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Saving Green Mountain Lookout, A Brief Retrospective

This week, President Obama signed the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act, putting an end to years of uncertainty around the fate of the beloved lookout perched high in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington's Cascade range.

This week, President Obama signed the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act, putting an end to years of uncertainty around the fate of the beloved lookout perched high in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington's Cascade range. The legislation was championed by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen.

The new law protects the lookout from a 2012 ruling by a judge ordering the U.S. Forest Service to remove the lookout after a Montana-based group charged that the process to restore the lookout violated the Wilderness Act. The new law has also provided a small morale boost for the nearby Darrington community, which has been hit so hard by the SR 530 landslide.

A look back at a unique wilderness lookout

Like a sentinel, the Green Mountain Lookout has watched over the Glacier Peak backcountry for more than 80 years. Originally built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of a fire detection system across the North Cascades, the Green Mountain Lookout once housed a seasonal fire spotter.

In 1968 Glacier Peak Wilderness was expanded to include the lookout.

From fire watch tower to wilderness ranger station. In the mid-1980s as airplanes took over the primary fire detection role, lookouts were used by wilderness rangers who patrolled the forest and provided history lessons to eager lookout visitors. Green Mountain Lookout is one of the few remaining lookouts in Washington to carry on that role today.

An effort to preserve Green Mountain as lookouts disappear. More than 600 lookouts once called Washington mountaintops home. Once aerial fire detection took precedence, many of our lookouts were removed by land managers concerned about visitor safety and the cost of maintenance. In that time, an  effort was made to protect the remaining few.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1987, Green Mountain Lookout and five other wilderness lookouts on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest were added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the years following, Green Mountain Lookout was adopted by the Friends of Green Mountain Lookout group to “preserve and maintain” the historic structure. (Read more about the restoration efforts over the years.)

Uncertainty and a legal battle. Since 2010, the lawsuit filed against the restoration of the lookout had obscured the structure's future. But after years of litigation and advocacy for the lookout from a broad range of individuals, communities and organizations, the law's passage this week seems to have settled the issue for now.

The road ahead

From trailhead to summit, the hike to Green Mountain Lookout has been called one of the best view hikes in the state. Prior to the series of massive storms in 2003 and 2006 that washed out the Suiattle River Road, the main access road for the lookout trail, hundreds of people trekked up to the lookout, enjoying lush green meadows, wildflowers and jaw-dropping vistas to nearby peaks.

Once the Suiattle River Road reopens, many more hikers will be able to make the pilgrimage to the lookout—this time to celebrate that an important piece of Washington’s history will remain atop Green Mountain for future hikers to enjoy.

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