The wooded dome of Trout Mountain, just a mile south of Baxter State Park, rises to an elevation of 1,409 feet in the unorganized township of T2 R9 WELS. A rusty old fire tower, overturned over four decades ago and resting on its side amid the thick canopy of spruce and fir trees, has left explorers wandering without a view of the top. Until 2020, that is to say.
Last year, The Nature Conservancy had a renovated fire tower built on Trout Mountain, a towering 80-foot steel structure with six flights of stairs leading to a wide-open observation deck on top. A new hiking trail winds nearly 3 miles down the mountain’s western slopes to reach the top where the real excitement begins.
The picnic table in the clearing at the base of the tower is a good place to relax, have a snack and contemplate the sign at the start of the stairs, “Climb at your own risk”. As the Maine fire towers go, it’s a big one, but it’s solidly built and safe enough to ride. So it’s clang, thump and bang, hiking boots on heavy metal, section after section exhilarating.
Step out of the tree cover and the view is breathtaking, but there’s more, so set your nerves for the final race to the ultimate prize – a jaw-dropping 360-degree panorama showcasing Katahdin in all its glory. It’s 8 miles away, yes, but it feels so close you could almost reach out and touch our state’s “greatest mountain”.
The Nature Conservancy purchased 3,598 acres around Trout Mountain about 20 years ago and created the Trout Mountain Preserve. TNC has “conserved the lands and waters on which life depends” around the world for over 100 years. Right here in Maine, TNC has worked to preserve more than 2.4 million acres of ecologically significant land.
The Trout Mountain property adjoins Baxter State Park to the north, surrounding Lower Togue Pond before continuing to Sandy Stream. The wild and remote Logan Ponds and Twin Ponds are protected along the eastern edge of the reserve, which extends to join Millinocket Lake. To the south and west, TNC’s land abuts the Katahdin Forest Project easement.
So, about this view of the fire tower. Standing against the wind and holding on to your hat, looking north, you can spot the Barnard and Deasey Mountains at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, as well as the peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and Mt. Chase showing just beyond The Traveler, Pamola Peak, and Baxter Peak on Katahdin, the shoulder of Mt. Coe, Mt. OJI and Doubletop Mountain at Baxter State Park.
Sweeping west and south is the incomparable Big Spencer Flat Mountain, Coburn Mountain, the multi-peaked Baker Mountain, the White Cap Range and Jo-Mary Mountain in the 100-Mile Wilderness, and much more. ‘other. Never mind Millinocket Lake and a whole host of other lakes and ponds. It’s an amazing point of view and it’s worth downloading a peak finder app to help you identify what.
The Nature Conservancy had been interested in acquiring the Trout Mountain lands for some time and worked to secure the necessary funding to ultimately purchase it, according to Nancy Sferra, director of land management for TNC in Maine.
“The goal was to add more protection around Katahdin,” Sferra said, noting that TNC also owns the 46,271 acre wilderness area of Debsconeag Lakes just west across the West Branch. of the Penobscot River. “Public access will be concentrated on Trout Mountain, leaving the rest of the property in its wilderness.”
The entirety of Trout Mountain Preserve “is managed as an ecological reserve where natural processes such as ice, drought and wind shape the forest,” according to the TNC website. “The long-term monitoring plots on the property help us track changes in forest composition,” Sferra said. “The designation also allows for low-impact recreational uses and traditional uses like snowmobiling.”
TNC plans to improve the Trout Mountain Trail with help from the Maine Conservation Corps, and an information booth will be set up in the parking lot at the trailhead just off Baxter State Park Road. In addition, a second observation platform will be built at the 60 foot level of the tower. Once completed, the 4WD access road will be able to return to the forest.
Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @Carey Kish
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