Historic Structures

Badger Mountain Lookout Fire Watchtower, East Wenatchee Washington

Date added: June 15, 2021 Categories: Washington Fire Watchtower

Over 30 lookout houses were constructed for the Wenatchee National Forest by the Civilian Conservation Corps between the years 1933 and 1942. Badger Mountain Lookout is believed to be among this group. Typically, the C.C.C. provided a work crew which was supervised by a skilled carpenter known as the Local Experienced Man (L.E. M.).

Since its founding in 1905, the USDA Forest Service had sought to provide fire surveillance of the National Forests through placement of men on strategic mountain peaks during fire season. The use of specialized lookout structures began in the Pacific Northwest with the construction of a prototype lookout house placed on Mt. Hood in 1915. The D-6 (District 6, now Region 6) Lookout House, with its distinctive hipped roof and cupola observatory, was built throughout the forests of the northwest in the 1920s.

An important variation on the standard D-6 Lookout House design was the standard Plan L-2 developed in 1928 by Forest Service employees Clyde P. Fickes and J.B. Halm from Region One. The Plan L-2 was designed for construction with pre-cut members packed in by mules, along with simple tools and easy-to-follow instructions. The lookout man was to match the numbered pieces together and build the shelter by himself. Few L-2 lookout houses were constructed, and those that were did not stand up well.

The design of the Plan L-4 in 1930 was the logical evolution of the basic concept of the L-2, and is also credited to Fickes and Halm. The standard Plan L-4 was also pre-cut and shipped in bundles specifically limited in length and weight and packed in by horse or mule, but was intended for more permanent construction by a skilled carpenter and crew. The L-4 Plan was slightly revised two times between 1930 and 1936 and continued to be used extensively by the Forest Service until 1953.

Badger Mountain Lookout exibits character-defining features typical of standard Plan L-4 (as revised in 1932) lookout houses constructed throughout Wenatchee National Forest during the C.C.C. era. Records suggest that this lookout was first constructed in another location, and subsequently disassembled and moved to Badger Mt. Its original location remains undocumented, and no details of the move and reconstruction on Badger Mountain have come to light.

Badger Mountain Lookout has undergone little physical change since its construction in the mid-1930s. The original tongue-in-groove built-up shutters have been replaced, because of prolonged exposure to severe weather, with a similarly-detailed plywood type shutter, still utilizing the original brace and support system. On the interior, modern vinyl flooring has covered the original 1" by 4" fir flooring. The only element of original standard wood furnishings which remains in place is the firefinder stand. Benches, table, storage cabinets, lightning stool, and the firefinder instrument itself have been removed from the lookout.

There is evidence of several outbuildings and features which once were situated around the exterior of the lookout, but which have been either demolished or allowed to deteriorate. These include the foundations of a garage, remnants of an old root cellar, a flag pole site, and pathways and walks lined with sandstone and basalt.

USDA Forest Service

In 1905, Federal legislation created the USDA Forest Service, an agency dedicated to the protection and management of previously-established forest reserves. Forest Rangers and Supervisors began to develop a comprehensive system for administration of the forests, including the development of trails, roads, and ranger and guard stations. By 1908, five new National Forests were created in Washington State: Chelan NF, Colville NF, Columbia NF (later changed to Gifford Pinchot), Snoqualmie NF, and Wenatchee NF.

In the same year, the Forest Service also began to formally recruit paid fire crews, greatly strengthening the agency's forest fire suppression capability. Previously, fire control had been handled by the combined volunteer efforts of miners, loggers, ranchers, and homesteaders. The establishment of the new agency marked an advance in public support for the conservation of natural resources and for a program of full-scale forest fire protection.

Early in the administration of the National Forests, a specialized detection/communication system through a network of fire lookouts was put in place. The essential feature of this system was the stationing of men on selected mountain peaks during fire season. The sole responsibility of the lookout man was to discover, report, and in some cases fight forest fires.

The lookout system expanded rapidly between 1911 and 1915, owing in large part to extensive fires in 1910 and subsequent Federal aid. Typically, the lookout man camped in a tent below the peak and hiked daily to and from a tree platform or a pile of rocks. These crude stations were equipped with a compass or firefinder and a means of communication by heliograph or telephone. The prototype "Osborne Fire Finder" came into use in 1914. Readings similar to those taken from an engineer's transit would be used in conjunction with sightings from other lookout stations to provide a "triangulation."

By 1915, the Forest Service had begun to consider the importance of providing a permanent lookout structure which would enhance the working conditions and the performance of the lookout man. The prototype lookout house built on Mt. Hood in 1915 (the basis for the standard D-6 Lookout House) was designed by Lige Coalman of District 6. It was a 12' by 12' pre-cut wood frame house with windows all around the upper portion of the structure, a protective shutter system, and a glazed second-story observatory or cupola. Eventually, a few hundred lookouts based on this design were placed on forests in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The great majority of these are no longer extant.

Wenatchee National Forest

Wenatchee National Forest was established in 1908 out of lands previously administered as part of the Washington Forest Reserve. Sheep grazing, orcharding, mining, and trapping were the principal commercial activities on or adjacent to forest lands. Because of these activities, an extensive system of trails and wagon roads existed on the forest by 1908. Access into and out of the Wenatchee Valley was by steamer on the Columbia River, or over the steep and difficult Colockum Pass route from the Kittitas Valley. The forest's fairly intense level of use, the relatively good access to it, and the dry climate east of the Cascade Crest, contibuted to the area's extensive fire history.

