View Full Version : Coos County Fire Tower Restoration/Reconstruction?

03-08-2006, 06:48 AM
Kim Nilsen is calling for not only restoration but reconstruction of North Country fire towers in a column in today's Littleton Courier. Nilsen was the driving force behind the Coos Trail Association. I wonder how the "reconstruction" part will fly.

[start quote]
March 08, 2006
Restore old North Country fire towers for recreation
By Kim Robert Nilsen

NORTH COUNTRY—On the summits of Cos mountains few people visit, you find them — concrete pylons holding up the wind, or iron and steel fittings left to corrode over the eons, eroding along with the rocks they are embedded in. The ruins are all that's left of many a fire tower.
The useless detritus rusts on Deer Mountain in Pittsburg, a quarter mile in elevation above the wonderful little state campground of the same name tucked in just four miles south of the international boundary with French Canada.
Anchors pock Dixville Peak a few mile south of and 1,500 vertical feet higher than Route 26 in Dixville Notch. They sprout on Mt. Whitcomb overlooking the Phillips Brook Valley, and there are anchor holes on the summit of Sugarloaf in the Nash Stream Forest where a watch cabin (not a tower) was once bolted to the exposed ledges. Signal Mountain tower in
Millsfield still shows it creaky profile to those who know where to look for it. The watchman's living quarters cabin still stands on Mt. Cabot, but not the tower that once soared just a half minute's walk to the north. Mt. Martha, the tallest of two summits on Cherry Mountain in Jefferson, boasts four concrete footings, loitering with nothing productive to do. There's little trace of others that saw service on Mt. Dustin at Wentworth's Location; Cambridge Black Mountain, Cambridge (made of logs), Pine Hill, Gorham; and Crystal Mountain in the Dead Diamond country.
The steel superstructure and observation cabs of most of these towers are long gone. The few that are left in the county — the gem on Mt. Magalloway in Pittsburg, the fine manned tower at Milan Hill State Park, and the once private stone tower in Weeks State Park — are much prized and always a great pleasure to visit.
In the Catskills and Adirondacks of New York State and in the Green
Mountains of Vermont, local conservation groups have coalesced over the last few decades to try to restore and preserve towers that were disintegrating or were slated to close. Volunteer efforts, like the very successful one launched last year to restore the stair treads on Vermont's Mount Monadnock in Lemington (just across the river from Colebrook), often attract good crowds of people young and old who wish to help in the restoration effort.
Why such numbers?
Fire towers are more popular than ever. They are tourist magnets and a source of local pride. And why not? No road anywhere in New England ever pops out a panorama like a tall fire tower on a tall peak. They are the perfect destination for young families. Perfect for lovers on a picnic. Perfect for thread-worn mountain men (and women) like me.
Recreation as a tool for economic development in northernmost New Hampshire is on anyone's tongue who has an interest in seeing Cos County's economy move forward. A great deal of focus has been on trails of all sorts, and rightly so. But other infrastructure is needed to flesh out the animal.
Turning to the past to jump-start the process might be one small key to the future. The restoration and reconstruction of former fire towers as tourist observation towers could be a factor in improving the recreational dynamic in Cos.
In the summer and fall, many hundreds of people visit Mt. Magalloway tower in Pittsburg, the most far removed of all towers in the state. The last time I visited with my granddaughter, we counted a dozen people coming and going over the course of some four hours. Increase the number of towers in Cos several-fold, and it isn't too far a stretch to speculate that there could be thousands of visitor-days generated.
Towers won't build or restore themselves, of course, and private landowners and state and federal land managers may not wish to see them resurrected, no matter what.
While the logistics and costs of restoring the treadway on the existing tower on Vermont's Monadnock proved to be manageable, erecting an entirely new structure or tearing down a tower somewhere else and moving it to a Cos location would likely be prohibitive, to say the very least. Only Signal Mountain's unused tower still has a ghost of a chance of a few-dollars-in-the-pocket rebuild.
Perhaps new towers could be much smaller, lower structures made of wood and enclosed to protect their timbers. On Dixville Peak, for instance, a tower need only be as tall as a two-story home in Colebrook to open up a vast and thrilling 360-degree view of the grand Cos forests. Same with Deer Mountain. On Sugarloaf in Stratford, a low enclosed platform, maybe just a dozen feet tall, would do the job.
And rather than hand carry materials all the way up many a mountain, materials could easily be ferried up most of them on the old fire tower lanes that still carry hikers and snowmobilers today, utilizing four-wheeled vehicles or snow machines.
In fact, structures could be prefabricated in local communities far below, tested, dismantled, packed up and sent up the mountains to be bolted back together by a small crew in a matter of days.
Once built, new observation towers, particularly enclosed ones, could pull visitors all year 'round. Snowmobilers would flock to them in winter, and cross-country skiers and snowshoers might, too.
A tall order, surely. But, under our nostrils, the most extensive snowmobile system in the East was created right here in New Hampshire by enthusiasts who organized themselves into adrenaline-pumping snow-sled clubs. Backed by state agencies funneling non-highway transportation funds from Washington, the clubs created a huge tertiary transportation system in a generation.
They had the desire. If the crowd that came forward to restore the tower on Monadnock in Lemington, Vt., is any indication, there must be thousands of people in this state who love a fire tower. They'd have the desire, too, I suspect. They might pitch in to bring towers back to the peaks of grand Cos.
Kim Robert Nilsen is now a resident of Spofford, but he'd rather be back in Cos County. [end quote]

bill bowden
03-08-2006, 12:40 PM
Kim doesn't mention the one once on Deer Mountain in Pittsburg (a surprisingly unpleasant trip). Sugarloaf again has obvious remains but Whitcomb and Crystal showed no signs of tower on any of the three 3000 foot Whitcomb summits or the two 3000 foot Crystal summits. Was I blind or were the towers on other summits or knobs.

03-08-2006, 06:09 PM
Kim doesn't mention the one once on Deer Mountain in Pittsburg... Was I blind or were the towers on other summits or knobs.
You were blind reading his article, he mentions Deer Mtn twice :-)

The one on Whitcomb was still standing on an easterly spur a few years ago, rented out by the yurt crew.

We looked for the one on Crystal a few years ago, figuring it was probably where the BM was http://docs.unh.edu/NH/errl34nw.jpg rather than on the official summit, but found neither BM nor tower remains. The one on Dustan may never have been built either.