In 2019 Filson partnered with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to restore the Monument Peak Lookout. This was accomplished through Filson employee volunteers on site, and financial donations from Filson to the NFF to contract Montana–based CB Roofing. The final work included a new shingle roof made from Washington cedar, refreshing the exterior paint, exterior work to the adjacent outhouse, deep cleaning the interior, and other general maintenance duties around the grounds.
Monument Lookout sat on a 40′ tower on broad Monument Peak (7,395′), overlooking the northwest part of the Little Belt Mountains of central Montana. It probably had a good, but distant, view of the north Big Belts to the west and the Highwood Mountain to the northeast. Four other lookout towers were manned across the Little Belts when Monument Lookout was in operation.
The devastating Idaho and Montana wildfires of 1910 highlighted a need for fire lookout towers, and once a Civilian Conservation Corp camp was established near the Belt Creek Ranger Station in 1934, lookout construction was one of their top priorities. They built Monument Lookout in 1936, using a classic L-4 tower and cabin plans from 1932. It was manned seasonally into the 1970s.
The tower legs were 50’ untreated logs. Cross-bar supports were smaller logs and stairs were milled lumber. Cables served as cross-braces and guy lines. The cabin was made of lumber, 14’ square. Its walls are mainly windows, with big shutters that would have been propped up all summer. It would have been furnished with an Osborne fire-finder (a map and pivoting compass template mounted on a stand in the center of the cab), a Forest Service radio, good binocs, a wood stove, wood box, cupboard, and a cot and chair with furniture feet set into glass insulators for safety during lightning storms. A small 1911 log cabin formerly below the tower may have been where the first fire watchers (also referred to as “Lookouts”) lived, working from the ground before the tower and cabin were built. Once the tower and cabin were built, they lived up there day and night.
A typical day would have started with a hot breakfast, possibly sourdough pancakes, or biscuits and gravy, and coffee. This would have been followed by an intensive scan for smoke plumes and a radio check-in to Dispatch involving an exchange of weather information. These scans and weather info exchanges were repeated at set intervals all day. The lookout also kept the cabin and windows clean and fetched his or her own water, possibly driving or hiking to Daisy Spring a mile southwest at the end of the bad road. Between glassing horizons and doing radio check-ins, the lookout did tower and cabin maintenance. During times without fire, after the regular duties where complete, they had free time to roam the surrounding wilderness; they often became very familiar with area wildlife and plants. Lunch and dinner were from a can, although most lookouts became skilled with the woodstove and Dutch oven. Occasionally there would have been visitors, and in the evenings, lookouts were free to radio each other. Two lookouts farther west played guitar for each other over the radio in the evening.
The lookout cabin was lowered to the ground in 1999 and the tower was dismantled for safety reasons. Cabin restoration was done between 1999-2005, mainly by “Passport in Time” program volunteers guided by Forest Service Preservation Team carpenters and Forest employees. Historic construction styles and materials were maintained where possible or reproduced. They re–roofed, repaired windows and decking, and painted. And painted and painted – the constant sun exposure is hard on paint. A 2005 open house was well-attended, covered by a TV reporter. She was new to Montana and wore spike heels to the event. She joked about that.
Monument Peak Lookout is listed on the prestigious National Historic Lookout Register and can be rented short-term by visiting Recreation’s Cabin Rentals.