HOULTON, Maine — Abandoned fire towers located in Maine’s wilderness are finding new purpose in the state’s efforts to convert some into observation towers for traveling hikers to use.
The fire towers were built by the Maine Forest Service and used in the 20th century by observers who watched for signs of forest fires.
Cameron Clark of Houlton first discovered the old towers during a forestry program in high school in which he visited the remote North Maine Woods for a tree identification project.
Clark, now a businessman in Houlton, has helped to build new cabs to place on top of the old towers — this time not to look for forest fires, but for people to climb up to enjoy scenic viewpoints during hiking excursions.
“It was pretty cool for me personally to have the opportunity to actually build some of those, and be able to go and visit them, and know that they’ll be there for a long time for people to enjoy,” Clark, who runs Cam’s Lawn Care and Landscaping in Houlton, said.
Clark’s landscaping company constructed the three new fire tower cabs. They were placed via helicopters atop existing towers located on the Allagash, Round Pond and Deboullie mountains, located in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
Many of the towers were originally installed around the time of the early 1900s, with observers standing in the cabs on top of them looking for signs of fire on high-risk days. Without the road network, it often would take multiple days to arrive at the fire once located.
The towers were abandoned by the end of the 20th century in favor of fly-overs.
Now the state wants to refurbish the sites so that hikers may still climb the towers and see the extraordinary views of the wilderness they have to offer. The cab replacements cost around $150,000 total, and were funded by the Public Lands Management Fund, as well as through a grant by the Recreational Trail Program.
The designs were made by the engineering firm Kleinschmidt Associates from Pittsfield, and Clark’s landscaping purchased construction materials from local outlets. The cabs were built during the winter months of last year, when the company did not have to worry about any conflicting work.
“It was a great local project for us,” Clark said. “It kept us busy through the winter months, and it was pretty cool to be part of the historic preservation of those towers. Those sites will be there for 100 years or more now.”