Dolores Star: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Benchmark Lookout on historic register

By TJ Holmes
Dolores Star Editor

Barb Zinn
Sondra Kellogg, director of the Colorado chapter of the National Historic Lookout Register, presents a certificate and plaque to be fixed to Benchmark Lookout ot Dolores District Ranger Steve Beverlin on Tuesday at the Dolores Public Lands Office. Benchmark's primary lookout, Barb Zinn, is at right.

Two fire lookout towers were officially recognized on the National Historic Lookout Register this week, one on the Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest and the other in Mesa Verde National Park.

Sondra Kellogg, director of the Colorado chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association, presented certificates and plaques for the towers Tuesday at Benchmark Lookout in the Glade and Wednesday at Park Point in Mesa Verde. Monday, she presented the same at Fairview Peak in Gunnison.

Benchmark and Park Point – after a renovation period – are fully staffed during fire season. Barb Zinn has been the primary lookout at Benchmark for eight years now, and Dani Long, a Mesa Verde employee for nine years, will start lookout duties now at Park Point. Fairview Peak is not staffed.

“The value of Barb for fire management is safety of firefighters and early detection,” acting Fire Management Officer Dale Donohue said Tuesday at Benchmark Lookout. “We have an obligation to manage natural fires, and by having her up here, we have eyes on a fire all the time. She really is our eyes.”

Zinn supervises a group of volunteers that take over on her days off.

“This is the kind of job you love or you hate,” Zinn said. “It either suits you or not.”

Volunteers go through specific training, and above all, they have to be people who can be trusted to relay good information.

“We set the standards,” she said. “We train to that standard, and we expect that standard.”

Criteria for lookout towers to be accepted to the National Historic Lookout Register are that they are at least 50 years old, with documentation about the type of construction, year built and by what group, as well as pictures, Kellogg said. Benchmark Lookout was built in 1970 by the Forest Service to replace the lookout on Glade Mountain, about a mile to the northwest, which was built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in 1941. Kellogg nominated Benchmark, Park Point and Fairview Peak to the register with help from Mesa Verde’s Fire Management Officer Allan Farnsworth.

Benchmark Lookout sits at an elevation of 9,265 feet. At the top of the four-story tower, Zinn stands at about 9,300 feet.

Park Point has had part-time staffing during its renovation. It was built in 1939 by CCC workers and designed with natural materials to blend into the surrounding environment. The 17-foot-diameter building was designed to look like a traditional hogan, Kellogg said, and sandstone was quarried from Chapin Mesa. The lookout sits at an elevation of 8,571 feet.

Another Southwest Colorado lookout tower, Jersey Jim, also is on the National Historic Lookout Register. In fact, it was the third Colorado lookout placed on the register. Jersey Jim is no longer staffed but is in the rental program with the Jersey Jim Foundation.

Benchmark and Park Point lookouts are partners with each other, much as the Forest Service and Park Service are partners in firefighting efforts. Zinn, a 22-year fire lookout veteran, offered Long, starting her first season as a lookout, information and advice Tuesday during a tour of Benchmark.

Benchmark and Park Point are two of six staffed fire lookouts in Colorado, Kellogg said. Other lookout towers in Colorado: two in Dinosaur National Monument, Devil’s Head Lookout in the Pike National Forest on the Front Range and Dead Man in the Roosevelt National Forest west of Fort Collins.

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