The Buck Rock Foundation will be hosting its annual open house and barbeque Sunday, September 1, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Buck Rock Lookout in the Sequoia National Forest.
The event, held annually the first Sunday in September since 2000, is free to the public and will feature the annual Blessing of the Rock ceremony, a Raising of the Flag by the American Legion of Dinuba, music, a visit by Smokey Bear, free arts and crafts booths for children, a booth providing the history of fire lookouts and their roles both past and present, and tours of the completely refurbished fire lookout that sits atop Buck Rock. In addition, a barbeque meal will be offered for donation which includes barbeque, drinks and dessert.
The open house has grown from a beginning in 2000 when approximately 50 people showed up for lemonade and cookies, to last year’s 500-600 attendees who enjoyed a complete barbeque as well as the current slate of scheduled activities.
Over 6,000 people annually come to the Buck Rock Lookout from around the world to enjoy its breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains. The lookout was abandoned for about a decade starting in the 1970s and fell into disrepair. But with the creation of the Buck Rock Foundation in 1999 and the formation of its partnership with the Forest Service, the lookout has since been staffed fulltime and now is a hub of activity for the area.
While Buck Rock Lookout with its commanding view allows lookouts to see over 150 miles in every direction on clear days, the lesser known lookouts at Delilah and Park Ridge are staffed part time and used primarily to look down westward with a watchful eye over the designated wildfire “Communities at Risk” which include Squaw Valley, Dunlap, Wonder Valley, Piedra, Hartland Miramonte/Pinehurst, Badger, Wilsonia and Hume Lake.
The lookouts are among a dwindling number of surviving lookouts which at one time numbered over 600 in California alone, with over 8,000 scattered across the entire United States. Many of the old abandoned lookouts have fallen into disrepair, been vandalized or simply no longer exist while others have been restored and are now used as vacation rentals.
The Forest and Park Services once relied heavily upon the lookouts as their primary means of spotting fires but satellite imagery, aerial reconnaissance and webcams have taken over much of that responsibility in recent times.
The Park Service, with its on-again off-again policy of allowing natural fires to burn themselves out in remote areas, now relies much less on lookouts than in times past, while the Forest Service, once much more vigilant in protecting forest tracts for eventual sale of the timber, has also grown less dependent upon early suppression of forest fires as the policy restricting timber sales has tightened.
The Hume Lake Ranger District for the Sequoia National Forest now has only the Buck Rock and Delilah lookouts to help watch over its 200,000 acres, but District Fire Management Officer Neil Metcalf still appreciates the value of the lookouts in making his job easier.
“Even though we don’t have as many lookouts as we did in the past, their purpose is still as important as it ever was,” Metcalf said. “My two lookouts see 99 percent of the district including the south fork of the Kings (river) and up into the North Fork Kaweah River drainage.”
For Kathy Allison, the current fulltime lookout at Buck Rock who spends five days a week there throughout the fire season (generally from June – October), the job is like no other. “I never could have imagined sitting up here for 20 years,” Allison said, “but it has become my passion.”
That passion for the job and for the lookouts themselves led Allison to help found the Buck Rock Foundation in order to help preserve some of the remaining fire lookouts.
Last year, the foundation teamed with the Forest Service for a complete rehabilitation of the Buck Rock Lookout. The foundation used a $28,000 grant to restore the lookout to its original appearance from 1923. Thousands of hours of donated labor went into the project, including rebuilding the 172 stairs suspended from the side of the rock that take visitors to the lookout cabin perched above. Estimated total cost of the restoration project was around $60,000.
Read much more about the Buck Rock Lookout Rehabilitation Project and the Buck Rock Foundation, including how you can become a member, by visiting the foundation’s website at www.buckrock.org. A map for the journey to Buck Rock to attend the Open House can also be obtained from their website.
Although the Open House is free, visitors can expect to pay $20 at the Lodgepole or Grant’s Grove entrances to the park to gain access.
An Open House for Park Ridge Lookout is planned for August 3. Visitors to this event will have to RSVP to 565-3676 in advance as special arrangements must be made.