News and analysis
November 02, 2015

A Volunteer Job With a View


A HistoriCorps volunteer works on the roof of the Black Mountain Lookout Tower.

In the heart of Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest, a mile and a half beyond the end of the road and 9,500 feet above sea level, a small cabin overlooks miles of trees. In early 2014, the majestic view from Black Mountain Lookout Tower belied the deteriorating state of the structure, built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Then, teams of HistoriCorps volunteers arrived. Over the summer, they replaced railings and doors, reshingled the roof, and installed a composting toilet. Now the U.S. Forest Service can use the lookout tower as a rental cabin or an interpretive site.

Bringing new life to old buildings is the mission of HistoriCorps. Since 2009, the group, which its founder, Towny Anderson, describes as a "hybrid between a construction company and an outdoor-adventure company," has done preservation work on 170 projects, including a slave cabin in Virginia and a ranch in Colorado.

It also aims to educate people about public lands and the resources they offer. Five to 10 volunteers work on each project for about a week at a time. They leave with a sense of accomplishment and a new interest in America’s wilderness, says Mr. Anderson.

"These resources are so important to who we are as a nation and who we are as communities that it ought to be more in the mainstream," he says.

The Forest Service pays HistoriCorps for its work, revenue that makes up most of the nonprofit’s $700,000 annual budget.

The job sites make it easy to recruit volunteers.

"We are always in spectacular locations," Mr. Anderson says. "The higher the altitude, the easier it is to recruit volunteers."

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.