Wam Mountain Lookout Restoration
Kootenai National Forest, Montana, 1999
by Nancy Anderson, FS Archaeologist
On a lonely mountaintop in northwestern Montana sits historic Wam Mountain Lookout. Wam Mountain is 7,203 feet above sea level in the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area near the Canadian border. For more than 20 years, the FS used Wam Mountain as a prime observation point to spot smoke from lightning strikes and careless campers. It is one of the few remaining L-4 gable-style lookouts. The L-4 lookout was designed about 1929 and was one of the first plans where the living and observation spaces were on the same floor. Prior to that, observations were made from a cupola above the living space or from a separate, nearby tower. The lookout was built in 1931 by a carpenter hired for the job for the summer. The original boards and windows were packed into the mountain site on mules and horses. Wam Mountain Lookout has battled for almost 70 years to stay atop the mountain through snow, ice, wind, rain, lightning storms, extreme temperatures, and exposure.
In late July 1999, PIT volunteers John Greene, Robert Greene, Kenneth Haber, Patrick Nelson, Yvonne Renz, Alina Stachurska, and Gary Weber worked under the direction of Fortine Ranger District Historic Preservationist Joe Nelson to perform the badly needed repairs. Joe and the PIT volunteers were assisted by Fortine District Archaeologist Nancy Anderson and her family, Todd, Claire, and Erik; District Planner Rob Carlin; and Kootenai NF Archaeologist Becky Timmons.
The crew spent the entire week working on the lookout. The restoration work included installing the wood stove, repairing and replacing windows and shutters, stabilizing the four walls, repairing and replacing the wood floor, painting the building, replacing the wood-shingle roof, and doing general maintenance work. As part of the project, a wood-frame one-hole outhouse was constructed south of the lookout. Most of the materials and supplies were packed in by a local mule train.
What a beautiful setting and what wonderful experiences we all had! Thank you to our hard-working volunteers, who came from Arizona, Maryland, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and even Krakow, Poland. Memorable events for our week were a visit from PIT Man (see photo) and a memorial service for Bob Greene’s faithful hat, last seen flying over the cliff north toward Canada.
Some PIT volunteers cannot get enough! Kenneth Haber asked if he could come back the next summer and finish up our painting at Wam Mountain Lookout, despite its not being offered as a PIT project. What dedication! The PIT program is a good way to promote public education and interest in our cultural heritage, and help preserve our “Mooseterpieces” on public lands. Thanks to all the FS managers who support PIT!