Federal Judge Orders Removal Of Green Mountain Lookout
Closed forever? A federal judge's ruling orders the removal of the recently restored Green Mountain Lookout. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.
The historic Green Mountain Lookout might be breathing its last. On March 27, Federal District Judge John Coughenor ordered that the Green Mountain Lookout be removed.
Built in 1933, the lookout, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was used for decades to spot fires in the North Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Since the mid-1980s the structure has been a popular destination for hikers venturing in from the Suiattle River Road (this road has been closed due to flooding since 2006).
However, decades of heavy snow, rain and mountain sun weathered the lookout and its foundation. A failed 2002 attempt to repair the foundation led to the Forest Service helicoptering the structure to Darrington, where it was restored by volunteers. Seventy-five percent of the original structure's materials were used in the restoration project, and in 2009, it was helicoptered back to its former perch.
In 2010, Montana-based Wilderness Watch sued to force removal of the structure, contending that the project violated the Wilderness Act's ban on structure and motorized equipment and did not comply with procedural requirements outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). And on Tuesday, Judge Coughenor ruled in Wilderness Watch's favor. Peter Forbes, Darrington District Ranger told me, "The judge made his decision on March 27, and we received the ruling today. We have 60 days to review the decision and determine whether to appeal, as well as how to apply with the Court's decision."
Appeal is certainly one option that the Forest Service has in this case. According to Brian Turner, Senior Field Officer/Attorney in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's San Francisco Field Office, "It's unclear as to whether there will be an appeal. The U.S. Attorney will make the case for an appeal to the Solicitor General, and they'll make a decision based on that." Turner continued, "A small silver lining of this case is that the ruling clarifies that the meaning of the word "historic" as used in the Wilderness Act can refer to man-made as well as natural history. This decision is not the death of historic structures in wilderness."
Lookouts are a deep part of the post-settlement history of the Pacific Northwest. These solitary buildings in their rarified environments are a touchstone to others who have explored these peaks before us. For decades, they housed hard workers, loners, wilderness mystics, and in the case of the North Cascades lookouts, poets. Should the Forest Service decline to appeal this decision, one more piece of that history will pass, and we'll be poorer for it.