My favorite fire towers are always the ones that are not only climbable, but with access to the cab as well. My first Catskill fire tower hike was an amazing experience - not only was it staffed with interpreters,but one of the interpreters had a special connection to the mountain.
Our hike started off on the Dry Brook Ridge Trail beginning at the southern approach to Balsam Lake Mountain in Beaverkill, NY. The sign to the "fire tower" almost got lost in the glare of the sun, but fortunately Sister's eyes are better than mine, as I would have led us down the path marked "trail," go figure. I'm not sure where that would have brought us to, but I think it may be part of the southern "loop."
We made a wrong turn in Albuquerque at a very deceptive sign. We followed the sign leading us to the new lean-to and privy, however, the trail seemed to disappear into nothing in both directions from the lean-to site. Bushwhacking got us nowhere so we retraced our steps back to the sign we followed at the most recent intersection. We realized that Balsam Lake Mt was also the name of the lean-to. We continued up the trail where we initially took a left, this led us to the spring which was in the guide book, so we knew we were back on track!
The sign clearly makes Balsam Lake Mt and Lean To to be two separate things in the same direction. You wouldn't have gone straight either!
Balsam Lake Mt Lean-To dedicated to Elinore Leavitt - past President and Chair of the Catskills 3500 ClubWe continued to the summit where the tower became visible through the trees. Posing for pictures with the tower behind, we got distracted by these beautiful wild flowers which we were told was fireweed. At the tower we were greeted by Tom and Laurie, the volunteer interpretive guides. Suppressing the urge jump, clap, and shriek "INTERPRETIVE GUIDES!" we kept our cool and followed Tom to the top of the tower. He gave us a tour of the Catskills, and even parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He let us use his binoculars to see the towers on Red Hill and Hunter Mountain, and to see the large stone structure on a mountain in New Jersey. He showed us the valley where Laurie, the other guide grew up, and the cabin that her father built!
Laurie gave us a tour of the cabin that her father, Larry Baker, build. We toured the kitchen, equipped with a stove and telephone, where the original topographical map is located. Signs and gear adorned the wall. We saw the water packs that the fire fighters would wear into the woods to use to try to extinguish the fire. My father-in-law actually wore these several years ago when he was a volunteer fire fighter in Pottersville, NY. We saw a picture of Laurie with her father taken several years ago. She showed us one of the Catskills books where she is pictured with her father as well.
After our tour, we were given signed and dated cards, just like the observers used to pass out, saying that we made it to the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain. Between the two, Laurie and Tom are members of prestigious groups such as the 46ers, winter 46ers, Catskill 3500 club, Views and Brews, and probably a few that I'm forgetting.
Balsam Lake Mountain was the home of New York State's first fire tower, built in 1887 with wood by the Balsam Lake Mountain Club. It survived until 1901 when a lightning strike took it down. It was replaced with another wooden tower in 1905. Telephone lines, an access road, and a cabin were added in 1919.
The current 47' steel tower was build in 1930, closed in 1988, and was restored and officially reopened in 2000.
For more pictures, see my Flickr Set