I had the pleasure of joining with Doug Wetherbee and Larry Holtzapple to do a clearing mission through the Fire Tower Trail on May 20.
Before I even arrived at our meeting spot, they had been chopping away for a couple of hours at the laurel which tends to crowd this section. It’s a bothersome plant when you’re trying to keep a trail open, but then it’s a very attractive sight when in bloom.
When hiking through this section at this time of year watch for the numerous painted trilliums along the way. And this is a pleasant section to hike, going from Route 44 near the fire tower to West Branch Road, about a 2.5-mile stretch. The terrain is flat to rolling in some spots, until you come to cardiac climb, and at that point you’ll be glad you’re hiking it counterclockwise. Cardiac starts down at a fairly steep pitch, but soon moderates as you go down.
Along the way, you’ll come to Cross Trail, which actually begins on Route 44, travels down into the valley, crosses Hopper House Trail, climbs back up to cross the STS, and supposedly travels easterly down into Water Tank Hollow. But, if you follow it in that direction for maybe 100 yards you’ll run smack dab into an old clearcut, which has grown so thick that a snake would have hard time getting through it.
Next, you’ll come to another intersection of trails. To the left, Wingard Trail also comes up the hill from Hopper House Trail. To the right, the Burroughs Trail heads down into Water Tank Hollow. Many years ago we hiked this trail, but I can’t vouch for its condition these days.
You could give it a try. Just go downhill; you’ll come down to Water Tank Hollow. If you are lucky and look around, you may find Deck Lane Trail, which can lead you up to Water Tank Vista on Route 44 or down the valley, whichever direction you prefer.
If you don’t find Deck Lane Trail, go up the hillside a little and you’ll find Switchback Trail, which is maintained and will also take you up to the vista and Route 44. This is part of the switchbacks the trains used to get down this hill and into Galeton.
First, of course, coming from the south, they had to switchback their way up to what is known as the Hogback, the narrow strip where Route 44 runs. Originally there was a Hogback bridge, as the trains ran underneath Route 44, and there was even a small “station” along the tracks.
Back to the Fire Tower Trail, which could have been easily named “Big Oaks Trail,” you will marvel at the large oak trees along this stretch. There are a few other species, but the oaks dominate. As you go down Cardiac, you find more ash, maple and cherry.
We left one large cherry, as it is an easy walk-under unless you are taller then six feet. Then you’ll need to duck a little. A tree like this is quite risky to cut so it’s better just to leave it, as long as it’s not any bother or danger to hikers.
As we neared the bottom, a couple of turkey hunters came down the trail behind us and stopped for a chat. They hadn’t bagged any turkeys, but said they had a good day anyway. In my opinion, any day on the trail is a good day.
So one more section is cleared and open for hikers. It’s an easy shuttle, too. Just leave one vehicle on West Branch Road (you’ll see the trail sign in the yard of the white camp), drive back up and hike down to your vehicle. Fast hikers could do it in an hour, but I sure wouldn’t. It’s better to take a couple of hours and enjoy it. Happy trails.