Darrington’s Green Mountain Lookout gets top honor

DARRINGTON — The historical society and its political partners are receiving national recognition for saving Green Mountain Lookout from destruction.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation honored Green Mountain Lookout as one of the top preservation projects in the country with the John H. Chafee Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy.

The lookout is perched on a 6,500-foot mountain ridge in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the structure in 1933. In the following decades, it was used as a fire watch and to monitor the sky for enemy aircraft during World War II. In later years, the lookout housed Forest Service workers for seasonal education programs.

Now, it’s a destination for stunning mountain views.

For more than two years, it seemed the lookout would be torn down, despite efforts in Darrington to protect it.

The U.S. District Court in Seattle ordered the U.S. Forest Service to remove the lookout from Glacier Peak Wilderness after a 2010 lawsuit by Wilderness Watch. The Montana-based organization sued over the use of a helicopter and other machinery to perform preservation work on the lookout. Motorized equipment is not permitted in wilderness areas.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation partnered with its state branch and the Darrington Historical Society to argue that the forest service had authority to maintain the lookout, built before the land was designated a wilderness area and placed under strict protections. The court ruled against the trust and ordered the lookout’s removal.

The Darrington Ranger District was finalizing plans to tear down the structure when the Oso mudslide jarred the Stillaguamish Valley on March 22. The disaster killed 43 people and temporarily severed Highway 530, the most direct route to and from Darrington.

In a show of support for the community, Congress voted to protect Green Mountain Lookout. No one in the U.S. House or Senate spoke against it. President Barack Obama signed the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act into law in April, weeks after the mudslide.

The law amends the Washington State Wilderness Act of 1984 “to specifically allow the operation and maintenance of Green Mountain Lookout,” according to the legislation. It also prohibits the removal of the lookout unless necessary to preserve the building or protect people on or around Green Mountain. If the lookout does become a danger, it must be relocated rather than torn down.

The Green Mountain Lookout was one of nine projects recognized at the annual Past Forward National Preservation Conference. One other project is in Washington: Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. Other awardees are in New York, North Carolina, New Orleans, Georgia, New Mexico and Illinois.

The award was presented last week to the Darrington Historical Society and its co-recipients, U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and U.S. representatives Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen.

Herald writer Gale Fiege contributed to this report.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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