West Fork Butte Lookout
Unlike most fire lookout houses, which are typically placed on towers, the West Fork Butte Lookout sits directly on a rocky knob. The fourteen-by-fourteen hipped-roof structure features ribbons of nine-light windows, a testament to the building’s original purpose. The lookout follows the Forest Service’s standard L-4 plan, created by Clyde Fickes in 1931. Fickes’ detailed plans specified pre-cut and labeled lumber, so crews with limited carpentry skills could assemble them. One of seventeen lookouts built in 1934, West Fork Butte Lookout reflects the Forest Service’s emphasis during the 1930s on improving infrastructure to facilitate fire-fighting. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews—employed as part of a New Deal work relief program designed to provide jobs for young men during the Great Depression—deserve credit for most of these improvements. In Region 1, which includes Montana, the CCC built over 2,500 miles of forest roads, installed ninety-three lookouts, and strung the hundreds of miles of telephone lines that lookouts used to report fires. Two telephone poles from the spur line that connected West Fork Butte to the Skookum Butte Lookout still stand. Although the Forest Service preferred to employ men, women sometimes did staff lookouts, especially during World War II, when male labor was scarce; Missoula resident Dortha Stritch, wife of Forest Service employee Hollis Stritch, worked here in 1943. The Forest Service downgraded West Fork Butte to an “emergency lookout” before 1967. It now manages the property as a cabin rental, although the Missoula Ranger reserves the right to reclaim it as a detection point in severe fire years.