter to make repairs that included a new foundation, that Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest officials violated the federal Wilderness Act. The act doesn’t allow for the use of motorized vehicles in wilderness areas nor new construction.

Wilderness Watch seeks to tear down the lookout and have it hauled away. Outdoors groups, the Darrington Town Council and local, state and federal historical associations filed a brief with the federal District Court in Seattle hoping to convince the federal judge involved that the lookout should be saved.

George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, said the historical groups are operating under the false premise that the National Historic Preservation Act mandates preservation. In reality, it only requires that agencies consider the impacts to historic structures, he said.

Moore doesn’t believe that Congress set up the Wilderness Act and the Historic Preservation Act to be in contention, and that historic considerations are indeed part of the Wilderness Act and part of the job of the Forest Service, he said.

Along with the risk of losing the Green Mountain forest fire lookout, said Moore, a successful lawsuit by Wilderness Watch could set the course for the future treatment of other historic structures in federal wilderness areas.

“It would set a precedent that would make the Forest Service wary of doing even basic maintenance on other historic structures,” Moore said. “That’s our concern.”

For more information about the 2011 most endangered historic properties list compiled by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, go to www.preservewa.org. More information on about the Green Mountain Lookout is at www.fs.usda.gov. And more about Wilderness Watch is at www.wildernesswatch.org.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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