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Get a fresh outlook on Oregon's lookouts

Cheryl Hill releases second book, 'Fire Lookouts of Oregon'


STAFF PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE  - Cheryl Hill will release her second book, Fire Lookouts of Oregon March 28.

West Linn Librarian Cheryl Hill loves a great story, almost as much as she loves hiking and adventuring in the great outdoors. She has combined her interests to publish her second book, “Fire Lookouts of Oregon,” which will be released March 28.

“The first (lookouts) were rustic camps on mountaintops, where men and women were stationed to keep an eye out for wildfires,” Hill writes on her website, cherylhill.net. “As the importance of fire prevention grew, a lookout construction boom resulted in hundreds of cabins and towers being built on Oregon’s high points.

“When aircraft and cameras became more cost-effective and efficient methods of fire detection, many old lookouts were abandoned or removed. Of the many hundreds of lookouts built in Oregon over the past 100 years, less than 175 remain, and only about half of these are still manned. However, some lookouts are being repurposed as rental cabins, and volunteers are constantly working to save endangered lookouts. This book tells the story of Oregon’s fire lookouts, from their heyday to their decline, and of the effort to save the ones that are left.”

She made her first stay at a fire lookout in March 2014, and since has visited many of Oregon’s remaining lookouts, with plans to visit the rest over the next few years. The views, she says, are always stunning.

“You’re on top of the world,” she said. “The views are amazing out each of the four windows. You see amazing stars — millions of them since most lookouts are away from city lights. You see great sunrises and sunsets.”

Hill completed writing the book in July 2015. She says it took about a year to complete gathering the information. She toured the state, visiting National Forest Service offices to scan photos and learn the stories associated with the history of each lookout. She read newspapers and other books on the lookouts and gathered more than 700 photos, which she culled down to the 200 that she included in the book.

“Every good photo had a great story,” she said. “I met some many great men and women and heard their stories.”

She said getting to the lookouts was sometimes very difficult.

“Some lookouts you can drive right up to, or hike a short distance,” she said. “But I’ve also been on some pretty bad roads. I’ve put my Subaru Outback to the test.”

Aside from the views from the lookouts, Hill said her favorite part of her research was hearing the great stories. The men and women who inhabited the lookout were a special breed: They had to love the solitude and be willing to haul water, chop wood and get used to having little or no communication with the outside world. She said communication was by radio in the first years; and today, cell phone coverage can be unreliable.

“In some cases, lookouts spotting a fire would have to leave their post and go put the fire out,” she said. She also had stories of lookouts learning how to live with nature, and experiencing strange things in the night.

“One lookout who may have been 18 at the time felt the lookout shaking one night,” she said. “When he got up the courage to go and investigate he discovered it was just a deer scratching her back against the guy wire.” She heard many tales of how lookouts kept occupied while on duty, including creating a zip line on a guy wire.

The book promises to be an interesting account of a unique aspect of Oregon history. It will be available May 28 on Amazon.com.

Hill’s first book “Mount Hood National Forest.” Both books are part of the Images of America series.

To learn more about Hill, read her blog and view pictures from lookouts, visit cherylhill.net.

IF YOU GO

Hear Hill speak on her new book at Social History Happy Hour

Cheryl Hill will read from “Fire Lookouts of Oregon” May 28 at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum as the guest speaker at the museum’s Social History Happy Hour. Admission is $5 and beer and wine will be available for purchase.

The Mt. Hood Cultural Center is located at 88900 Government Camp Loop in Government Camp

Contact Barb Randall at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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