We had been doing maintenance work on the Syler Springs Trail leading to the Summit Trail and at the end of the work day, Norm and I set up camp in front of the Forest Service cabin. Norm then took his fishing pole and went fishing in the creek while I watched him catch several small trout, one right after another. We then sat down, silhouetted by large ponderosa pine trees, for a delicious trout dinner and enjoyed the peaceful solitude on the south side of Pine Valley Mountain.
Other people have fond memories of the Browse Guard Station as well.
“It’s just a special place,” Fred Ybright, former wilderness coordinator for the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness in Dixie National Forest’s Pine Valley Ranger District. “You had to be there. If a person went up and camped there a few days and experienced Browse Guard Station, it would be part of your soul.”
To the best of Ybright’s knowledge, the Browse Guard Station was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s. The CCC also built several other Forest Service facilities about that time such as the Pine Valley Ranger Station, the Enterprise Ranger Station, the recreation guard station near the Pine Valley Reservoir, as well as several improvements within the Pine Valley campground, and the Pine Valley Reservoir, Ybright said.
The Browse Guard Station, built on a natural stone foundation, consisted of a standard two-room cabin, and included cupboards, a counter and a sink, although there was no running water to the building. Built in a Cape Cod style, it had horizontal and overlapping wooden siding, with a green roof and a white painted underside and green window shutters, he added.
When it was accessible from April to October, a district ranger employee was stationed there, Ybright believes, to monitor grazing, timber and recreation activity on the southeast side of the mountain.
From the Browse Guard Station, an extensive trail system in the area allowed people access to reach New Harmony and Anderson Valley by way of the Summit Trail.
During the 1950s and into the 1960s, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources used the Browse Guard Station and assigned an employee to study mule deer migration over the course of several summers. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was the last government agency to actively use the Browse Guard Station in the 1960s, Ybright said.
“When I first came in the district in the late 1980s,” Ybright said, “there were some old deer that had been some of his (the DWR employee) pets that came right up to the door.”
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Ybright said there were a lot of big bucks in the Browse area. For several years, it was a special draw hunt area, and Ybright remembers seeing some of the biggest bucks on the road going to the guard station.
Ybright and his trail crew also used the Browse Guard Station yard for several weeks periodically throughout the summer when they were working on trail maintenance on the south side of Pine Valley Mountain, but they did not stay in the cabin. The Forest Service trail crew kept hay, horse feed and grain in a storage tool shed located behind the cabin. Ybright also remembers there was a corral located nearby that had access to the creek.
“It was a real pleasant part of my stay on the Pine Valley Ranger District,” Ybright said. “It is a really nice place to get some solitude,” but he admits it’s not easy to get to, because it generally takes a four-wheel drive vehicle to access the Guard Station.
Once at the site, people notice the large ponderosa pine trees and during the spring, wildflowers are abundant.
About 1986, during the Oak Grove fire, road crews working in the area, destroyed a peach tree that had been growing near a shale source, off the east side of the Browse road. For years, it had been referred to as District Ranger Rance Rollins’ peach tree, because he would always point that out to every Forest Service employee and anyone else who would listen to him when he was driving through the area, Ybright said.
During the 1990s, a large thunderstorm washed lots of ash down into the creek which affected the fish, Ybright said.
The other interesting feature near the Browse Guard Station is the redwood tree growing behind it.
“There would quite often be people come into the district office and tell us that their grandfather planted that redwood tree,” Ybright said. “I think it is probably 80 years old,” and “it’s probably 80 to 90 feet tall.”
To Fred’s knowledge, it is the only redwood tree that he knows of growing on the Dixie National Forest.
The top of the tree has since died and Ybright said several experts in the Forest Service believe that the elevation and the dry air may have been factors that caused the top of the tree to die.
“Redwoods aren’t susceptible to bugs,” he said, but “redwoods belong on the coast where the humidity is much greater than it is here.”
Ybright doesn’t know who planted the tree, but he thinks it was built sometime around the time the Browse Guard Station was built.
“It may have been planted as a novelty,” he said. “To show someone what a redwood was like.”
Meanwhile, with tighter budgets becoming the norm throughout the Forest Service, the Browse Guard Station was slated five years ago to be decommissioned, according to Bevan Kilpack, who recently retired as district ranger of the Pine Valley Ranger District in the Dixie National Forest.
“Because of our budgets, it was put on the chopping block to be removed and taken out,” he said, noting that when the building is eventually torn down, the foundation will be removed and an interpretive sign will most likely be erected.
Kilpack, who had been in the district since 1997, said the cabin has also carried the threat of hantavirus because of rodents. A sign was posted there to warn members of the public about the possibility of contracting the disease.
While Kilpack said there was some discussion of turning the cabin into a place where people could stay, it would have been too large of a price tag to get the cabin up to modern-day building standards.
“And we were never going to get the money to fix it up,” Kilpack said. “It was a low priority, despite its historical heritage. We were doing a master plan of all of our facilities, and it was decided to decommission it because it was a maintenance nightmare and no funding (available).”
Still, looking back, Kilpack said the Browse Guard Station was what the Forest Service was all about.
“We put people in those areas and we built these unique guard stations,” he said, noting it gave people on the ground an opportunity to be involved in the management of the soils, vegetation and the watersheds.
“Back in those days, you had your horse, your pack mule and that was your job -- to be on the ground and manage that for the people who were using the resources,” Kilpack said. “Some of them (Forest Service employees) had their families there with them.”
Today, this lack of budgets has caused the focus to change on the management of the land and the interest is no longer there to keep the building intact, Kilpack said because there is no money for maintenance or to preserve the heritage.
“I will be sad,” Fred Ybright said, if the Browse Guard Station is torn down, “because it is a really neat place. I think they could do like they did with the one in Pine Valley and rent it. I don’t see any value in tearing it down.”
Ybright, however, acknowledges that the mice and rodents that carry the hantavirus are probably present, but “if you went in and fumigated it and maintained it and kept it clean, I think you could control the rodent population. I don’t think that would be a problem.”
“I had some real pleasant experiences working and staying there,” Ybright said. “I will be really sad if it is eliminated.”