A new book written by a geographer and Glacier National Park enthusiast is a photographic chronicle of the rise and fall of fire lookouts in and around the park.
David Butler, 62, worked as a red bus gear jammer in the summers of 1973 and 1974, and he carried out fieldwork for his master’s thesis in geography in 1975. Since then, he has published more than 100 scientific papers and book chapters on the park’s geography.
In the 1990s, when Butler was doing research on alpine treeline changes, he encountered historic photographs taken from all of the lookouts in the park and on Blackfeet and Flathead National Forest lands by Lester M. Moe in the 1930s. The result is “Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park,” which is part of an “Images of America” series of books from Arcadia Publishing.
Those photos inspired Butler to investigate the long-term history of fire lookouts, from their beginnings after the catastrophic fire season of 1910, the year the park was established, on to the present.
By the 1930s, lookouts dotted nearly every strategic high point in the park, but partly because of the advent of aerial reconnaissance, many lookouts gradually fell into disrepair. Or in the case of the original Huckleberry Mountain lookout cabin, it was burned down by a fire in 1929.
Today, only nine lookouts remain in the park, and a handful of those are regularly used during the summer fire season.
The book features scores of photographs, many of which had not been published before.
“I hope that my book will stand as an authoritative account of the history and geography of the fire lookout network that protected Glacier National Park and surrounding areas, and serve as an example of the kind of local history that interested individuals can accomplish when inspired by a love for their topic and area of interest,” states Butler, who is a distinguished professor of geography at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
He is hopeful that the book will bring back memories of hikes to the park’s lookouts for Glacier’s legions of fans, and that it will create interest in the preservation of remaining lookouts in the park.
“Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park” can be found online at: http://www.arcadiapublishing.com
Huckleberry Lookout, 1992: Even in modern times, pack trains are still a vital supply link for lookouts. Packers must deliver not only food, but also all water supplies for cooking and cleaning.
Swiftcurrent lookout, 2006: The lookout survived the 2003 Trapper Fire that burned through the forest below.
Reynolds Ridge Lookout, 1949: Some couples served only one summer at a fire lookout, while others returned several times. Reynolds Ridge, Curly Bear and Mount Brown in particular usually had couples occupying them.
Heaven’s Peak Lookout, 2012: Members of the Glacier Mountaineering Society, from left, Rick Murphy, Patti Markuson, Kim Davis, Dennis Twohig, April Suebert and Tim Anderson pose in front of the rehabilitated lookout.
Red Eagle Meadow Lookout, 1983: Red Eagle Meadow Lookout was considered visually incongruous with the natural setting of the area. It was auctioned off to a single bidder for $111 in June 1986 and removed in October of that year.
Divide mountain lookout ceiling, 1998: The unusual octagonal roof/ceiling is shown in this photograph taken by David Butler. Note the metal cables designed to help hold the roof in place.