The old Big Moose fire tower isn’t lost. It was reassembled in 2015 near to the Moosehead Lake Region Visitor Center on Route 15 on the way into Greenville. A replica of the fire warden’s cabin was added last year. Carey Kish photo

The view from the ledges atop 3,194-foot Big Moose Mountain is grand, taking in the magnificence of big, blue Moosehead Lake and the impressive array of peaks beyond, from Borestone, Baker and Number Four mountains to Lily Bay. There’s Elephant Mountain and Indian Mountain too, the multi-summited ridgelines of the Barren-Chairback and White Cap ranges, and a whole host of other hills and mountains.

Big Moose Mountain is the site of the first fire tower in the United States, erected on top in 1905. Carey Kish photo

Scamper just a little farther north to get a look at the iconic cliff face of Mount Kineo, then Little Kineo Mountain, Little and Big Spencer mountains and then, some 50 miles distant as the crow flies, glorious Katahdin, the sharp profile of neighboring Doubletop and many of the other high peaks on the southwest side of Baxter State Park. If you’ve got the PeakFinder app on your phone, you could easily identify many more mountaintops.

Big Moose Mountain, reached by a 2-mile hike, is the predominant natural feature of the Little Moose Public Land unit, 15,000 acres of wild country that straddles the town lines of Big Moose Township and Moosehead Junction Township, just west of Greenville. A 16-mile system of foot trails wends through the land, connecting a series of ponds, outlooks and summits, allowing for not only some really fine day hikes, but some sweet backcountry camping too.

The top of Big Moose Mountain is the site of the first fire tower ever built in the U.S., a 22-foot wood and log structure erected in 1905 by the M.G. Shaw Lumber Company. That tower was replaced with a 12-foot steel structure in 1919, which remained atop the mountain until it was removed in 2011. Only the concrete stanchions and some eye bolts remain as a reminder of this bygone era of forest fire protection, which lasted until 1991.

Perched at the historic site on my last visit, I thought of the words on the back cover of “From York to the Allagash: Forest Fire Lookouts of Maine 1905-1991,” a fantastic book by David Hilton published in 1997 and now out of print (you can find copies, but they’re pricey): “They stand alone on the mountaintops of Maine, a reminder of the days when the ‘guardians of the forests’ stood tall against the menace of forest fires.”

You really have to admire the men and women who dutifully staffed fire towers like the one on Big Moose Mountain over the years, ever at the ready to identify and report a fire in the enormous effort to safeguard Maine’s vast forestlands. It had to be a hard life living and working in such remote conditions for half the year or more, but a satisfying life nonetheless, I suspect, enjoyed amid the daily natural rhythms of the Maine woods.

Of the 144 towers that were erected around the state, just 55 remain standing today, according to records kept by the Maine Chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association. Of these, only 24 still have the cab on top, and only 11 of those are reported to be in good condition. This rich part of Maine’s outdoor heritage is fading away slowly but surely, so be kind and gentle when you visit a fire tower, and take pictures to preserve these special places for posterity.

The old Big Moose fire tower isn’t lost, however; it was reassembled in 2015 adjacent to the Moosehead Lake Region Visitor Center on Route 15 on the way into Greenville. A replica of the fire warden’s cabin was added last year. Both are worth a visit, and there’s a great view of the mountains from there to boot.

In addition to a climb of Big Moose Mountain, I recommend hiking the Loop Trail into Big Moose and Little Moose ponds, where there are three tent sites if you’re so inclined. Both ponds are lovely spots that offer a look at the long ridge of Little Moose Mountain. The Notch Trail leads into Little Notch and Big Notch ponds; each sports a pretty campsite as well.

Little Moose Mountain is a great hike, and if you traverse the entire ridge (you’ll need a car spot), it’s a healthy 6-mile walk. Also not to be missed is the undulating 3-1/2-mile trek (one-way) to the airy pinnacle of Eagle Rock, which affords spectacular 360-degree views; Raven Ledge en route is a bonus.

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 @CareyKish


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