Friends of North Mountain
Stay at the Lookout. The only rentable tower in Washington you can drive to!
It all started at a Darrington Strong meeting when Forrest Clark, a northwest fire lookout enthusiast, and his friend Geoff Kemp, a general contractor, came to speak about saving the North Mountain Lookout. It could have been an asset to the community, they said, but it was languishing in a state of severe neglect. It was that night back in 2013, based on their suggestion, that a new Darrington Strong project was born.
The lookout is just to the north of town, on the Darrington Ranger District, which is part of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Several people thought the lookout restoration was a great idea and wanted to help, but they needed someone who was willing to organize the effort. Roselie Rasmussen decided to be the go-to person for finding ways to move the project forward.
We all needed to see clearly what we were hoping to accomplish and why. With a diverse group of volunteers who valued different elements of the project, we needed to include everyone’s motivations for contributing their energy. This helped keep us focused through the years.
We brought our vision to the US Forest Service, which owned the land and the lookout. With the reputations of our individual volunteers, as well as the track record of Darrington Strong they approved of the idea and told us what we would need in order to get a Volunteer Agreement so that we could start work on the lookout. What we needed was a plan.
We reached out to every contact we had and found Bud Hardwick, Ed Alm and Mark Hanna, who created detailed drawings and lists of what the lookout and site needed. These plans were shared with the Forest Service. Meanwhile the Forest Service sent their Facilities Engineer to the site to do a condition inspection and create a restoration checklist.
After these plans were shared it was determined that we also needed a report and recommendations from a structural engineer. Mark reached out to Dennis Titus and Cameron Partow at CG Engineers and they did the site visit and created the report for us, pro bono!
But we still couldn’t start work until we’d had a historic evaluation. This evaluation was to determine whether or not the site had historic significance and would need to be restored in line with national historic preservation standards.
We also had to check for asbestos, but luckily a Forest Service employee and lookout enthusiast, Adrienne Hall, was already on top of that before we knew it was a problem. No asbestos.
Through Forrest’s extensive network we found Lorelea Hudson and Eileen Heideman who were affiliated with SWCA and the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. They offered to do the Historic Inventory report pro bono, and we happily took them up on it.
Meanwhile, after having created our vision for the project, we needed to find ways to share that vision with people. Each of our volunteers brought their own network of contacts, but it was also important to reach out to a larger community and create awareness of, and enthusiasm for, the project. Plus we needed to start raising funds.
Graphic artist RJ VanLieres reached out to us and designed our logo, which Roselie turned into a decal by asking everyone she knew for $20. In exchange for this donation they would receive some of the stickers which would be made. North Mountain received its first funding that way. Then the stickers were sold around Darrington for $2 each. This created a small, but significant trickle of capital.
We attended a few events and started to build an email list and tell people about the project.
We created a website and a Facebook page, and some of our future volunteers found us that way. We also sent articles to the Concrete and Everett Heralds.
Around this time the Darrington Historical Society donated $1,462 they had left over from another lookout restoration project, and the Lookout and Trail Maintenance committee of the Everett Mountaineers donated $500.
The historic evaluation came back. The structure was deemed to have historic significance and would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This also meant that repairs needed to be approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer. We submitted plans for our first round of repairs and got them approved.
With all of our paperwork in place we were given our Volunteer Agreement by the Darrington Ranger District. We scheduled the first work party for mid June of 2015 and received a total of 465 volunteer hours in 1 weekend.
There was a lot of work to do. Priorities were to replace the roof and stop the water damage, but there was rotten framing to consider before putting people on the roof. At this point Rick Knight became an instrumental part of all future reconstruction and maintenance, starting with reframing the rotting walls.
Mark Hanna reached out and got roofing donated by Soprema.
Forest Clark reached out and got Louis Coglas, who has reroofed several other lookouts, to do the roof installation. Many local people and some from out of town showed up to help.
There were sheds built into the tower that had to be removed, and the toilet had to be rebuilt to keep things sanitary while we were all up there.
Replacing the cracked beams on the tower legs was equally important. Dan Rankin made replacement beams for us at his sawmill.
There was a short summer season in which to work at the lookout. And a long winter in which to plan. The work went on for years.
One of the many projects was replacing a couple of the crumbling concrete footings that the tower was resting on. This required the guidance of structural engineers.
We also needed to replace the lightning arrestor system.
We attempted a GoFundMe campaign with underwhelming success.
And we received a generous donation from Mike and Laurie Beck, with matching funds from Microsoft, which made a huge difference in our financial outlook.
While the construction was going on, the work continued behind the scenes to create the documents needed to ultimately be able to apply for a Special Use Permit. This permit would allow the Friends of North Mountain to operate the lookout on behalf of the Forest Service and make it available to the public.
This included creating a business plan and other plans to manage the site and the road.
Sylvia Stauffer and Phyllis Reed were instrumental in starting to get all of these parts in place and organized.
Roselie stepped down from organizing the project at the end of 2016. Brie Hawkins filled the gap and continued organizing the reconstruction work parties, along with the core crew of Friends.
