Century-old tower with mountain views

The summit of Loon Lake Mountain is about half open, offering views of the High Peaks. The tower, which is unsafe to climb and has the bottom set of steps removed, was originally installed in 1917, but was rebuilt in 1928 after being blown over in hurricane-force winds. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

LOON LAKE — Just four years ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation opened a new trail up Loon Lake Mountain, which had been off limits to the public for years, except for those willing to bushwhack the entire way up the mountain on unimproved state land.

However, after striking a deal with the Lyme Timber Company, the DEC established an easement across private land that allows the public to climb to the base of a fire tower originally installed 100 years ago.

The trail starts out from the parking area and goes just a few hundred feet through the woods to a well-built dirt road. Since this land belongs to a timber company, keep an eye out for vehicles and be sure not to litter. The public is only allowed through their good will, so let’s all work to keep it that way.

Once on the road, you can catch a glimpse of Loon Lake Mountain and the fire tower to your left, and after taking the road through a small wetland, the trail hangs a left and re-enters the woods.

You’ll only go about a quarter of a mile through this particular stand of woods, but it’s a nice, rolling walk. There are no shortage of raspberry bushes, so if your hike is timed right, a snack might be waiting for you. There was also no shortage of bear scat in this area, so be sure to make a bunch of noise as you move through the shoulder-height undergrowth.

At this point, hikers will hit another road. This is not the same as the first, and on your way down from the top, be sure to keep a keen eye for this turn.

The second road is bigger than the first, and the company clearly still uses it regularly. Settle in for a bit of a walk, as you will follow this road for just shy of a mile (0.8) before turning left back into the woods (again).

Once you make this final turn into the woods, the trail gradually gets more narrow, but is easy to follow. Due to the lack of sizable trees along the road sections, the yellow DEC trail markers are few and far between. But the turns are all marked with trail markers and DEC arrow signs pointing the way.

This last section of trail, which goes 1.68 miles to the summit, is very pleasant to hike along. There are bridges for the bigger stream crossings and bog bridges, or planks, along the muddy sections. Although young, the forest here is generally open hard woods that, during the height of fall, make the woods and forest floor appear to shine with colors.

The trail basically goes uphill the whole way, from start to finish. There are some steeper sections near the end, but for the most part the uphill grade is pretty gentle. After a while, hikers will start to notice the old telephone poles along the trail, remnants of when the fire tower was still in use.

Even though the trail climbs steadily, it’s not a bad hike. The final steep push is short, and once atop it, the trail follows the flat ridge of the mountain to the site of the tower.

The fire tower is no longer in use, but was installed a century ago in 1917. According to the DEC, the tower is a 35-foot Aeromotor tower that was rebuilt after hurricane-force winds damaged it in 1928.

The bottom steps of the tower have been removed and are now padlocked to the base of the tower to prevent anyone from climbing it. One look at the desiccated wood that makes up the steps and floor of the cabin should be enough to convince any reasonable person that it’s not a safe structure to climb.

But laying on the ground at the base of the tower is a unique piece of metal. It’s obviously part of the tower structure, but unlike the rest of the metal cross pieces, this one contains painted stencils on it that read “A.I. Vosburgh Loon Lake N.Y. Loon Lake Mt Sta.”

According to Laurie Rankin, New York State director of the Forest Fire Lookout Association, the stenciling was the shipping address for the tower, and several other towers around the state also sport similar shipping information.

A. I. Vosburgh was a North Country and Tri-Lakes area stalwart. Born in 1870 in Franklin Falls, Vosburgh had a larger impact on the local area than most would know.

Vosburgh was a stage coach driver and owned a general store in Lake Clear, but he also owned and was publisher of the Adirondack Enterprise (1898–1906), the Lake Placid Mountain Mirror and the Tupper Lake Herald. Having moved to Saranac Lake in 1876, Vosburgh graduated from Harrietstown schools before attending Eastman’s business school, according to an obituary from the AuSable Forks Record-Post.

In the late 1890s, Vosburgh opened his store and was also elected to numerous local positions. He was the Harrietstown Supervisor for years and oversaw the construction of both the town hall and the first concrete roadway from Saranac Lake to Lake Clear.

Then, in the early 1900s, Vosburgh was hired by the state of New York to be a game protector, a job he held for 11 years, including six years as district warden. This is likely when the tower was shipped to him at the Loon Lake train station.

According to Franklin County, NY Biographies, Vosburgh was hired by the Fish and Game Commission in 1908 and worked as a patrolman for three years. In 1911, he was promoted to “confidential agent for the New York Fish and Game Department.” And then from 1913 to 1919, he served as the district forest ranger. It’s hard to imagine a man who had a larger impact on the Tri-Lakes area, but Vosburgh tends to be a forgotten figure.

Once you’re at the top of Loon Lake Mountain, the northern and eastern Adirondacks stretch out for miles. Lyon Mountain, Whiteface and Esther mountains, and the High Peaks can all be seen from the partially-treed summit.

It’s a nice, relaxing place to sit and have a snack, as well as ponder what came before us.