Thoughts from the Summit at Green Mountain Lookout

Posted on: August 10th, 2012 by Brian Turner 5 Comments


Upon first gaping at the precarious perch of the historic fire lookout on the summit of Green Mountain, my backpacking companion captured the sentiment exactly:

“Yep, those old timers were crazy.”

The precarious perch of the lookout above a steep ledge.

The Green Mountain lookout stands on the crest of a volcanic ridgeline more than seven grueling miles and 5,000 feet higher than its nearest trailhead in the Cascades of Washington State. It was built in 1933 by a hardy work crew from the Civilian Conservation Corps who first carted its heavy wood windows, planks, and support beams on the steep climb up the mountain. Today, it remains a marvel of human ingenuity and backcountry engineering.

Since a federal court ordered the lookout removed from the mountaintop last April (background on the situation here), its future has been in limbo. Legislation was recently introduced to save it from demolition, but its passage is far from certain. So I decided to set out to see the site in its original setting, to see if the debate -- whether all traces of human influence should be removed from designated wilderness areas -- held up.

I began in Darrington, an old logging town two hours northeast of Seattle. Scott Morris, a volunteer with the local Darrington Historical Society, graciously offered to accompany me. It was not an easy hike. Road closures have made what was once a popular day trip to the lookout now require at least one night of camping on the journey.



We began on an old, unmaintained path at the confluence of the Suiattle River and Downey Creek and scrambled for three hours with our backpacks over downed logs, frequently losing and re-finding the trail. By early afternoon we reached the maintained trail that leads to the summit of the mountain with another 4+ miles of uphill ahead.

As we climbed higher, the rewards were tremendous. Near the wilderness boundary we spotted a black bear foraging on young huckleberries. A golden eagle sailed the ridge, hunting for unsuspecting marmots sun-bathing on the rocks. Fields of brilliant wildflowers greeted us in the high country, freshly emerged from the melting snow drifts.



At the summit of Green Mountain, we were in a cloud, the surrounding world barely visible. We found the lookout in its winter dormancy; the heavy wooden shutters that protected its paned glass windows were strapped down with an oversized belt. We opened them to the elements -- a seasonal ritual -- propping up the shutters with iron bars and inspecting damage to the catwalk caused by heavy snow loads. After setting up camp inside, we ate a warm meal and tried to forget about how terrifyingly close to the ledge we actually were.

Tufts of wildflowers and Glacier Peak visible from the lookout entrance.

By dawn the clouds had sunk below us and the tops of the high peaks of the Cascades appeared as islands in the sky. By the time we closed the lookout, the clouds had dispersed entirely, revealing expansive forests in every direction. During the entire trip we saw not another soul. I found it no wonder that some of America’s most influential environmental thinkers were inspired by their solitary summers in the lookouts of the Northwest: Ed Abbey, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac, to name a few.


In some cases, a competing public policy may offer a compelling reason against keeping a historic place in wilderness -- when a historic dam threatens a rare species, for example. But the only thing at risk with the Green Mountain Lookout is an ideology, the mistaken notion the land must be clear cut of any tangible remain of human influence, regardless of how small of an impact it has on natural values.

In contrast, the relatively small amount of historic sites in our America’s wilderness are irreplaceable assets with potential to foster even greater environmental awareness -- to appreciate how land was used (and misused) over time. While some may see these places as an expression of ego, others are likely to be humbled by how small mankind really is in comparison to the vastness of the wilderness beyond.

In a mere flash of geologic time, natural forces will erode the Green Mountain Lookout from its perch, as they have already for many of its kind. Until then, it is a great privilege (for those who can bear the hike) to see those forces in action. In my view, keeping the lookout intact and accessible not only honors the hardy individuals who labored for it, but sustains a popular part of the American identity that takes pride in the careful stewardship of the spectacular land we inherit.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Brian Turner

Brian Turner

Brian Turner is an attorney in the National Trust's San Francisco Field Office. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of the nation's cultural and natural heritage.

