STEVENSVILLE – No one knows for sure who built the first replica of the L4 lookout tower that adorned the Stevensville Ranger District office’s front lawn for decades.
Everyone’s best guess is that it appeared sometime in the early 1990s.
Bitterroot National Forest fuels prevention tech Alex Hartless said someone thought maybe a fire crew with some time on their hands put it together. He thinks the story that it was a garage project by a local handyman is more likely.
Wherever it came from, the bright white icon perched on once-steady wooden legs wasn’t built to last forever.
“It was falling apart last year,” Hartless said. “It was rotting away.”
The idea that it would just disappear, never to be replaced, didn’t sit well with some folks who had become used to looking in its direction to see the latest rating on local fire danger during the summer months.
And so they reached out to the Hamilton High School’s shop teacher, Dan Ashmore, to see if some of his handy crew of student carpenters might be willing to build a new replica that would look just like the old one.
He found a group of five seniors and juniors who were happy to put their new found skills to the test.
On Wednesday, three of the five students gathered just outside the shop classroom to take one last look at their creation before some very strong people came along to move it to its new home.
“It’s built to withstand an E-4 hurricane,” said Stevensville High School senior Walker Weber. “It could withstand 600 mph winds with pelting rain. It’s very stout.”
And heavy, too.
The original idea, said Hartless, was for the class to take the old replica apart and rebuild the new one looking as similar as possible to the one everyone knew.
The students and their teacher didn’t quite follow that script, but they were pretty sure that no one will be able to tell the difference.
They made their own improvements to make the structure more weather worthy and less likely to develop the kind of rot that brought down its predecessor.
“I think it turned out pretty good,” Walker said. “We made a couple of changes. We made the base more stable and didn’t make the wooden shutters adjustable.”
“We hope that people will look at it from a distance and not see any difference,” he said.
The L4 lookout tower was the standard design for lookout towers back in the 1940s.
The 14-by-14-foot single room ringed by glass that could be covered by wooden shingles is one that’s familiar to anyone who’s rented the lookouts at Gird Point, Medicine Point or McCart on the Bitterroot National Forest or walked to the summit of St. Mary’s Peak.
The students who helped build the new structure were senior classmen Jacob Duncan, Patrick Pape and Weber and juniors Drew McCauley and Cody Hambrick.
“I think this one will last a lot longer than the other one,” Ashmore said. “We simplified the construction so water won’t have as many places to make its way into the wood. They did a good job on it and no one even lost a finger.”