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26 July 2013

Deteriorating Condition of the Abandoned Trail to Mt. Bemis

Over the years, I've hiked many times to the former fire tower site on Mt. Bemis.  Each time I've done this trek, the abandoned Fire Warden's trail has pretty much been in the same condition.  It isn't a maintained trail, and so there have always been downed trees to step over, and crawl under.  And, the old trail has generally been easy to follow, despite a few short segments where the trail is so overgrown that it's difficult to locate the pathway since you can barely even see your own feet!

However, although it's only been a year since I've hiked this trail, things were different this time.  Mother Nature has been unkind to this corridor.  There are many new places along the trail where huge trees have recently been toppled.  You need to employ your skills as a gymnast and contortionist in order to navigate over, under and around some of these newly downed trees.

This trail provides access to some viewing perspectives that are unique.  And so, it's sad to see it fall into such a state of disrepair.  And it's unfortunate that no one can do anything about it, even on a volunteer basis.  There is signage near the beginning of the trail which warns against doing any maintenance (see photo below).
USFS Sign posted near beginning of abandoned trail to fire tower on Mt. Bemis
For any reader who might be unfamiliar with the location of this trail,it can be seen on the 1950 USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle map.  The trail to the Bemis fire tower is highlighted in green. The Nancy Pond Trail is highlighted in yellow.
1950 USGS Crawford Notch quadrangle map
You'll note that the above map doesn't show the Nancy Pond Trail continuing onward to Nancy and Norcross Ponds. The 1938 hurricane knocked down thousands of trees in the Nancy Brook valley, and as a result the Nancy Pond Trail (which had just been opened) was closed, and it wasn't reopened until 1960!

To access this abandoned trail, you begin at the trailhead for the Nancy Pond Trail.   At about 1.6 miles where the Nancy Pond trail makes the first major crossing of Nancy Brook, the old Fire Warden's trail diverges sharply to the right.

The first major view from the old trail is from a small opening along the ridgeline which provides a nice view looking northward up the Crawford Notch, as seen in the next photo.  In the center is Mt. Willard, and the Willey Range is on the left, and Mt. Webster is on the right side.
Crawford Notch as viewed from trail to Mt. Bemis
As you travel further up the trail, you come to a spot at around 3,150 ft elevation where there is a beautiful wide-open meadow filled with low-growing shrubs.  The vistas from here are as good as you would experience from a ledge.  In my opinion, the views from this meadow would make a worthy destination unto itself.

From this meadow, there are vistas to the north, east and south.  Shown in the next photo is just one snippet of the overall view.  This particular vista is looking southward.  Attitash is on the left.  And on the right side of the photo are peaks such as Bartlett Haystack, Mt. Tremont, plus Bear Mountain and Mt. Chocorua can also be seen.
View from a mountain meadow en route to Mt. Bemis
At about 3.7 miles from the trailhead on US 302, you will arrive at the site of the old fire tower.  The tower was actually located on sort of a sub-peak of Mt. Bemis.  The true summit is about 400 ft to the west, and it can be seen off to your left as you approach the fire tower site.  It's a bushwhack to get there, and on this particular trip, I didn't include it in my itinerary.  Been there, done that!

Regarding the Bemis Fire Tower, it was a wooden structure which was 29 feet tall, and was in operation between about 1940 to 1948.  The next photo shows what the tower looked like when it was still standing.
Bemis Fire Tower when still standing
Once the tower no longer served a purpose, it was purposely demolished. Shown in the next photo is a compilation of just a few of the fire tower's "body parts" that are strewn here and there where it once proudly stood.
Fire tower "body parts" strewn at the site where it once proudly stood
There's a faint pathway that leads to a viewpoint at the northeast corner of the fire tower site. It would be nice if this was a spot where you could sit and enjoy the vistas.  But I'm sorry to say, it is small, cramped and is a "stand-up" only view.

From this small outlook, there is a fairly encompassing view of the vast Presidential Range Dry River Wilderness.  You can look directly up the Sleeper Brook Valley toward Stairs Mountain and Mt. Resolution.  And you can look up the Dry River Valley toward the Presidential Range.  Unfortunately, on the day of my visit, most of the peaks in the Presidential Range were obscured by clouds.

The next photo shows the sweeping view from the small outlook at the northeast corner of the old fire tower site.
View from small outlook at the northeast corner of the old fire tower site
Although the view of the Presidential Range was obscured by clouds, the view of Stairs Mountain  and Mt. Resolution was clear.  However, clouds were casting shadows which somewhat tarnished the overall scene (see next photo which is a slightly zoomed).
Stairs Mountain and Mt. Resolution as viewed from outlook on Mt. Bemis
To Sum it up, it was a bit sad to see that the condition of the abandoned trail to Mt. Bemis has significantly worsened over the past year.  Since a corridor is already in place, and since it leads to some excellent mountain vistas, it seems like such a waste to just let this trail die a slow death.


Philip Werner said...

Good update on the general condition of the trail. I've been meaning to get up to Bemis for over a year now. Sad to see old trails die. Why did they close it down? Did the ruins of the firetower present a danger? That meadow view is awesome!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your comments!

I really don’t know the precise reason(s) why the trail was closed. However, as you suggest, I suspect it had something to do with ruins of the fire tower presenting a perceived danger and/or a liability issue.

And yup, it is indeed sad to see old trails die, especially one like this which has so much to offer.


Steve Smith said...

Great report, John! The tower remains look about the same as they were 25 years ago. Nice to see the meadow still offers excellent views. Love the shot of Stairs & Resolution.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Steve!

It’s interesting that the ruins from the tower appear much the same as they did 25 years ago. Surely wish the old trail would have remained “frozen in time” as well! As indicated in my report, I was amazed by how much the corridor has deteriorated just over this past year.

And yes, that meadow is awesome! As indicated in my report, I feel this is worthy destination on its own merit. Wonder what caused that treeless area? A fire perhaps? Also, I’ve never been able to find it again, but seem to recall reading somewhere that this area was once named “Bemis Meadows”, and was considered as a hiking destination. If you know of any such reference, would you mind shooting me an e-mail, and/or posting it here?


One Day in America said...

Hi John,

You're right. There are some spectacular views from this trail. I really liked your first trail-side photo, taken with the evergreens in the foreground.

I think it's strange that the trail is no longer maintained and that there could be a fine and/or imprisonment for clearing a trail!
The ruins of the old fire tower don't look all that dangerous (at least from your pictures). It's hard to believe that the forest service would close a trail because of that. Could there be another reason, like the forest service wants to return the land to wilderness, or some private landowner has bought it, or something?? Just seems kind of odd to me...

Well, looks like you had a fun hike anyway!

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Rita,

In a way, it’s almost comical that one could be imprisoned for doing maintenance on a closed trail. I would think that you might be the laughing stock among the other inmates if they found out you were serving time for clearing a hiking trail! :-)

But on the serious side, a retired USFS employee told me that it all boiled down to money, as so many things do. Apparently, funding cuts enacted by Congress compelled the Forest Service to make some harsh decisions as to which trails to actively maintain, and which ones to close. However, as to why this particular trail fell victim to closure is sort of beyond me. It has so much to offer.


One Day in America said...

It's too bad about the budget cuts. But still, wouldn't you think that one way to offset the budget cuts would be to encourage volunteerism (FREE labor) to help maintain the trails? Like I said before, kind of weird.

I liked your image of an inmate being the laughing stock of the prison for being convicted of trail-clearing!