May 24, 2018
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Fire watch tower moved from North Maine Woods to Ashland Logging Museum

Kathy McCarthy | Presque Isle Star-Herald
Kathy McCarthy | Presque Isle Star-Herald
A state fire watch tower, which stood for 98 years on Norway Bluff west of Oxbow in Aroostook County, now calls the Ashland Logging Museum home, following its relocation on June 13, 2012, by members of the Maine Forest Service and Maine Army National Guard. Rafford Trucking transported the structure in two pieces, with forest rangers and guardsmen, shown here, working together to unload the base and cab.
By Kathy McCarty, Presque Isle Star-Herald

ASHLAND, Maine — A historic structure now has a new home, thanks to members of the Maine Forest Service and Maine Army National Guard who moved a fire watchtower June 13 from the North Maine Woods to the Ashland Logging Museum.

“The Maine Forest Service moved the Norway Bluff fire tower out of the North Maine Woods to its new home at the Ashland Logging Museum on Wednesday,” said Amanda Barker, MFS forest ranger who helped coordinate the move.

Earlier in May, eight forest rangers removed the 24-foot-tall Norway fire tower that sat on Norway Bluff, located in Township 9, Range 10 WELS. The crew used an MFS Huey helicopter based out of Old Town to remove the fire tower, which consists of a metal tower and wooden cab.

Then, on June 13, MFS Forest Rangers, led by Barker, and an Army National Guard detail used Guard trucks to move the structure from the woods to its new home for installation later at the Ashland museum, according to Jeanne Curran, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Conservation.

“The fire tower was moved from the Pell & Pell camp yard in T9R10 to the museum. The tower stood for 98 years on Norway Bluff,” explained Barker, noting watchers were able to see as far away as Mars Hill Mountain and parts of Canada from their vantage point in the remote woods.

The National Guard’s 1136th Transportation Company used the project as a form of training.

“We have guardsmen attached to Bangor, Calais and Sanford units here doing annual training. We’ve been in The County and have performed 20 different missions for the Department of Conservation. We’ve traveled over 10,000 miles with 12 trucks we brought up here, delivering construction materials for DOC summer projects,” said Capt. Ryan Curry, a Guard member from Saco.

Curry said guardsmen have worked on projects all over Aroostook, including Caribou, Ashland and the Allagash area.

“It’s good driver training for us,” said Curry.

Kent Nelson, fire prevention specialist with the MFS, was on hand for the move and shared some background information on the tower.

“The original tower was built in 1914 on Norway Bluff, about 18 miles from Oxbow. Rangers usually lived in a cabin at the tower’s base. Maps and minor necessities were all that was kept in the structure,” said Nelson.

According to Nelson, the structure served its purpose but has since been replaced by more modern methods to detect fires.

“We now use air detection flights, using our own planes, with assistance from Civil Air Patrol, as well as contracting with other pilots,” Nelson said.

Forest Ranger Todd Weeks said, “The tower and cab stand about 24 feet when erected. Added to Norway Bluff’s height of about 2,000 feet, rangers were elevated sufficiently to watch for fires for miles around. Rangers were stationed at the tower daily, when weather was good. Radios were used to relay messages and report fire sightings. Bob Alexander was listed as the last watchman, serving until the site closed in 1990.”

The MFS still has several towers up around the state but plans are to eventually remove them to prevent them from becoming hazards.

Barker said removal of the Norway Bluff fire tower took the better part of the day to complete.

“The crew worked close to eight hours, placing the 24-foot-tall, metal fire tower and its wooden cab, on Guard trucks for removal to the Garfield Road museum. I was assisted with the detail by Forest Ranger Todd Weeks,” said Barker, noting it took two flatbed trucks to transport the pieces to Ashland. “Mark Rafford’s crew loaded it and Bob Flint unloaded it.”

The historic piece of MFS history will now serve as a summer project for a local Boy Scout.

“Malcolm Milligan, 13, of Ashland, is a member of Boy Scout Troop 179. He will be taking on the restoration of the cab as an Eagle Scout Project,” explained Barker. “We wanted to do this to remind the younger generation of the importance of these fire towers in protecting our Maine Forests.”

“I’ll be putting on new shingles and putting in new windows. I’ll restore it to its original status,” said Milligan. “I heard about the project through my mom, Linda, who’s good friends with Amanda. I thought it would be a good project to work on.”

Bob Sawyer, a director with the Ashland Logging Museum, said he was “super excited to get something new for the museum.”

“It’s great to have a new project. It’s really something you wouldn’t expect. Everything else was built on the premises,” said Sawyer. “Having a piece of history like this is just icing on the cake.”

Norway Bluff will now serve as the installation site of a new state radio tower.

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