Remembering Peterson Prairie Guard Station

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Three feet from the charred remains of Peterson Prairie Guard Station a stout, wooden picnic table stands unscathed.

The nearby outhouse and wood shed also are fine.

But when the 86-year-old cabin in the Mount Adams District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest caught fire on Sept. 10, it burned the way old and dry wood does — almost completely.

Two chimneys still stand as sentinels of the former guard station.

According to the Forest Service, it appears the fire resulted from a stray ember from the recently swept chimney landing on the roof of the guard station.

Currently, there are no plans to rebuild the guard station, however the Gifford Pinchot forest hopes to do something to honor the memory of the historic spot.

“This is a very sad loss to a beautiful and irreplaceable historic structure on the forest and to forest history,’’ said Nancy Ryke, Mount Adams District ranger. “Losing the structure means a great loss to our cabin rental program as well.’’

The guard station was built in 1926 by the Forest Service to replace an abandoned, deteriorated log cabin erected by homesteader John Peters in 1890.

The three-room (kitchen, living room, bedroom) guard station was a popular vacation rental for many years.

The station “was dear to the Forest Service and to the heart of the public,’’ said David Wickwire, recreation program manager for the Mount Adams district.

The cabin is gone, but will live on the memories of so many of us who spent a night in its cozy confines.

I spent two nights at Peterson Prairie Guard Station, once in the mid-1990s and again in 2007.

Both times were in winter and involved the easy cross-country ski outing from Atkisson Sno-Park, 2.5 miles to the east.

Well, the first trip was not so easy.

I went with Troy Wayrynen, now photo editor of The Columbian. We we left Vancouver late. By the time we were leaving Atkisson Sno-Park, it was after noon.

Rather than skiing up wide and flat road No. 24, I opted to head west on road No. 017. The two routes parallel each other, but road No. 24 is a main forest road and No. 017 is lumpy route more trail than road.

Troy and I skied what seemed like way longer than what was needed to reach road No. 041, which would connect us back to road No. 24 to reach Peterson Prairie.

I panicked, deciding we’d missed a turn. So we retraced our route back to Atkisson, then headed up road No. 24.

By the time we were near the cabin, it was 4:30 p.m. and getting dark. I made another mistake and lead us into Peterson Prairie campground, assuming I’d sight the cabin.

Wrong.

Finally we reached the information station at the junction of roads Nos. 24 and 60. Still, I did not see the camp, and it was dark.

I thought we might spend the night hunkered down under the roof of the information station when Troy spotted the cabin just across road No. 24 and a bit back in the trees.

What a relief to get to get inside. By 6 p.m., we were warm and rehydrated.

Four inches of snow fell overnight, making for a tree-flocked trip back to Atkisson the next morning.

In 2007, at least I knew for certain where the cabin was, But it was two of those gray days where at such a low elevation (2,700 to 3,000 feet) the precipitation constantly switches between rain and snow.

A night in the cabin was not really roughing it. There were propane lights in all three rooms, propane furnaces in the living room and a four-burner propane stove and oven in the kitchen.

My wife and I brought in some frozen lasagna and baked it for dinner.

We did not seen any mice, but I’m sure they were in the cabin.

The kitchen had all sorts of pots, pans, skillets, plates, bowls, saucers, cooking utensils and silverware.

With Peterson Prairie Guard Station gone, the cabin at Government Mineral Springs remains the only rental available on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Some day, Gotchen Creek Guard Station, built in 1909 and the oldest structure in the Pinchot, might be added to the rental program.

Spending a night in a cabin without electricity, cable or the internet may seem like a recipe for boring. Yet I’ve not talked to anyone who has stayed at Peterson Prairie or Government Mineral Springs and didn’t feel richer for it.