By 1914, several fire lookout points had been established by the Forest Service on the Wenatchee National Forest. These camps, on selected mountain peaks, included Dirty Face Ridge, Sugarloaf Peak, Icicle Ridge and Tiptop. The placement of these stations and the subsequent construction of D-6 cupola-style lookouts followed a regional trend.

Good automobile roads connected eastern and western Washington and extended well into the forest by 1922. A fairly well-developed system of trails provided access to all parts of the forest by foot or pack horse. An official Forest map from this period promoted the "beautiful" views from fire lookout stations, which were accessible by trail and included; Tumwater Mt., Dirty Face Peak, Sugarloaf Peak, Tiptop, Red Top, and Jolly Mt. Permanent lookout houses, most often of the D-6 cupola-style plan, had been placed on at least eight lookout points by 1925 and several more triangulation points and/or tent camps were in use.

L-4 Fire Lookout House

The Plan L-4 Lookout House, designed by Fickes and Halm of Region One, was developed as a more efficient and economic alternative to the older D-6 design. At first intended for assembly by the lookout man himself (as Plan L-2), the 1930 Plan L-4 was made for construction by a professional carpenter and his crew. The design was slightly revised in 1932 from a simple gable roof form to a more structurally efficient hipped or pyramidal roof configuration. In 1936, the design was again revised to specify a different window shutter support system. Over 1000 L-4 plan lookouts were ultimately built throughout the National Forests, primarily on Region One, in Montana and Idaho, and Region Six in Washington and Oregon.

The standard Plan L-4 included several distinctive design features which reflect the functional nature of the property type and the conditions involved in the construction and use of it. The salient features of the plan were: a 14' by 14' structural frame of pre-cut members; indigenous rock foundations and guy anchorage systems; a tower structure of pre-drilled, treated timbers; perimeter catwalks; pyramidal roof forms (after 1932); a continous band of windows for 360-degree visibility; window shutters to protect glazing from snow and wind; a lightning protection system; and rudimentary interior furnishings which included the firefinder instrument and stand.

The proliferation of the standard Plan L-4 in an expanded fire lookout network in the 1930s was spurred by two important events: the initiation in 1932 of a ten-year National Plan for forest projects, and the establishment in 1933 of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The C.C.C. influenced the physical development of lands under the jurisdiction of the National Forest Service more than any other single group or federal program. The C.C.C. had a particularly significant impact on the improvement of National Forests in the Pacific Northwest. Between 1933 and 1942, the accomplishments of the C.C.C. in the region included the construction of hundreds of lookout houses and towers, the installation of thousands of miles of telephone lines, and the construction and maintenance of foot trails, forest roads and fire breaks. Administrative and service buildings, many of them still in use today, were also erected by C.C.C. crews.

C.C.C. projects were undertaken on the Wenatchee National Forest by enrollees stationed at Camp Taneum near Thorp, Camp Icicle near Leavenworth, Camp Brannigan on the Entiat River, Camp 25 Mile Creek on Lake Chelan, and the Soil Erosion Camp at Mission Creek at Cashmere. In order to better accomplish isolated projects, several other "side" or "spike" camps were also established and operated entirely by the Forest Service.

The contributions of the C.C.C. greatly improved the Forest Service's fire detection and suppression system. Over 30 lookout houses were erected by the C.C.C. on the Wenatchee National Forest alone. Trails or roads to access the lookout sites were also provided. Many C.C.C. enrollees additionally served as lookout men or made up firefighting crews on major forest fires in the 1930s.

Occupation and Use of the Badger Mountain Lookout

EuroAmerican settlement in the Wenatchee area began in the late 1860s, although the lack of rail transportation and isolation from national markets limited growth for several decades. By the late 1880s, the land around Badger Mountain had been homesteaded and was in use for livestock grazing and wheat farming. By 1917, wagon roads traversed this area of Douglas County. Dramatically different topography characterizes Douglas County on the east side of the Columbia River, and Chelan County on the west. From the gently rolling wheat and grasslands of Badger Mountain is an unmatched view of the forested mountain ranges of Chelan. It is possible that Badger Mountain served as a fire surveillance point prior to any documented Forest Service use of the site.

By 1922, official Forest Service maps note the use of a "TREE" and a triangulation station on Badger Mountain. The lookout station appears to have been easily accessible from East Wenatchee. The "TREE" and triangulation station notations continue to appear on Forest Service maps until the mid-1930s, although records from 1932 indicate that a "permanent" lookout and a tree were in use. Correspondence from 1947 refers to the relocation of a lookout house to Badger Mountain. Thus, the precise date of the construction or reconstruction of the present-day lookout on Badger Mountain has yet to be documented.

Badger Mountain Lookout was actively manned into the mid-1970s and has been used for emergency purposes since that time. Oscar Richardson served as lookout man there for about 20 years, from 1953 through 1972. Several women manned the station at various times, including Charlotte Rainey from the ranch below, Barbara Calder from 1949 to 1950, and Lana Thurston in the mid- 1970s. Badger Mountain Lookout was actively used for monitoring purposes in the Dinkelman Fire of 1988.

In the spring of 1995, the Wenatchee National Forest dismantled the lookout house and tower and reassembled it at the Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center, located several miles north of Entiat on the west side of the Columbia River.