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Volunteer Labor of Love Refurbishes Kelly Butte Lookout in Washington

Volunteers work to install the railing around the catwalk. Photo by Bob Adler.

Volunteers work to install the railing around the catwalk. Photo by Bob Adler.

One hour of hiking through rock towers and outcroppings daubed with wildflowers bring you to a stone staircase leading up to the deck of the Kelly Butte Lookout perched at 5,379 feet.

Walk around the railed catwalk of the historical mountaintop cabin on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and on a clear day enjoy magnificent views of Mount Rainer, Mount Stuart, and if you’re lucky, Mount Baker. The forest is one of the most visited in the country, located east of Seattle on the west side of the Cascade Mountains between the Canadian border and Mt. Rainier National Park.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original cabin in 1926 and updated it in 1950.  The lookout was last used in the 1980s, and since then neglect, vandalism, harsh elements and time degraded the historical building into a crumbling shack, boarded over with weathered plywood.  The windows were broken with the original frames shattered, the roof leaked and the catwalk around the building was falling down.

Lookouts have been part of Bob Adler’s life for the last decade.  An avid backpacker and hiker for 30 years in the Pacific Northwest, he 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 a volunteer effort to restore Kelly Butte, he jumped at the opportunity.

First he needed workers. He began rallying volunteers through NorthWest Hikers blog, where he is known as “lookout bob.”  Then he enlisted his coworkers at the Seattle Public Library, where he has worked in maintenance for 10 years.

The Washington Trails Association got involved at the invitation of the Forest Service, which supplied money through a Resource Advisory Committee grant.  It was the first lookout Adler had ever worked on and it wasn’t easy.

“It started out with replacing the roof, then became much more than that,” he said.

The lookout was in shambles before the restoration.  Photo by Bob Pacific, US Forest Service.

The lookout was in shambles before the restoration. Photo by Bob Pacific, US Forest Service.

After years of abuse and neglect hard work from local volunteers restore Kelly Butte Lookout to its former glory. Photo by Bob Adler.

After years of abuse and neglect hard work from local volunteers restore Kelly Butte Lookout to its former glory. Photo by Bob Adler.

Transporting heavy materials and equipment a mile and a half up the mountain was a logistical challenge.  Alder and his crew replaced the shake roof the first year. The second year they replaced 80 window panes, refinished 19 window frames, and built eight new shutters. They invested 140 hours replacing the door and rebuilding shutters blown off the lookout in winter storms the third year. The fourth year workers pulled the old deck off and replaced it, then built a rail around it the next year along with painting the exterior and staining the new deck and railings. This year crews painted the interior and put on the finishing touches, such as installing an Osborne Fire Finder. After 3,000 hours of volunteer it is done.

Kelly Butte was recently added to the National Historical Lookout Registry.

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.

A view of Mt. Rainer from the lookout. Photo by Bob Adler.

A view of Mt. Rainer from the lookout. Photo by Bob Adler.

2 Responses to “Volunteer Labor of Love Refurbishes Kelly Butte Lookout in Washington”

  1. Clint Bowman says:

    Worked on fire crew as a young lad in Lester about 1943/44 . We serviced the lookout. It was in service then. Nice to see it restored.
    There was no deck around it then.

    Clint

  2. Reed Hunter says:

    Just read a touching epilogue penned in ’84 by the famous Dune series author Frank Herbert about his recently deceased wife Bev. It’s good to know this building has been restored. The excerpt from the end of his book _Chapterhouse_Dune_ reads …

    We began that sharing with a ceremony before a minister in Seattle on June 20, 1946. Our honeymoon was spent on a firewatch lookout atop Kelley Butte in Snoqualmie National Forest. Our quarters were twelve feet square with a cupola
    above only six feet square and most of that filled by the firefinder with which we located any smoke we saw.

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