Cortez Journal, 6/22/2009

6/11/2009 6:00:00 AM
Kristen Plank
Journal Staff Writer

Making a point

Park Point Fire Lookout at Mesa Verde makes spot on National Historic Lookout Register

Journal/Sam Green
Mesa Verde National Park employees gather around the Park Point Fire Lookout for a picture at the dedication ceremony Wednesday.
Journal/Sam Green
Bill Whithans checks out the Osborne that is used to locate fires in the area from the Park Point Fire Lookout.

Much of the view at Mesa Verde National Park's highest point may have been obscured by fog and rain clouds Wednesday, but that didn't stop a ceremony to place Park Point Fire Lookout on the National Historic Lookout Register.

Roughly 25 Mesa Verde officials, staff and a few members of the public stood at Park Point to acknowledge the hard work done on restoring the fire lookout building.

"I commend you and your staff on the job you have done here," said Sondra Kellogg, director of the Colorado/Utah chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association. "The commitment to staff this lookout and to keep it preserved is really remarkable."

The association became interested in the building last year and nominated Park Point to become a historic lookout. A certificate and plaque were presented to officials during the foggy Wednesday morning, right at the end of the lookout's restoration phase.

The lookout, which was built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is located approximately 10 miles from the park's entrance and sits at 8,571 feet elevation. Restoration began a year ago on the lookout, which was in "pretty rough shape," said Allen Farnsworth, fire management officer at Mesa Verde.

"Basically, everything from top to bottom had to be restored," Farnsworth said. "We used our park crews, maintenance, stabilization crews and carpenters to do all of the work up there to meet the historic standards."

Carpenters like Brett Lindsey, from the park's maintenance department, worked on installing new cabinets, flooring, and a roof inside the lookout, while stabilization crew members like Tim Hovazak worked on remortaring the sandstone rocks and flagstone walkways around the lookout and at the two overlooks close by. The building's electricity and lightning suppression system, which are powered by a solar panel, were also reviewed during the renovation process, as the park's radio tower sits next to the lookout.

"The project was pretty expensive and labor intensive in order to meet those historic standards," said Farnsworth, who noted the entire project cost about $350,000. "We bought as much locally produced materials as we could."

When the lookout was first built, the park had a round-the-clock fire lookout ranger who lived in the building during the fire season. Now the park employs a ranger for fire observation seven days a week from June to September.

There are 10 lookouts in Colorado that have been put on the National Historic Lookout Register, some of which include Benchmark Lookout near Dolores and Jersey Jim Lookout near Mancos, Kellogg said during Wednesday's ceremony. Once, 8,000 lookouts stood across the country, but only 2,000 remain.

"This was a collective effort, ... and everyone had a special interest or love for this place," said Larry Wiese, superintendent of Mesa Verde. "Now this lookout can be here for another 50 to 100 years."

Finishing touches on the building will include metal nameplates of surrounding mountains and landmarks to be installed inside the building. The lookout building is open to the public.

Reach Kristen Plank at