Forest Fire Lookout Association

Idaho's spectacular mountaintop viewpoints make it a compelling place to visit if you're fascinated by fire lookouts. So it's no surprise the Forest Fire Lookout Association has scheduled several national conferences in the state. Their most recent meeting in Idaho was held in Grangeville during the summer of 2010. Over a long weekend CEO Keith Argow and other members of the group shared valuable information about their ongoing mission to preserve and protect the nation's fire lookouts. And they found time to visit several local lookouts including Corral Hill.

Visitors at the Corral Hill Lookout

"Isaac Walton said God never took a day away that was spent fishing. I paraphrase that God never took a day away from us that was spent on a lookout or working in a looking, restoring lookouts and as a result we get a wonderful group of people."

"The Forest Fire Lookout Association was founded by people who were fire tower operators and other people who just plain liked fire lookouts The goal was three-fold: one was to identify and inventory and keep a record of our lookouts including the former sites. The second goal was to do restorations and the third goal was to help agencies staff them if necessary with volunteers."

"You have a strong feeling you are making a difference and you get a great satisfaction knowing you were part of a growing movement. It just gives me real raison d'être, a wonderful reason for living."
— Keith Argow, CEO, Forest Fire Lookout Association

Gary Weber visits the deteriorating Spades Lookout Tower

That's why Argow and his group work so hard to save and restore any lookouts they can. Part of their work includes placing structures on the National Historic Lookout Register. It's a list that now includes nearly nine hundred locations.

Gary Weber is the northern Idaho/Montana director for the Forest Fire Lookout Association. He's been keeping track of various lookouts in the area for years.

"The lookouts are a part of our heritage and too often when we start thinking heritage people talk hundreds of years ago but they forget about the recent history that is a whole lot easier to record now than when it is a hundred and fifty years old."
— Gary Weber, Regional Director Forest Fire Lookout Association

Though Weber would like to save all the lookouts in the region it's not possible. One historic lookout near Coeur d'Alene is likely on its last leg.

The deteriorating Spades Lookout Tower

"Spades has been a lookout point since probably the early '30s, maybe even before that. It had several different structures on the site. The current lookout tower was built in the early '60s. It's one of the taller wooden towers around. Actually I believe it is the tallest wooden tower left in the state, sixty-seven foot. It was used for fire detection probably into the 1980s sometime. And it basically has been left open to the public, to the elements, no maintenance, and no care given to it at all. It does get a lot of traffic, a lot of visitors, some not always doing the best things and we look now at the condition it is in. It's just one of those that just really have taken a toll with the vandalism. And just looking at reality it would be a huge undertaking to put it back into serviceable condition for whatever purpose. Unfortunately even though we like to save them all this is one that okay, if something had to go in preference to keeping something else why, it's kind of a trade-off. We're still going to do everything we can to record its history and at least preserve that aspect of it."
— Gary Weber, Regional Director, Forest Fire Lookout Association

Gary Weber is hoping another aging tower in the area that's also in bad shape can be saved.

Spyglass Lookout Tower

"Spyglass has been a lookout point since the 1920s. One of the neat things about Spyglass is that you've got two different structures there representing two different time frames. The cabin on the ground was moved there from another lookout in the early 1940s as living quarters for a different tower that just had a small cab on it. Then the current tower was built somewhere around 1950. It's a fifty-three foot treated timber tower with an L4 cab, a common design in that time frame. And just the setting out here above the old McGee Ranger Station, totally out in the forest, it's just what I consider a beautiful setting and the ideal place to see a lookout. The latest decision was that rather than being an administrative structure this would be turned over to heritage and be left as a heritage structure, the tower wouldn't be restored, it would just be left restricted access and as a standing ruin so to speak. And at the same time though the cabin on the ground, there are a lot of options for that."

"Right now out of the original almost a thousand we've got somewhere over one-hundred fifty lookout structures still standing in the state of Idaho. And of those … between fifty and sixty are still being used for fire detection. And there are another ten or twelve in the rental program and a lot of others that are having work done on them. We still do have a lot and a good chunk of those that yes, needs some help that could go either way."
— Gary Weber, regional director, Forest Fire Lookout Association