This blog post is sponsored by Filson, a valued partner of the National Forest Foundation since 2016. Filson helps with restoration work on fire lookout towers on public lands across the U.S., as well as supports reforestation efforts on our National Forests.
Following the renowned Big Burn of 1910 that burned 3 million acres in Montana, Idaho, and Washington, the U.S. Forest Service decided more effort needed to be put into an organized fire reporting system. Their solution was a network of fire lookout towers. By 1930, over 5,000 fire lookout towers were constructed, and fire spotters took up their posts in the towers waiting to communicate fire danger to the necessary people.
Initially, fire spotters used mirrors to reflect sunlight and send messages, but communication via mirrors eventually turned to wired telephone systems, and then two-way radios.
The use of fire lookout towers peaked in the late 1930s, and while some lookout towers are still actively used to spot fires today, most of the lookout towers that are still standing are used as scenic viewpoints for visitors or even can be rented for a short stay.
Fairview Peak Lookout Restoration
At 5,933 feet, the Fairview Peak Lookout on the Cottage Grove Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest offers much better than fair views. On a clear day, you can see at least ten Cascade volcanoes – from Mt. Hood (Wy’east as named by the Multnomah People) to Mt. McLoughlin (called M'laiksini Yaina by the Klamath People). The wildflowers and wildlife you can see at Fairview are more than fair, too! The Fairview Peak Lookout began as an active fire lookout in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the tower was taken down so the site could be used as an Air Force “gap filler” radar station. However, in 1972, the original lookout was reinstalled and continues to be used today as an active fire lookout.
Since 2016, the Umpqua National Forest has been chipping away at much needed repairs to the lookout. But funding and capacity shortfalls have made it difficult for the Umpqua National Forest to complete the work alone. We are so excited to have been able to bring in Filson and Zero Motorcycles as funding partners and to contract the repair work so that Fairview can continue serving as an active fire lookout and reopen for public reservations [in the shoulder/off season].
Burley Lookout Restoration
Over the next two years, Filson and the National Forest Foundation are also working with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to restore Burley Lookout to make it available for public rental. The lookout, named for the mountain it sits upon, was built in 1934 and staffed until 1974.
Standing at 5,310′in elevation, on a clear day the lookout offers views of four PNW volcanoes, including Mt. Adams (called Pahto by the Yakama People, Klickitat by the Klickitat People), Mt. Rainier (called Tahoma/Taquoma by the Puyallup People), Mt. Saint Helens (Loowit to PNW Indigenous Peoples), and Mt. Hood (Wy’east as named by the Multnomah People). An L4 style lookout, Burley is one of three remaining lookouts of the 60 that used to exist on the Gifford-Pinchot.
While it has been available to recreational users on a first come/first served basis, it has fallen into disrepair. Since it was closed for service, the Forest Service and the Fire Lookout Tower Association have put in work to maintain it, but time, weather, and vandals have since taken their toll. Through our current restoration efforts, we hope to make it available for public rental by 2024, which will generate funds for its ongoing maintenance. Filson funding, along with a contribution from their partners, GiantMouse, will pay for materials and contract work, and Filson volunteers from across North America will help Forest Service and NFF personnel with painting and other repairs.
Along with the work on Fairview and Burley, Filson and the NFF have supported restoration work on Heybrook Lookout and North Mountain Lookout on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, on Monument Peak Lookout on the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest, and on First Butte Lookout on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Cover photo by Audrey Squires.
What’s your next adventure? Wherever it takes you, be assured the NFF is working to keep your favorite places healthy and accessible. But it requires generosity from people like you to keep our work going. Your unrestricted gift allows us to direct funds to the greatest need. Please consider giving today. Thank you!