Help Protect Colorado's Chimney Rock!

Posted on: May 16th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in southwestern Colorado contains the ruins of ceremonial and residential structures built 1,000 years ago by the Chacoan people. This site remains of great spiritual significance to modern Pueblo Indians, and is considered to be one of the most important cultural sites managed by the U.S. Forest Service -- yet has no protection or designation equal to its importance.

President Obama can use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish Chimney Rock as a national monument to bring increased attention, stature and protection to this irreplaceable and sacred place, but he needs to hear from you first.

Last year, you helped urge the President to take action at historic Fort Monroe, the birthplace of the Civil War Freedom Movement. It’s because of your voices that he took action and created Fort Monroe National Monument. You can make a difference again -- stand with us to establish Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado by signing this open letter today!

For more information on the site, see our Chimney Rock Fact Sheet (PDF).

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.


The old Kennecott mill town -- a feat of human ingenuity that will make your jaw drop -- is perched on the edge of a glacial moraine, in the deep interior of Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the nation’s largest national park.

The Guggenheims and Morgans (of J.P. Morgan fame) financed the construction of the self-contained mining town in the early 20th century and brought in the railroad to boot. It was all to take advantage of a geologic wonder in the mountains above -- one of the richest copper deposits ever recorded.

Kennecott was abandoned in 1938 and relics of the company town were left behind largely intact. The mill town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978, and soon after was surrounded by the new 13 million-acre Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve. But while the park was being protected for its scenic beauty, most of Kennecott remained in private ownership and was not being maintained.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation first listed the Kennecott Mines among America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1990, and again in 1991. The listing helped the Friends of Kennecott secure over $500,000 in state and federal funds to stabilize the 14-story mill building, which is by far the most recognizable and photographed structure in the park.

The listing also encouraged the Park Service to preserve and interpret this vital part of America’s legacy. With help from the Conservation Fund and a substantial donation from the successor mining company, the Park Service acquired most of the complex in 1998 and embarked on the daunting task of stabilizing and rehabilitating more than 18 buildings over the next 11 years. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Brian Turner

Brian Turner

Brian Turner is an attorney in the National Trust's San Francisco Field Office. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of the nation's cultural and natural heritage.

The Byway to Gettysburg: A Vista that Inspires

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment


My earliest historical memories as a child involve a road trip up to Gettysburg National Military Park. At the time it felt like an epic journey (field trips rule!) with a group of friends. I must have been in elementary school at the time because my impressions of that first trip are mostly of being somewhere away from school, and not much about the battlefield itself.

The battlefield. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

Fast forward a few years later. I was a senior in high school and we were back over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania. What’s different about this time is context. We had spent weeks talking about the battle and its role in the Civil War. We watched Gettysburg, read The Killer Angels to see how the battle was interpreted, and recognized the love for a fictional Buster Kilraine. I knew more about what I was looking at, and where I was standing. Together the group - like many before us - reenacted Pickett’s Charge, posed in Devil’s Den like a Matthew Brady photograph, and tried to charge up Little Round Top - getting a clearer idea for tactics. It was a great trip. Public history at its finest.

The hills and woods of Gettysburg are covered in boulders. (Photo: macwagen on Flickr)

Although I've been to Gettysburg a few times since then, a day trip this past weekend made me think about the journey in a different way.  For those of you not from this city, Gettysburg is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Washington, DC. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 270 and Route 15 just over the Maryland border into Pennsylvania.  It is a beautiful drive with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising past you into a brilliant blue sky (in my case this was a surprisingly clear sky following a gentle snowfall).  It is also a drive that includes the Catoctin Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway.

Scenic byway through Gettysburg. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

I think the best definition of what a byway is from the New York Department of Transportation website which states “A scenic byway is a road, but not just a road. It's a road with a story to tell.” These roads push travelers off the beaten path and links together history, transportation and culture. In the case of the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway, you learn about the soldiers who marched to Gettysburg, Maryland’s Native American history, and Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint.

