Location: 46.11531, -117.24937 Summit Elevation: 5,010′ Lookout Type: 80′ L-4 tower Site Established: 1927 Current Structure Built: 1950 Date Visited: 7/02/18
In the winter of 2010/2011, a tree fell across one of Big Butte’s guy wires, damaging one of the 80′ tower legs. In 2013 the cab was lowered to the ground to save the structure and volunteers from the FFLA and Forest Service restored the cab in 2014. Unfortunately, the full restoration was never complete and the Big Butte cab still remains on the ground, waiting for the tower to be fully rebuilt.
Photos from 2018.
A telephone line was built to the Big Butte fire lookout site from the nearby Wenatchee Guard Station in 1927. In 1929, an 80′ tower with 7’x7′ cab was constructed with materials donated by the Blue Mountain Lumber and Manufacturing Company of Asotin, Washington. The Big Butte house was built in 1930 by Ross Kind, a Carpenter. (Sources: History of the Northern Blue Mountains by Gerald J. Tucker 1940, the Umatilla National Forest Inventory, & the Lewiston Morning Tribune).
In 1950, an 82′ timber tower with L-4 cab was constructed, lasting 60 years until a tree fell across a guy wire during the winter of 2010-2011. A tower leg was damaged and the lookout sat precariously for two years until Jill Bassett, an archeologist on the Pomeroy Ranger District of the Umatilla National Forest, secured a grant through the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) to begin a restoration project. A crane lowered the cab to the ground and the tower was disassembled.
In 2014, Rod Fosback of Colville, Wash., and Dick Gilman of Clarkston, Wash, both members of the FFLA, joined about a dozen other volunteers and handful of Forest Service employees, spending three days stabilizing and restoring the cab. At the time, it was possible that Big Butte was going to be placed into a rental program, but the long term plan was to rebuild the tower and replace the restored cab.
Unfortunately, like many fire lookout restoration projects, they need dedicated volunteers and funds and the project never came to fruition. Today the cab still sits on the ground, waiting to one day be returned to its former perch.
1935. North panorama.1935. Southeast panorama.1935. Southwest panorama.
It is possible to drive to a gate within a short quarter or half mile walk of the lookout site. Getting there definitely requires a map as the spur road is a little tough to find.
There are a few different routes to Big Butte, the two most common coming in from Clearwater Lookout to the west or Anatone from the east. If coming from Clearwater Lookout, continue east past the Wenatchee Guard Station until reaching a spur road just before a descent down towards Anatone. The spur can be a little tricky to find, so a map is useful. When I visited in 2018, road conditions were good and easy for most vehicles, but that certainly could change.