Park Butte was used as an Observation Peak in the early 1900’s when sparks from the logging trains were a major cause of forest fires. The Lookout was built in 1932 as part of the Forest Service’s national policy of increased firefighting and prevention. Communication was by single wire telephone lines strung from trees or laid on the ground. Some of the insulators from these lines can still be seen in trees on the trail to the Lookout.
During the Second World War, in the early 1940’s, the Lookout staff also served as plane spotters looking for the expected Japanese aerial invasion. After the war, aerial surveillance became the norm and most of the existing Forest Lookout buildings were phased out and burned.
In the mid-1950’s, Fred Darvill made his first hike ever to Schreiber’s Meadows. The Lookout Staffer from Park Butte came down the trail and begged Fred and his friend to come up and visit, as he had not seen a human for weeks. When the Skagit Alpine Club (SAC) was formed in 1960 with Fred as the first President, one of its first actions was to send members to visit four endangered Fire Lookouts and choose which to take responsibility for in order to save them from removal and burning. The Hidden Lake Lookout (HLLO) was “leased” from the Forest Service and an SAC Cabin/Lookout committee appointed to oversee its use and maintenance. The Park Butte Lookout was still staffed, but the following year it also became available and was adopted by SAC as “recreation cabins for use of the members, emergency shelters and first aid stations” (according to the 1961 – 62 annual SAC publication). Members reserved use of the Lookouts through the committee.
As the logging road was extended, the hike shortened, and the area grew more popular, it was decided it was better to leave both of the Lookouts open rather than keep repairing the doors that were continually broken into. The Lookouts then became public service projects of the SAC in cooperation with the Forest Service, rather than a private club. The Park Butte Lookout is officially listed in the National Historic Register of Historic Places. In 1971, Hidden Lake LO was “returned” to the Forest Service and its upkeep remains in the hands of a small group of Friends of HLLO.
In the mid-1970’s, the University of California installed a camera in the Park Butte Lookout to record the spectacular steam plumes coming from the increasingly active crater. The club had given permission for this, but a letter from the club secretary in 1976 expressed the irritation of club members at the grating sound of the camera turning on every three minutes or so 24/7. Eventually, the care of the Lookout was in the charge of a rotating annual Lookout/ Cabin chairperson, with group work parties scheduled at least once a year, and the Lookout became available on a first come, first serve basis.
SAC has continued to work with the Forest Service over the years and receives excellent assistance from the Mt. Baker Ranger District, based in Sedro Woolley. The Park Butte Lookout remains a monument to the cooperative nature and hard work of the people who love the mountains and this special place.