Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

On rare occasion, the abandonment and disuse of a historic building can have a silver lining. In the case of the Balancing Rock Patrol Point at a remote site overlooking the North Fork of the Clearwater River on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, the fact that it had been forgotten by the agency may have – in part – contributed to its ultimate rehabilitation.

This patrol point – distinguished from a lookout at which fires would be spotted and reported – would have likely served as temporary shelter between destinations on the forest separated by some distance. It was constructed in approximately 1935 as a standard L-6 plan Forest Service structure. It may have served an intermittent use until the mid-1950s when, like other nearby administrative sites, it was abandoned and forgotten allowing it to escape a wave of demolitions carried out by the agency. Upon “rediscovery” by the Forest Service in the 1970s, plans for renovation began. As early as the mid-80s, a new door was constructed but never installed. Finally, in 2014, Jerry Branning and Tom Wolf, volunteers with the Forest Fire Lookout Association began a careful restoration.

Over the course of 21 days, these volunteers installed a new roof, crafted new steps, built new shutters, constructed new shutter supports, and applied a new coat of paint. They installed the “new” door built 30 years earlier. An estimated 300 hours of work at a site that necessitated packing in every piece of material resulted in a spectacular transformation. Abandonment may have allowed Balancing Rock’s eventual restoration, but let’s not assume that’s the best method for preservation. Luckily, this project and the incredible dedication of Jerry and Tom have allowed this forest landmark a new lease on life. Preservation Idaho is pleased to recognize this project with an Orchid Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.