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Protecting the Lakes Region: Belknap Mountain Fire Tower

New Hampshire fire towers

Around this time last year, after a period of little rain and low humidity, the Town of Alton experienced a major fire which, fanned by 40 MPH winds, destroyed a number of homes in the Alton Bay area. The town council has been active in reviewing and acting upon prevention suggestions. But one of the first lines of defense remains the Belknap Mountain Fire Tower, in operation since 1913. Each day may begin like any other for a smoke watcher in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. The fire watcher makes a visual scan for any blue smoke, reads the weather recording devices, checks the Osborne Fire Finder instrument, settles into the insulated chair, for lightning storms, and makes his morning radio check. Right now the forest is dry, always flammable, but until the lightning storms later in the summer the danger of fire is moderate. Later, with the afternoon winds, the tower will sway; maybe there will be a visit of St. Elmos fire. Vigilance is the watchword; there are no magazines or newspapers; no telephone, doorbell or mailbox. The trails to the fire tower are worth the walk. My favorite route is along the ridge from Mt. Major. There are also trails from the Gunstock Recreational Area. The views - what can I say, theyre mesmerizing. Lakes Winnipesaukee, Crystal, Manning, Wentworth, Merrymeeting. The towns of Alton, Gilford, Wolfeboro, Meredith, Center Harbor. To the Northeast, the Maine mountains bordering the ocean, to the North, Mt. Washington and the White Mountains, to the Southwest, Mt. Monadnock. Dreamlike views, all of it seemingly empty. It still surprises me somewhat to find people local to the area who have never gained such a perspective offered from the highest point in Belknap County. There are more of them than you would guess. Not so, my friend J.R. Stockwell, the 10th generation native who I believe has hiked more trails, ascended more mountain tops in winter, and taken more advantage of the wonders New Hampshire has to offer than anyone that I know of or have heard of. I stayed on Belknap Mountain one afternoon until sunset, the sky filled with banks of ragged fiery clouds and then hiked back down in a fine mist as the forest settled in for the night. Time well spent. Jim Ferriman Jferriman@spencerhughes.com 603-520-5385

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