Of the two dozen or so fire lookout towers in Colorado, West White Pine was closest to Fort Collins, almost directly to our west.
Built in 1939, the tower remained on its mountain top until sometime in the mid-1970s.
Then, a helicopter took the cabin and more or less plopped it into the middle of Lee Martinez Park, in the north part of Fort Collins. There it remained, uninterpreted and unrestored, for years. Later, with little fanfare, it moved to the Environmental Learning Center at Drake and Ziegler, where it remains today, uninterpreted and unrestored.
You’ve probably never seen it there, have you?
They didn’t make it easy to find. Perhaps because preservationists want to restore it before much more tourist traffic visits.
Fire towers are disappearing everywhere, says Susan Epstein, volunteer for the Forest Fire Lookout Association and a former fire lookout. Only 6 active lookouts remain in Colorado.
Epstein and I recently hiked to the West White Pine “cab” at the Environmental Learning Center. Taking one wrong turn after another, our walk turned what should have been a 20-minute stroll into a 3-hour tour. But it made finding the “damn tower,” as we fondly called it after Hour 1, that much more rewarding.
And that’s why I’m not going to tell you exactly where it is. Set aside some time. Take a hike; look for it.
Oh, you could probably just ask someone at the ELC, but keep in mind that they can sometimes mess up directions and send you to the wrong corner of the park. (So help us, we know.)
Here are a couple hints: You start in the main parking lot, off CO Rd. 9 and Drake. Not the Prospect Ave. side.
Hike around to the southeast corner, taking every unintuitive right turn you see. Stay close to the river.
With luck, you’ll see a corner of the tower across the river. With even better luck, the river will be low enough to cross, but do so at your own peril.
If you do get across, you’ll see a road and wonder why you couldn’t just drive to it in the first place. It’s a private road, only accessible by Authorized Personnel of the City of Fort Collins.