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Old fire lookouts a reflection of ranger’s unique talents

Celebrating the restoration of the Hahn's Peak Lookout

A group of hikers visited the original Hahn's Peak fire lookout in 1922. It wasn't until the 1930s that the wooden second story and catwalk were added.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy

If you go:

What: Celebration of the newly restored Hahn’s Peak Fire Lookout

When and where: 11 a.m. Sept. 24, family-friend hike to the lookout, meet at the Hahns Peak trailhead.

3 to 5 p.m. Sept. 24, celebratory barbecue at Steamboat Lake State Park Visitors Center.

— Fire lookout towers were commonplace on tall peaks overlooking America’s forests in the middle of the 20th century, but modern aircraft with infrared heat mapping technology have made them all but obsolete.

Historically, it was often school teachers on summer break who staffed fire lookouts, using binoculars to spot forest fires before they blew out of control.

The work wasn’t as romantic as it sounds, and the days when lonely lookouts guarded the timber are all but gone. But that doesn’t mean that historic lookout towers, such as the one topping 10,839-foot Hahns Peak in North Routt County, aren’t valuable cultural markers.



On Saturday, restoration of that tower atop Hahns Peak will be celebrated with a hike and community barbecue. The hike begins at 11 a.m., and participants will leave from the Hahns Peak Trailhead, weather permitting. A barbecue will follow from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Steamboat Lake Visitors Center.

Both events are open to the community.



If you go:

What: Celebration of the newly restored Hahn’s Peak Fire Lookout

When and where: 11 a.m. Sept. 24, family-friend hike to the lookout, meet at the Hahns Peak trailhead.

3 to 5 p.m. Sept. 24, celebratory barbecue at Steamboat Lake State Park Visitors Center.

Historic Routt County Board President and National Forest archaeologist Bridget Roth said the Hahns Peak Lookout is believed to be among the earliest built in the National Forest system.

“Many of the structures constructed during the early days of the Forest Service are ‘vernacular’ — they are constructed based on the skills and abilities of the local rangers using locally available materials,” Roth said. “This is what makes the early constructed features, whether lookouts, ranger stations or other administrative sites, so special — they are a reflection of the rangers’ unique abilities.”

Tread of Pioneers Museum Executive Director Candice Bannister described in 2014 how the original lookout amounted to a single-room stone shelter. It was in the 1930s that a wooden lookout with stairs and a catwalk was built atop the stone base.

The completion of the restoration represents years of cooperation among several organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Historic Routt County, Denver-based HistoriCorps and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.

RYMC supplied crews of young adults, who carried lumber on their shoulders up the mountain to the restoration site one piece at a time.

The Forest Service selected HRC to manage the restoration project, and HRC, in turn, hired HistoriCorps to lead the restoration work. HistoriCorps involved volunteers and students to work with its field staff while learning preservation skills.

“HistoriCorps has done a great job leading the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and volunteers from all over the country to restore the lookout back to what it looked like in 1942,” HRC Executive Director Meg Tully said. She added volunteers often dealt with “back-breaking labor, cold weather, rain and snow.”

The use of the lookout declined in the 1940s, and after World War II, airplanes replaced the lookouts. Through many harsh winters, the historic structure deteriorated.

Roth said the restored lookout is emblematic of the achievements of the people who strived to establish America’s system of public lands.

“While the Hahns Peak Lookout is not a building like the Washington Monument, it is a monumental testament to the hard work and ingenuity of those tasked with protecting our public lands,” she said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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