Above all else, what pulled me in and made me grateful for the opportunity was how the byway linked the natural beauty of our country with our past, providing me with a vista that inspires.

The National Scenic Byways Program is just one of many preservation programs threatened in the new American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (HR 7). Learn more about the bill and its effect on historic preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

President Obama Creates New National Monument at Fort Monroe

Posted on: November 1st, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments


Written by Rob Nieweg

Aerial view of Fort Monroe (Photo: Fort Monroe Authority)

Aerial view of Fort Monroe (Photo: Fort Monroe Authority)

Today President Obama created a new National Monument within the National Park system: Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.

President Obama’s executive designation, pursuant to the Antiquities Act, honors Freedom’s Fortress as one of our most important national treasures, on a par with the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.

Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe is a principal landmark of African American heritage. Old Point Comfort was the site of the 1619 First Landing of enslaved Africans in the English-speaking New World, and in 1861 it became the unique birthplace of the Civil War-era freedom movement. The May 1861 events at Fort Monroe inspired 500,000 African American women, children, and men - dubbed “contrabands” by the Union Army - to liberate themselves from bondage. They didn’t wait for permission, but made their way at great risk to relative safety behind Union lines, first at Fort Monroe and shortly thereafter at the ring of fortifications surrounding the nation’s capital. The courage and plight of the freedom seekers influenced national politics and hastened President Lincoln’s formal Emancipation Proclamation. Today, there is no better place, however, than Fort Monroe and nearby Hampton University­­ - under the legendary Emancipation Oak - to understand the personal struggles and triumphs of the freedom seekers, a chapter of American history too often relegated to the margins of traditional Civil War scholarship. But, this is a new day.

The U.S. Army has been a good steward of Fort Monroe for almost 200 years. The transition away from the fort’s original military use requires planning, pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act, to ensure that Fort Monroe is carefully preserved and skillfully adapted for compatible new productive uses. Yeoman’s work already has been done by the Army, Fort Monroe Authority, and Virginia Department of Historic Resources to prepare preservation-based protections for the 180 historic structures - including a massive, moated stone fortress - which contribute to the architectural character of Fort Monroe. Kathleen Kilpatrick, the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer, and Bill Armbruster, original director of the Fort Monroe Authority, deserve medals for their leadership.

As an advocate, the National Trust has been working to preserve Fort Monroe since 2005, shortly before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to shutter the historic military post. The National Trust has served on the master plan steering committee and the historic preservation advisory group for the Fort Monroe Authority. Over the years we have worked closely with our partners at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, National Park Service, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Preservation Virginia, National Parks Conservation Association, Civil War Trust, as well as with grassroots groups like Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park and The Contraband Historical Society. It’s been a team effort.

In addition to President Obama, credit for the National Monument designation is due to many public officials who have joined in recognizing Fort Monroe’s importance to the nation. The thank you list includes Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, U.S. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, members of Congress Bobby Scott, Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes, and Rob Wittman, the whole Congressional Black Causcus, as well as Interior Secretary Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. We all owe special thanks to Hampton’s Mayor Molly Ward, a passionate and effective champion for preservation of Fort Monroe.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story at Fort Monroe. Now comes the hard work of preparing and implementing detailed plans for conserving Fort Monroe’s outstanding scenic, natural, architectural, and cultural assets while encouraging sustainable economic development strategies so that Fort Monroe remains a vital community where people live, work, and visit. The National Trust will continue to play an active role at Fort Monroe, with special attention paid to ensure that the full and unvarnished stories of the “Contraband” heritage of self-emancipation are interpreted at Fort Monroe.

But first, a celebration and a request to you: Please join the National Trust in sending a personal thank you to President Obama.

Rob Nieweg leads the National Trust’s Washington Field Office, which works to save historic places in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.