USFS proposes to move historic lookout
May 7, 2020
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is accepting comments on a proposed project to relocate a historic lookout building in the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District.
The proposed plan includes moving the lookout from Priscilla Peak to Driveway Peak, restoring the building and adding it to the district's cabin rental program. According to a USFS release, the project is aimed at protecting and preserving the historic lookout building and adding an additional cabin rental opportunity in response to public demand.
The Priscilla Peak lookout is located about 11 miles northeast of Thompson Falls on Sundance Ridge. The structure is a rare 14-foot square foot cabin with gable roof and cupola built in 1929, one of only three in the USFS's Northern Region. It is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The lookout is difficult to access, requiring a 6-mile hike with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, according to USFS. The structure was on the cabin rental program during the 1990s. However, it was rented only twice over the decade due to the remote location.
Although restored in the 1990s prior to being placed in the cabin rental program, the structure has since fallen into disrepair. In 2014 and 2016, the lookout was threatened by wildfires; and in 2018, it was vandalized. This historic building is at high risk of being lost.
Driveway Peak is located approximately 11 miles west of Thompson Falls. Over the years, there have been three different structures (including a fire lookout) at the site, all of which burned down due to human causes. Two of the fires were intentionally set when the structures fell into disrepair. The last structure was a rental cabin that burned down accidently due to an improperly installed wood stove in the early 1990s. The site is accessed by National Forest System road (NFSR) 876, which is open yearlong to public motorized use. Because it is readily accessible, a cabin facility at this site would likely be a popular rental, USFS stated. For comparison, the Cougar Peak lookout rental cabin northwest of Thompson Falls, which is also accessible by road, is booked every night of the season.
According to the project proposal:
• The lookout building would be dismantled and moved in pieces via helicopter down to a road. The material would then be trucked to the Forest Service compound in Thompson Falls where the lookout would be reassembled and restored with the help of volunteers and partners. When completed, the building would be trucked to and installed on Driveway Peak. The lookout would be added to the Forest Service cabin rental program. Future maintenance of the facility would be mostly funded by rental revenue.
• A vault toilet, picnic table and fire ring would also be installed at Driveway Peak to service the new cabin rental.
• The travel management status of the last three-quarters of a mile of NFSR 876 would be changed from open yearlong to closed yearlong. A gate would be installed on NFSR 876 near its intersection with NFSR 7649 to close this segment of road to general public motorized use to provide privacy to renters.
• All manmade debris would be removed from Priscilla Peak except for the lookout's foundation. An interpretive sign would be installed to describe the history of the site.
• The project would likely take about five years to complete. If authorized, the lookout could be moved off of Priscilla Peak as early as summer 2021. It would take about 2-3 years to restore the structure and install it on Driveway Peak. The restored lookout could be open to renters by summer 2025.
Comments on the proposed project are being accepted through June 5, 2020 and can be submitted electronically to [email protected], or mailed to: Project Leader, Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District, P.O. Box 429, Plains, MT 59859.