History Hike

Hikers, nature lovers and history buffs are invited to tramp to the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain Saturday, May 14 in an outing sponsored by the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM).

Laurie Rankin, volunteer coordinator at the Balsam Lake Mountain Fire Tower, and her husband, Tom will offer a tour of the tower and the observer’s cabin and will discuss the history of the tower, which was used to spot forest fires in the surrounding Catskills for 100 years.

In the event of heavy or steady rain, the hike will be held Sunday, May 15. The group will set off promptly at 10 a.m. and expects to return at 3 p.m.

This is a moderately difficult, six mile round-trip hike to the 3,723-foot summit in the Town of Hardenburg. Participants are advised to bring a lunch, appropriate footwear and layered dress and to meet at the trailhead parking area on Millbrook Rd. Take Dry Brook Rd. off Rte 28, Arkville six miles, turn right on Millbrook Rd., and go 2.3 miles to the trailhead.

This event is free for HSM members, $2 for all others. Pre-registration is not necessary. For more information or weather questions, call 845-586-4973.

A log tower was originally built on the mountain in 1887 by members of the Balsam Lake Club to protect its hunting and fishing lands. Fire tower historian Marty Podskoch says that when that tower burned, a second was built on the site in 1901. It was later taken over by the State and replaced with the current steel tower. A cabin for the observer was built by the Conservation Department in 1919; and was rebuilt in 1931.

Laurie Baker Rankin spent a lot of time on the mountain as a child, because her father, Larry Baker, was the last full time observer there, serving from 1958 to 1972. Other observers included Edward Avery, the legendary Mike Todd and Gus Stewart. Ken Kittle and Tim Hinkley also manned the tower before the DEC discontinued its use in 1988.

In the 1990s, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the DEC reached an agreement to refurbish five fire towers in the Catskills and to have volunteers man them as observers once did. A tremendous local volunteer effort was successfully accomplished in 2000.

Please join us for a look at the current state of the tower and cabin. The rich history of both, some artifacts, some delightful memories, some hiker education and we hope fabulous views await all!

More information on the towers can be found at www.catskillcenter.org/towers.

For information on HSM events and activities, please visit www.mtownhistory.org.

One response to “History Hike”

  1. I too, along with my cousin Stewart Rosa spent a great deal of time at the Balsam Mountain Fire Tower during the 1950’s. Stewart’s maternal grandfather Augustus (Gus) Stewart of Drybrook was the fire watch at that time.

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