Nevada County’s historic Grouse Ridge lookout restoration |

Nevada County’s historic Grouse Ridge lookout restoration

Photo for The Union by Matthew Renda
John Hart | The Union

In the approximate center of the Tahoe National Forest, a bald knob of mineralized rock protrudes from a mountain, shedding flakes of scree down the steep banks.

On top of the prominence, a small shack of a fire lookout holds fast just feet away from sheer cliffs that fall off hundreds of feet.

The Grouse Ridge Lookout is one of the oldest fire lookouts in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, having been built in 1923 by members of the U.S. Forest Service. The original band had to use horses and mules to lug various construction materials and equipment.

The lookout was used by the forest service extensively throughout the early half of the 20th century as a means of spotting wildland fires.

In the 1970s, as technology outpaced the need for fully manned lookouts, the forest service abandoned the site, which was still enjoyed by hikers as an ideal place to stop and take in the incredible panorama afforded by the elevation of 7,711 feet.

“It is one of the premier spots in Nevada County,” said Ann Westling, Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman.

Unfortunately, the area’s undeniable beauty also makes it extremely popular, and people have been using the lookout as a temporary shelter and vandalizing it since the ’70s.

The historic building is in a ramshackle state, with wood peeling, dilapidated siding, broken railings and balky structural integrity.

The interior has been gutted, the historic cabinets torn out and windows broken.

“Frankly, I am surprised this building is still here,” Westling said.

The Forest Fire Lookout Association, a nonprofit established to preserve historic lookouts, took the lead in the restoration project that will upgrade the foundation of the building, while restoring it to its original state.

To do so, the forest service had to relocate the significant amount of radio equipment to a nearby location, which allowed the forest service to remove the solar panels that powered the communications devices along with the lower walls and siding.

Brian Wagner, of Wagner Construction, who is volunteering his time for the project, has removed the lower siding, which will restore the building to its 1923 state, and prepared the site for the pouring of concrete, Westling said.

The forest service would like to turn the lookout into a cabin, where people could stay overnight during the late spring, summer and early fall, Westling said.

“People staying here would be able to keep more eyes on the lookout and prevent some of the vandalism that has occurred,” she said.

The project’s precarious placement along steep cliffs means the forest service has enlisted professional contractors to perform much of the exterior and structural restoration work, Westling said.

However, a volunteer day is being scheduled, when interested individuals can help paint and do other interior work, Westling said. Information will be released when a day is scheduled.

The supplies and equipment have been purchased, including the furnishings for the inside of the lookout, Westling said.

The forest service is hopeful to begin work in October and carry on into the beginning of November before the snow settles in.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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