Outdoor Adventures: Sunrise above the clouds on Milan Hill

  • Sunrise starts the day at Milan Hill State Park. The North Country park contains a fire tower built in 1932. (Marty Basch photograph)

Special to the Valley News
Published: 9/6/2019 10:24:42 PM
Modified: 9/6/2019 10:24:28 PM

The clouds swelled like the sea, seemingly swallowing the mountainous landscape and turning the forested alpine world into islands in the sky.

Under a pink hue, the tall transmission towers and wind turbines contributed to the extraordinary terrain at sunrise as their warning lights blinked red, signaling darkness was still at hand.

As the sun rose, the temporary ocean undercast ebbed, the flashing lights turned white and the day was at hand. A light breeze blew across the fire tower that was our platform for a 360-degree spin around northern New England, into Canada, the North Country and western Maine — the Percy peaks, Mahoosucs, northern Presidentials, Kilkenny Ridge, Berlin’s Jericho Mountain and more.

That stage was the Milan Hill fire tower, at 1,737 feet above sea level, located in New Hampshire’s Milan Hill State Park. The steel tower, some 45 feet tall, is on the National Historic Lookout Register. Built in 1932, it was a World War II airport spotting station. The tower is still active in fire-spotting and is one of the popular draws in the small, 102-acre forested park in Milan, about 10 miles north of Berlin off N.H. Route 110B.

The quiet park has a few other alluring qualities, and one is that tranquility. There are only 10 campsites, so it’s possible to not see other campers from your site. One of those sites is a lean-to, adorned with a bald-faced hornet’s nest. A sign said the nest is no longer active. All of the tent sites have platforms.

But the choice sites are the four yurts dotting the park, each containing bunk beds, a futon, a futon chair and a coffee table inside and a picnic table and fire ring outside. Of the yurts, No. 4 is clearly the most sought and scenic, with its far-ranging views and privacy.

The park has undergone something of a reawakening in the past decade or so, evidenced by a recent yurt stay. Maybe 20 years ago, tent camping was still allowed on the berry-laden summit in the shadows of the fire tower. There were showers as well.

About 10 years ago, the state responded to demands for alternate camping opportunities and installed the yurts, which opened to the public in 2009. One of the yurts is right along the loose-gravel road, while the others are more private. Yurt 4 was initially a walk-in, but the friendly state park crew added a gravel way that now makes the structure a drive-to destination. Campers can get closer to yurt 3 thanks to a gravel path.

Although there are no showers, there is running water and a few pit toilets.

Not only are the yurts new to the New Hampshire state park, but so is the nature cache quest made several years ago by Milan elementary school students. Using GPS coordinates throughout the park, visitors can learn about their surroundings. For example, the stone walls inside the park were built as property lines in the 1800s, and the difference between spruce and fir trees that are often found together is that the spruce branches are spiky.

Another fun aspect to the park is the cross country ski trails maintained in winter by the Nansen Ski Club, the oldest ski club in the nation. With no snow, the grassy pathways make for fine, soft walking as they meander around the park. The well-signed network is groomed with a Bombardier. As the trails wind by the yurts, it would seem a natural to allow a portion of the big tents to remain open in winter for at least a primitive camping experience for those willing to haul in their gear, but that has yet to materialize.

Another ski link to the park is the renovated Nansen Ski Jump a few miles away. Site of the country’s first ski jumping Olympic trials in 1938, the restored jump along N.H. Route 16 is a sight to behold, especially after hiking to it and getting to see the jumper’s perspective — respect. The hope is for competitions to return and to build smaller jumps there, too.

Also close by is access to the Androscoggin River for paddlers. The Bofinger Conservation Area on Route 16 has a launch, while the Pontook Reservoir farther north also provides access into a world of eagles, loons and osprey. Much of that can be seen from the fire tower, whether at the start or end of a day in the outdoors.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty.basch@gmail.com.




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