Mountain lookout is saved, cheering Darrington

DARRINGTON — It’s a glimmer of hope for the future.

That is how most people in Darrington — many affected by the tragic March 22 landslide west of town — viewed the news Monday that federal legislation will allow the historic forest fire lookout atop nearby Green Mountain to remain. The law now goes to the president for his signature.

“What a relief,” said Scott Morris, a member of the Darrington Historical Society. “I’ve lost track of how long we have been dealing with this.”

Access to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is a big topic in town among people who want tourism to thrive in the region.

When Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin announced Thursday at a community meeting that legislation to save the lookout had passed the Senate, Rankin got a standing ovation.

During the week after the mudslide, Sen. Patty Murray and other federal officials met with Rankin.

“The mayor said to all of us, ‘We need some good news. We need Congress to pass Green Mountain,’” Murray said. “I looked over at Congresswoman DelBene and said, ‘Let’s get this done.’”

An acrimonious Congress had delayed each effort by the Washington delegation to pass the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act, Morris said.

Sens. Murray and Maria Cantwell first introduced the Green Mountain bill more than a year ago, when Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene introduced companion legislation in the House. Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House natural resources committee, introduced the legislation on Monday.

The lookout, located in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, was scheduled to be removed from the 6,500-foot mountain.

The environmental impact statement on the plan was just about done, said Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes. The plan followed an order by U.S. District Court in Seattle to remove the lookout from the federal wilderness area.

The court sided with a 2010 lawsuit by Montana-based Wilderness Watch against the Forest Service for using a helicopter and other machinery, a violation of the federal Wilderness Act, to shore up the lookout during preservation work.

Wilderness Watch officials said previously that any effort to keep the lookout on Green Mountain would erode the intentions of the 50-year-old Wilderness Act.

“In the lawsuit, Wilderness Watch claimed that, in passing the Wilderness Act, Congress did not set Green Mountain aside as being special,” Morris said. “But now the people have spoken. It is special. It’s just sad that we had to waste time and money to come to this obvious conclusion.”

While people in Darrington would never balance the good news about the lookout against the tragedy of the mudslide, Morris said the town, which has suffered economically for decades, needed the news.

Kitty Craig, the Pacific Northwest regional representative of the Wilderness Society, said the lookout is a popular destination for hikers seeking to enjoy the vistas of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Larsen said the lookout symbolizes a vanishing part of the state’s heritage and that the bill to save it symbolizes the country’s solidarity with hard-hit Arlington, Oso and Darrington.

The volunteering spirit of Darrington, highlighted in the weeks since the mudslide, deserved to be rewarded with the passage of the bill, DelBene said.

“The community people have been champions of the lookout for a long time,” DelBene said. “It is a cherished landmark.”

Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lookout predates designation of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to its history as a forest fire lookout, the Green Mountain lookout served as an early warning station to detect enemy aircraft during World War II. Until recently, the Forest Service used the lookout to house seasonal staff who provided educational information to wilderness visitors.

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

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