Eventually Carson Tavenner, who had been one of the Friends of North Mountain since September of 2015, stepped forward early in 2019 as the next coordinator. Under Carson’s leadership the remaining reconstruction items were completed and the Special Use Permit was signed. Carson formed relationships with Filson’s and the National Forest Foundation and got new funding. The beautiful furniture was built by George Knutson and Phil McLoud and brought up to the lookout, and the rental platform was selected.
As part of our original vision for the restoration and rental of the North Mountain Lookout we had determined that if we wanted the lookout to stay well-maintained and accessible to the public for the long term, the Friends of North Mountain would need to find a way to manage the rental themselves.
There are other lookouts being rented through the US Forest Service rental program, but unfortunately this does not assure that those lookouts have the needed funds for maintenance because the rental fees are not returned directly to the lookouts. There is also the problem that as field positions in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are vacated, they’re not being replaced by new employees. The positions disappear and the duties are taken up as best they can by the remaining employees. There would be no available human resources to take the many weekly site visits to the lookout that the friends are taking. There might not even be enough personnel to open and close the lookout at the beginning and end of the season.
Rather than add the lookout to the Forest Service’s already considerable burden in managing its existing facilities we needed to be willing to take the responsibility on ourselves. Doing so would ensure that there would be funds to continue caring for the lookout.
This strategy has thus far been wildly successful and allowed us not only to meet our maintenance needs, but also to donate to the Forest Fire Lookout Association in order to help save other lookouts elsewhere, as well as setting up the annual Lookout Awards to recognize those that look out for others in the Darrington Community.
As we get more of a sense of what financial resources we need to keep in reserve for repairs we hope to offer even more financial support to similar starved restoration or community projects.
All those that have enjoyed and will enjoy the North Mountain Lookout and value its continued existence owe deep thanks to the people who’s names have been mentioned in the text of this story. There are a handful of others, not previously mentioned, who have been with the project from the beginning and without whom we may not have succeeded. Those are:
Stephen Somsen, who managed our finances and much more.
Tom Pi who helped with reconstruction.
Scott and Erika Morris, also members of the Darrington Historical Society, who did the grunt work, did much planning and recorded meetings.
Paul Wagner whose ideas helped shaped the project and whose ability to do work of all kinds was endlessly useful.
There were many, many other individuals who helped for a day or several, and we owe you all a debt of thanks as well.
Thank you for being the people that make good thing happen in the world.
The Friends of North Mountain hold a vision of an authentic, well maintained and financially self-sustaining fire lookout tower available to people of all backgrounds.
North Mountain Lookout, like most fire lookouts, offers unparalleled views of the natural world.
As the lookout becomes recognized as one of the gems of outdoor recreation in the Darrington area, it will become a source of pride to the community and help to revitalize the local economy.
The Annual North Mountain Lookout Awards
Has someone been looking out for you? Would you like to return the favor?
The Friends of North Mountain has an idea how to help.
We’re pleased to announce our Second Annual North Mountain Lookout Awards, and we’re looking for nominations. We’re on the lookout for the people in our community who have been looking out for you, or for others, or for the Darrington area community.
We hope people get into the spirit of this award, which was inspired by the gratitude and amazement we all feel at the way many people here in the Darrington area came together to restore the old fire lookout on top of North Mountain. Built in 1965, the lookout had fallen into disrepair by the early 2000s. By 2014, the nonprofit Friends of North Mountain was formed and began the labor of love to restore the lookout. Those efforts were finally completed in the summer of 2021, and we began making North Mountain Lookout available to rent overnight.
As a way of giving back to this community, we encourage you to think of the people in and around Darrington who have been “looking out” for others this year. Tell us the story of how they did so, and how they inspired you. Sell us on your story – we would love to see a friendly competition.
Make a nomination through the form below.
The rules are basic: Nominees should live in the general area most easily visible from the lookout, essentially the Darrington School District, from Oso on the west side to Bennettville and Sauk Prairie on the north, and of course Darrington to the south. We can be persuaded to stretch these boundaries a bit if you’ve got a really compelling nominee with a nice local connection. Nominations should be in the form of a short story describing how this person was looking out for somebody or their community. A panel of judges will read through all the nominations and pick several winners. Prizes will feature gifts and/or services from local businesses, including a free night’s stay in the North Mountain Lookout in 2023, a $300 gift certificate from the Darrington IGA, and others.
Make a nomination by filling out the form below OR:
1. Write your story, or tell us in voice recording, or a video, describing how they were looking out for others or this community. Make it good – this is what the judges will be using to decide the winners.
2. Be sure to include in your nomination: Nominee’s full name and address, contact info (phone and/or email), and age category (child, young adult, adult, or elder); nomination writer’s full name and contact information; explanation of the nominee’s “looking out” behavior (timeframe from 2018-present); justification for why this behavior deserves to win.
3. Send the nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Deadline for nominations is Sunday midnight, Feb. 5, 2023.
The lookout and grounds will still need regular volunteer work parties and we’re always welcoming volunteers to help.
If you would like to help the Friends of North Mountain, contact the FNM Coordinator.
Of the original 656 lookouts in Washington, North Mountain is now one of less than a hundred remaining.
Another piece of history has been saved, restoring a source of pride for the community at the same time.
Visitors have already come from several states and nations to enjoy the spectacular views from the stair landings and catwalk!
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