Every Lookout in Oregon

The difficulty of renting fire lookouts

A few weeks ago OregonLive posted this article: Fire lookouts are hot destinations, but face an uncertain future in the Pacific Northwest. (Today it appeared on the front page of the Oregonian.) Some snippets:

“Booking a night in a fire lookout can be harder than getting a ticket to “Hamilton,” thanks to high demand, short supply, and prices from $35 to $65 a night. Of the hundreds of lookouts in Oregon and Washington, only 22 are available to the public. The rest are either in disrepair, still in use or stuck in bureaucratic limbo, refurbished but waiting to house travelers.”

“Jocelyn Biro, a regional program manager in charge of the forest service rentals, said the agency is considering limiting the maximum stay to help curb competition. Biro said the agency is also trying to manage a tricky balancing act between charging enough to maintain the structures, keeping the lookouts affordable and figuring out their fair market value.”

“Howard Verschoor, the Oregon director for the Forest Fire Lookout Association, “said it’s nice to have renewed public interest in the lookout towers, though it appears to have done little besides adding to the competition for rentals. Representatives from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service said they, too, feel the romantic allure of the towers, but most are simply too difficult to maintain.”

Very interesting read. I have definitely noticed how difficult it has become to rent a lookout. I spent all last winter trying to get various lookout reservations for summer. All I managed to get was an early October reservation for Gold Butte, which the Forest Service canceled due to wildfires. I did not snag a lookout reservation for this winter either. It used to be that if you aimed for a weekday you had a reasonably good chance of getting a reservation, but even that isn’t true anymore.

There are many standing lookouts that could be converted into rentals, but there’s a variety of reasons why that’s not happening, which the article goes into. It doesn’t help when certain visitors ruin it for everybody else by being jerks and forcing the Forest Service to remove a lookout from the rental program, which is what happened with Flag Point. Then there are situations like Red Mountain in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where volunteers restored the whole thing a few years ago for the express purpose of making it available to rent. That never happened and I called the Forest Service earlier this year to ask why. They said it’s because there is no toilet up there. Why a toilet cannot be installed was not explained.