FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How can I get involved?
You can become a member of NMLA, donate, or volunteer for a summer work project. Details on our website. We also have volunteer opportunities throughout the year, including building our archives, oral histories and photo library, fundraising, social media, photography and grant-writing. We also occasionally have openings for new Board Members.
Who owns the local lookouts?
In Northwest Montana, lookouts are on public lands in Glacier National Park, Flathead and Kootenai National Forests, and Stillwater and Swan State Forest lands. There are also a number of lookout style structures on private lands.
Are lookouts still used today?
Yes! While the lookout system had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, it is still part of the modern suite of fire detection tools, especially in the western states. According to the National FFLA, Montana once had a whopping 639 lookouts in use. It now has 130, 40 of which are still staffed for fire detection. Lookouts in western Montana are typically staffed during fire season, from mid-June through September, providing a constant presence in the forest for fire and lightning detection, weather observation, and backcountry communication. The Forest Service, Park Service, and State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation all staff lookouts in this area.
What is the outlook for the remaining lookouts?
Upkeep of remote structures subject to the harsh elements at high elevation can be a challenge for land management agencies. That is why in the 1960s and 1970s, many older unused lookouts in poor or unsafe condition were torn down or burned. Currently, there is strong interest in preserving and restoring the lookouts that remain. NMLA, in partnership with local Agencies, is helping to complete condition assessments, plan and prioritize restoration projects to preserve/stabilize the lookouts that remain in our area. Many of the remaining lookouts are also either listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
What can I expect when I visit a staffed lookout?
When you visit a staffed lookout during fire season, you are visiting both a workplace and a home. Please be respectful of the person staffing the lookout. Its good lookout manners to ask if it's okay to climb up to the catwalk for some photos; some lookouts may prefer to keep their "tiny house" off limits.
When they have time, they will surely welcome visitors and a chance to chat. But they also have duties to perform, and may need to be monitoring the radio, relaying communications, taking weather readings or doing other duties that prevent them from spending too much time playing host. Please be a good guest and know when it's time to bid your host goodbye and spend time on your own exploring the area and enjoying the fabulous views you came for.
Are there books on local lookouts?
Here are some good ones:
Images of America: Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park, David R. Butler, 2014.
Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, Ray Kresek, 1998 (out of print, but the definitive guide with stats on all lookouts, past and present)
Lookout Cookbook, Libby Langston, 2005.
How can I get a job as a lookout?
Each agency has its own hiring procedures for seasonal firefighter positions. Federal job applications for Park Service and Forest Service lookouts are through https://www.usajobs.gov. State fire lookout jobs are filled through https://jobs.mt.gov/.
How can I volunteer to staff a lookout?
The Flathead National Forest has a lookout volunteer program to staff 3 lookouts. Some NMLA members are involved in this program, where volunteers serve 2 week stints during the summer, but it is separate from NWMT-FFLA. This very popular program typically has few openings and a several year waiting list. It is run out of the Hungry Horse Ranger Station Fire & Aviation group.
Is there a map of local lookouts? How do I get information on a particular lookout?
Rex's Forest Fire Lookout page at http://www.firelookout.com/mt.html has a very complete website with map, photos, and information on both current and historical lookouts in Montana and throughout the northwest. Additional info on some lookouts can be found at http://montanalookouts.weebly.com/
Another good source of info and links is the National FFLA website: http://www.firelookout.org
Former Fire Lookout Sites Register: http://www.firetower.org/lookouts/us/MT
How can I rent a lookout?
General info on the Federal lookout rental program can be found at Experience_the_Forest_from_a_Fire_Lookout
In NW Montana there are numerous lookouts available through the Forest Service as cabin rentals, and one through Montana DNRC. Lookouts available for rent in northwest Montana are:
*Drive to access may be on a gated road where vehicle use is restricted to rental use only
More info on individual lookout amenities, local attractions and lookout rentals elsewhere in the country can be found on the website Recreation.gov. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance, and many lookouts are booked up quickly, so it is good to plan your trip early. To make a Forest Service Cabin or Fire Lookout Tower Rental Reservation, you can either:
Check on availability and reserve over the Internet at Recreation.gov, 7 days a week, 24 hours/day. Or, check availability and reserve toll-free over the phone at 1 (877) 444-6777, or International (518) 885-3639.
Visitors can begin reserving Werner Peak Lookout on January 2 for the coming season by calling the MT DNRC Stillwater State Forest at 406-881-2371. Reservations can be taken Monday through Friday between 8:30am to 4:30pm.
How can I obtain photographs and other information, such as stories, historical data, people who staffed lookouts, etc.?
We are currently working with Agency partners and interested volunteers to compile this sort of information and establish a repository to make it available . If you have questions, info to share, or would like to be part of this project, please email Beth Hodder at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have suggestions for additional FAQ, please send them to email@example.com