Remote Mountaintop Flag Causing a Flap in Lincoln County

U.S. Forest Service decided not to reissue a permit to display an American flag on Northwest Peak after a number of complaints

By Justin Franz
The flag at Northwest Peak. Photo courtesy of Bob Hosea.

Two Lincoln County men are hoping officials with the U.S. Forest Service will once again allow the display of the American flag on a remote mountaintop in Lincoln County.

For the last five years, Bob Hosea and Tom Horelick have flown a flag at the Northwest Peak fire lookout, but this year the Forest Service told them they couldn’t. The story made the rounds on social media and quickly prompted hundreds of Facebook comments and shares.

In 2014, Hosea and Horelick, two longtime hiking buddies from the Libby area, decided to erect a flag on the mountain in the Northwest Peak Scenic Area just south of the Canadian border.

“Tom thought it would be nice to have a flag up there,” Hosea said. “We thought it was a cool idea.”

The flag initially flew on a homemade PVC pipe flagpole attached to a wooden post next to a fire lookout near the summit. Later on, a Minnesota man brought a real flagpole to the summit. Hosea said he and Horelick usually brought the flag to the summit in early summer and back down to town in the fall.

Hosea and Horelick did not have a permit for the flag or the flagpole on Northwest Peak. Kirsten Kaiser, district ranger for the Kootenai National Forest’s Three Rivers Ranger District, said monuments and memorials are generally not allowed on Forest Service land because they often require maintenance. However, last year, Kaiser decided to give the men a permit for the flag.

Since then, however, the Forest Service has received a number of complaints about the flag that can generally be sorted into two categories: those who are against the flag’s presence and those who believe the flag itself is being disrespected. The former group believes the flag detracts from the natural landscape, and because Northwest Peak is a scenic area, a bright red, white and blue flag should not be prominently displayed. The other group believes it is disrespectful to put up a flag in harsh conditions and reported finding remnants of an American flag up there last fall.

Hosea said that’s impossible because he brought down the complete flag late last year. Last summer, firefighters who were on the peak wrapping the fire lookout with protective material took down the flag and stashed it safely inside the lookout. Hosea said he went up there to retrieve the flag after fire season.

Because of the complaints, Kaiser told Hosea and Horelick that she would not be able to renew the permit this year. Kaiser said the primary reason behind not renewing the permit was because of the stringent rules surrounding the display of the flag. Weather can be rough on a banner in such a remote spot, meaning it can be hard to maintain a pristine flag. The flag must also be lit at night and must be lowered whenever there is a proclamation by the president.

Hosea said they have addressed the first two issues in the past with a weatherproof flag and solar-powered lights to illuminate it at night, but the lowering of the flag is a more complicated issue. The Northwest Peak trailhead is about two hours north of Troy and then a three-mile hike to the fire lookout, meaning it would take someone almost an entire day to go up there and lower it.

Hosea wrote about the situation on his Facebook page on June 6, and since then the post has received hundreds of comments and has been shared more than 450 times. Many of the comments have been in support of the flag. The story has also made the local newspapers in Lincoln County.

Hosea and Horelick met with Kootenai National Forest officials last week to see if they could find a way to continue flying the flag. Hosea said it was a productive meeting.

“We’re working on a compromise,” Kaiser said, adding that she would know more later this month.