Tales from the Tread: Partnership for preservation

Candice Bannister/For the Steamboat Today
Summit of Hahn's Peak - 1922.

— Allured by the prospect of gold, German immigrant Joseph Hahn (originally spelled Henn) settled in the area now known as Hahn’s Peak in the early 1860s.

The village of Hahn’s Peak was the first settlement in Routt County and eventually became the first county seat. Though the “mother lode” of gold was never found, the area supported successful mining operations between 1860 and 1890.

In 1905, lands surrounding the Hahn’s Peak community, which included the closed and abandoned Hahn’s Peak Gold Mine, were converted from private lands to public lands, with the establishment of the Park Range Forest Preserve, eventually the Routt National Forest.

At an elevation of close to 11,000 feet, and one of the most prominent peaks in Routt County, the Forest Service selected Hahn’s Peak as the location to construct the new administrative building for managing forest resources — the Hahn’s Peak Fire Lookout.

This original lookout was one of the first officially funded lookouts built in Colorado; construction start dates for the lookout vary from 1908 to 1912.

Since early forest rangers were required to build their own facilities using local materials and resources to achieve agency goals, walls were constructed of local stone from the top of the mountain and the remains of the Hahn’s Peak Gold Mining and Milling Company operations of the Royal Flush-Wedge Lode mining claim.

The original lookout consisted of a compact, single-room stone shelter. Alterations in the 1930s included the addition of a wood lookout on top of the stone shelter, installation of exterior stairs and catwalk and the application of concrete on the exterior face of the stone shelter.

After serving its purpose for several decades, use of the site decreased in the late 1940s. After World War II, airplanes were used for fire monitoring instead of lookout towers, so the Hahn’s Peak Lookout was taken offline as so many lookouts in the Forest Service system were.

Today, the lookout is in semi-ruinous condition and is no longer safe for visitors to enter. If significant restoration and preservation work on the structure is not completed within the next two years, inevitably the lookout will be lost.

To save the lookout, local and national partners have teamed up to rehabilitate the Hahn’s Peak Fire Lookout to a safe condition to serve as a destination for the hundreds of visitors who hike to the peak each year.

The Hahn’s Peak Lookout was listed on Colorado’s Most Endangered Places List in 2014. The site is also considered to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is currently listed on the Routt County Register of Historic Places and on the National Fire Lookout Association registry.

Also, the lookout is considered a Priority Heritage Asset, or PHA, by the Forest Service. PHAs are cultural resources managed by the Forest Service that are considered to be the “best of the best,” and this designation requires additional commitment by the Forest Service to ensure that the site is preserved.

The restoration activities proposed at the Hahn’s Peak Lookout are anticipated to be completed in a single phase of work, with five volunteer work sessions targeted for summer 2015.

Leading the efforts is local preservation organization, Historic Routt County, in partnership with HistoriCorps, a national organization that works through partnerships to mobilize volunteers to save and sustain our nation’s special places while providing educational and outdoor experiences. Other partners are Jan Kaminski, of Mountain Architecture Design Group, the USFS and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ Historic Preservation Corps. More than $80,000 in grants has been secured for the project.

“It’s not just protecting monumental things for monumental people in monumental places,” local USFS archaeologist Bridget Roth said in a documentary about the Hahn’s Peak Lookout filmed by Denver’s Channel 4 News. “We’re protecting the small actions of people.”

If you would like to be a part of restoring this significant local landmark, either as a volunteer or financial contributor, please contact Meg Tully at Historic Routt County at or 970-875-1305.

Special thanks to Historic Routt County for providing content for this article.

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