Franklin Countys First News

Mt. Blue antenna hiding in plain sight as fire tower

Although the Mt. Blue tower is basically finished, the statewide MSCommNet system will not be fully operational until 2013. (All photos by Steve Mitman)

The observation platform is a very sturdy structure built inside the fire tower base.

WELD - A striking new structure has recently appeared on the summit of Mt. Blue. On closer inspection with binoculars, or even with the naked eye on a clear day, a fire tower can be identified. According to firelookout.org, there are 143 known fire tower sites in the state. Most were constructed during the first half of the 20th century but only three are still active. However, according to Bruce Farnham, Mt. Blue State Park’s manager, “It is not a real fire tower.”

Why go to all the trouble and expense of building a fake fire tower on top of a mountain? The project is the product of a compromise between the Maine Department of Conservation (DOC), who runs Mt. Blue State Park, and the Maine Office of Information Technology (OIT). The Maine State Communications Network or ‘MSCommNet’ is the new public safety radio communications network for the state of Maine. The $56.9 million dollar project is sponsored by the Maine OIT in cooperation with state, federal, county and local agencies. According to Tom Driscoll, MSCommNet Outreach Coordinator, “The purpose of MSCommNet is to unify and modernize the public safety radio communications network for Maine State Government."

Mt. Blue is unique among project’s 42 statewide tower sites as it is the only one located in a state park. The new radio communications fire tower on Mt. Blue replaces an outdated radio communications facility and an abandoned forest lookout tower. In order to gain approval from the DOC, project planners developed a unique design: a radio tower and radio building that looks like a forest fire tower. The planners were also required to integrate an observation platform into the structure that is open to the public. The final tower design is a close replica of a traditional Maine forest fire lookout tower.

“It is not until you are standing quite close to the tower that you notice that the cab windows are not real,” said Farnham. “Forty feet above the base, the white microwave dish antennas are hidden inside the cab and the 'stick' antennas are attached to the outside. There is no public access to the antenna cab other than for radio technicians who will conduct routine maintenance and emergency repairs."

The 360 degree view from the 20-foot tall observation platform is stunning and a great improvement over the current narrow scenic view sites on the partially wooded summit. The new observation platform opened to the public last week.

The new observation tower affords some amazing views like this one of Bald Mountain in Weld to the south.

According to Driscoll, more than 100 workers and more than a dozen subcontractors were involved in the tower construction project that is scheduled for completion later this year. The statewide project is funded by: federal grants, cost sharing with the Department of Homeland Security/Customs and Border Patrol, and certificates of participation that are each payable over a period of seven years. Franklin County Emergency Management (EMA) director, Tim Hardy, has been involved in the project for more than two years.

“This project is a big enhancement to county emergency response communications," Hardy said. "It will help fill some real gaps for law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies."

The trail head for the 3,187 foot Mt. Blue is located off the Center Hill Road in Weld. Although the trail is only 1.6 miles in length, it is a traditional Maine fire warden’s trail which takes the shortest route to the top. The trail climbs consistently up the cone-shaped mountain and does not afford any ‘easy sections’ for breaks. It is recommended that hikers carry drinking water and be in reasonably good physical condition to make it to the summit. If you choose a clear day, you will be rewarded with amazing views from the new fire tower observation platform.

According to park manager Bruce Farnham, the tower has a concrete foundation that is anchored six feet into solid rock.

Christi Mitman of Strong makes the final ascent to the summit of Mt. Blue, the town of Phillips can be seen in the background.

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17 Responses »

  1. It sounds like a win-win situation for everyone. I can't wait to go check it out.

  2. I am not so sure that this activity in the nature of being a player being a part of “public service communication enhancement” is all that new for Mt Blue

    Back in the early 80’s (best guess – brain cells/lost misplaced every day) there used to be a relay station that relayed images from outlying communities to the “old” FCMH (and elsewhere maybe)

    The old fire tower was still up as I recall

    One summer (back then), I was a volunteer along with my old friend Roger Sinski (RIP) in the periodic replacement of the fuel cell power generating system “gas” bottles

    A’ la “MASH”, two full fuel bottles were helicopter’d up from a field off the steep drop off side of the summit (opposite the trail summit exit) and two empty bottles taken back down

    As I recall, it was somewhat of an all day exercise, think the helicopter flew in from Augusta or Waterville; full fuel bottles were trucked into the field and empties out

    I had an opportunity to work on both ends of the fuel bottle replacement activity, off load and load summit and field below

    My ride up to the summit with two loaded fuel bottles and landing was “interesting”; the take off from the summit with the empty fuel bottles was VERY interesting

    ……………the hike up the trail was/is/and always will be harder and much less “interesting!”

    The new observation tower is well done and well worth the $ from this taxpayers perspective

  3. Wish I could walk....the view looks absolutely amazing! It would really be something to see in real life.

  4. Beautiful pics, thanks for sharing Steve Mitman, hoping I can back to the top soon....looks amazing..

  5. I was 13 when I climbed Mt. Blue the first time. That was in the late 50's and there was a fire tower up there then. I climbed up and we looked through the Rangers binoculars, he said we could see Portland on a clear day, but I can't remember if I saw it that day. A great memory.

  6. Hello, my name is Steven Kelly, the President of Timberline Construction located in Canton, MA. We were the General Contractor who built this site. The project itself as you might imagine was very complex and requyired a tremendous amount of teamwork and coordination from literally hundreds of people at many levels locally and afar.

    While there we were able to enjoy some breathtaking views and leave behind a structure that looks beautifully in place with its surroundings and somepkace I hope all Maine residenets get to enjoy at some point. My only regret is that I live too far away to make that hike on a regular basis. I will return someday with my family to make that hike and enjoy the most amazing views I have evre seen.

  7. Thanks for the great pictures and a well written article. As ususl, OUTSTANDING!!!!!
    JC

  8. I climbed Mt. Blue with my parents in 1937. We climbed the fire tower where Ezra Noyes was on duty. My mother had told my grandmother in No. Chesterville that she would csll to her from the mountain peak. She did call,by telephone!

  9. Now that is a great idea!

    Looks great.

  10. How wonderful that a communication tower, highly technical and generally HANDS OFF for the public, can be built with access for the public to enjoy as well. I am so proud to be a Mainer where necessary technology is combined with social responsibilty in its projects! I wonder how many other projects could include social aspects, but rarely do. Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy!!

  11. What a brilliant idea. Those involved should be proud of this project and those that are planning on putting up towers else where in the state should follow your lead. I am am looking forward to a trip to Weld just to see this!

  12. Looking at the tower from below, while washing the dishes, is OK too.

  13. It is entirely unfortunate that some of these type projects that can and do serve multiple end and needs don't engender an attitude of being "complementary" to and for various ends and users

    Too often they become "confrontational" very quickly which can and does hinder the completion and often stopping the project

  14. It would be great if there was a web cam on the tower (like the Mount Washington Observatory web cam) with views in different directions.
    http://www.mountwashington.org/weather/cam/presidentials/
    check it out!

  15. Look at that view -- wow. Wiltonite is on to something. A webcam would be spectacular.

  16. Nice to see the old tower replaced after many, many, years in dismay.

  17. I used to climb often while growing up in Weld. Probably would be a task at this point! BMC

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