Bob Adler with Forest Service plaque.

Volunteers Dedicate Piece of History

KELLY BUTTE LOOKOUT RESTORED
Volunteers Dedicate Piece of History

It was a good day to dedicate a lookout. Clear, and except for a little haze from a fire burning in Olympic Peninsula, you could see for miles. About 30 people clustered around the staging area just southeast and in sight of the Kelly Butte Lookout on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to celebrate the end of five years of restoration work. Volunteers, Forest Service employees, the national chairman of the Forest Fire Lookout Association and even a couple of former lookout staffers were there last Sunday afternoon.

A scope was set up on the edge of the landing so they could view the finished lookout. Several of the men reminisced while looking through an old photo album with black and whites showing young men at Kelly Butte through the years, some posed with guitars and others using the Osborne Fire Finder. When the ceremony started, several people spoke, sharing their stories about lookouts and working on Kelly Butte.

John Sandor traveled from Juneau, Alaska, to revisit where he had worked as a young man. “This lookout was built in 1926, the year I was born. Sixteen years later I was working there, so this is especially rewarding,” he said. Sandor’s story about his first attempt to cook on the lookout was greeted with knowing laughs as he described how he ended up with a congealed glob of spaghetti because he didn’t wait for the water to boil.

Forrest Clark, another association member who has restored several lookouts talked about why it took 140 hours to refinish the Kelly Butte Lookout door. He shared the difficulties of finding cedar to make historically correct roof shingles, making them and then discovering they were burned for firewood.

Daniel Leen staffed Kelly Butte Lookout in 1968. He said he was influenced to get the job because of writers Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. It was the next thing to do, after all, he had hopped freight trains and climbed mountains. It was a rite of passage for a young man of that era. Being a lookout wasn’t a job for everyone: they packed in enough supplies for weeks and lived in solitude, getting mail infrequently. Leen said Snyder’s poem, “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” best describes what it was like to work on the lookout. “The feeling that you are there by yourself: a sense of wistfulness and nostalgia.”

Bob Adler, who led the effort, described how they replaced 80 window panes, refinishing 19 window frames and building eight new shutters. He talked about the logistical challenge of transporting the finished product a mile and a half up the mountain.

The Forest Service presented Adler a plaque for the lookout. Keith Argow, chairman for the National Forest Fire Lookout Association, presented him another proclaiming Kelly Butte as the 917th registered historical lookout in the United States.

An avid backpacker and hiker for 30 years in the Pacific Northwest, Adler likes high places. He has been heavily influenced by Ray Kresek’s book, “Fire Lookouts of the Northwest,” visited 187 lookouts and is a longtime member of the Forest Fire Lookout Association. So in 2006 when he was asked lead the volunteer effort to restore Kelly Butte, he jumped at the opportunity. He rallied volunteers through nwhikers.net, a popular hikers blog, where he is known as “lookout bob,” enlisted his coworkers at Seattle Public Library and the Washington Trails Association. The Forest Service provided funding through a Resource Advisory Committee grant.

Adler is moving on to work on other projects, such as Heybrook Lookout, but hopes someone will step up to take care of Kelly Butte. “I love to work on these historical buildings and hate to see them go away. There used to be 600 in Washington, now there’s only 90 and fading,” he said.

After the ceremony, socializing and cake, Adler and few others made the one hour hike to the Kelly Butte Lookout perched at 5,379 feet, to enjoy the views and to attach two plaques to the building.

For more information about Kelly Butte Lookout go to www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mbs/lookouts or call Enumclaw Public Service Center at 360-802-5310.

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