Preservation Partnerships:  Saving Our Forest Fire Lookouts

By: Kolleen Kralick, Molly Westby Terri Liestman and Bridget Roth (US Forest Service) Catherine Griffin and Jeremy Spates (HistoriCorps)


In Recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act the US Forest Service, Forest Fire Lookout Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and HistoriCorps entered into a collaborative agreement with the goal of restoring 16 Forest Service Lookouts by the 2016 NHPA Anniversary.  Working with volunteers, youth, and veteran groups the Forest Service has exceeded the goal of restoring 16 Lookouts by 2016.


Our Partners:

HistoriCorps – a nonprofit organization that provides volunteers, students and veterans of all skill levels with hands-on experience preserving historic structures on public lands across America.  Volunteers and students work with field staff to learn preservation skills and put those skills to work saving historic places that have fallen into disrepair.


Forest Fire Lookout Association – FFLA is an organization involved in research of current and former forest fire lookout sites, ground cabins and early forest fire detection methods.  It promotes the protection, enjoyment and understanding of the lookouts.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation – a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places.  They take direct on-the-ground action when historic buildings and sites are threatened.. 


Passport-In-Time – a volunteer cultural heritage resources program.  The goal of PIT is to provide opportunities for the public to work with professionals in the preservation of the nation’s past. 


Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – RMYC engages young people in the outdoors, inspiring them to use their strengths and potential to lead healthy, productive lives.


Our Challenges:

As a government agency our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.  The purpose of the US Forest Service’s Heritage Program is to protect significant heritage resources, to share their values with the American people, and to contribute relevant information and perspectives to natural resource management.  Our biggest challenges include:


  • Ninety percent of the funding for our Heritage program comes from Section 106 support work and is focused on project specific areas and site avoidance


  • Restoration of these historic structures require substantial financial and labor investments, often beyond the means of the Heritage Program


  • What time and money the program does have, is used as leverage to create partnerships to accomplish this important work


  • Due to the remote location of most Lookouts, access and getting materials to the sites offers unique problems.  Often requiring long hikes up steep terrain carrying the necessary materials for restoration work


  • Partnerships, such as the one with HistoriCorps, are crucial for obtaining the expertise in the historic restoration necessary to stabilize and restore these resources


Success Stories in Wyoming:


Black Mountain Lookout, Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming


Black Mountain Lookout sits above the timberline at 9,383 feet.  Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939, the view covers the northern end of the Bighorn NF.  The lookout was manned until 1987 when technology made staffing it obsolete.

The lookout had been vacant for 27 years, when in 2014 the FS and HistoriCorps working with volunteers from their program, restored the catwalk and railing, shutters, re-shingled the roof, repointed the stone foundation, and installed a composting toilet.



With the restoration complete, the Lookout is ready to join a number of other lookouts in the FS Rental Program.  This program allows the public the unique experience to rent a FS site for overnight stays.  Often involving a hike to the lookout, the visitor can experience what it was like to staff these significant historic resources while providing a source of revenue for the FS to cover the maintenance cost of retaining them.


Blackhall Lookout, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming


In 1943, 16-year-old Clay R. Apple Jr., from Greeley, Colorado spent 68 days stationed at Blackhall.  Only twice during the summer was he visited by rangers bringing him food supplies.  From dawn to dusk he scanned thousands of acres every 30 minutes for smoke.  He was credited with three fire discoveries that year.  He also took weather readings five times a day.  The Greeley newspaper reported Clay’s experience as the Medicine Bow’s youngest Forest Service fire guard.




The existing structure replaced the original in 1963.  It was used for 25 years then put on standby for emergency use.  It also houses critical emergency telecommunications systems for the FS as well as three other agencies. 

The FS has partnered with HistoriCorps, Job Corps, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and volunteers from the Forest Fire Lookout Association to restore this tower with the ultimate goal of putting it also into the FS Rental Program