Catamount Mountain on Carry Falls Reservoir
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Catamount isn’t one of the famed 46 high peak nor does it have the popularity of Whiteface, Ampersand or Marcy. It’s tucked away in the north-west corner of the Adirondacks, inside the “blue line” but not really where you think of the Adirondack mountains. None the less, this 1802’ mountain is a wonderful short hike to a summit with plenty of history. One of the great appeals of this mountain is its lack of fame. While the high peaks often see lines to get to the summit, and crowds of over 100 people at a time, this quiet & remote hike offers a solitude that often seems to be lacking on many trails and mountains today. This mountain lies just down stream of the lost hamlet of Hollywood. It saw the construction of a wooden fire observation tower, and that was replaced by a steel tower a few years later. The mountain has seen the road which at one time wasn’t much more than a wagon trail, become a state highway. In fact, early newspaper accounts referred to it as the “Catamount Mountain route”. The mountain saw major changes to the Raquette river that flows past it in the 1950’s. In 1966 it would see the St. Lawrence university students and staff here as a campus retreat. Through all these changes, the mountain has seen, the peak has remained a favorite to many folks looking to enjoy its charms. Hikers, snowshoers, kayakers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts enjoy Catamount’s charms still today.
Colton was officially made a town in April of 1843. It originally included the townships of Sherwood, Harewood, Granshue, and Matildaville. Through the years the size and boundaries would change and eventually include Stark, Jamestown, Oakham and Hollywood. The Raquette river would also change its boundaries. Dams along the river would change not only the landscape but peoples address. In the case of Hollywood, it would simply not exist after the dams flooded the area for hydro-electric powerplants. The forests were always a big part of Colton’s livelihood. Loggers cut the timber, river drivers got the logs to the sawmills. The lumber was used to build the homes, stores and churches of the early town. These same forests also attracted sportsmen in search of the abundant fish and game that the area had in abundance. This is “South of the rock”- local lore considered anything south of Sunday Rock in South Colton to be true wilderness, where civilization ended and the great south woods began.
For more on Sunday Rock:
During the logging boom of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, fire became a major issue. The logging operation left the forests with a great deal of slash (limbs from the logged trees, brush, and other debris from logging). Many of the forests being logged had railroads running through them. All of this, along with other natural occurrences such as drought and lightning, contributed to an increase in forest fires. These fires could burn for days or even weeks without anyone seeing the blaze. State records show that during a five-year period between 1903 and 1908, an estimated one million acres of the Adirondacks burned in forest fires. Public outcry and the states concerns led to the first organized efforts to prevent and minimize forest fires. In 1909, first fire observation stations (constructed of wood and logs) were placed on some of the higher Adirondack peaks. These original towers were located on St. Regis, Gore, West, Hurricane, Hamilton, Whiteface, Snowy, and the very first one, Mt. Morris (Franklin county). In the years to follow, more towers were constructed, as well as guidelines for the observers and the living accommodations. Many of these towers were placed on mountains used by Verplanck Colvin during his surveying of the Adirondacks. This was station #297, and at the time was called Bog mountain and the smaller mountain to the east was called Catamount. Some time in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s the names were swapped to what we know them as today.
In 1911 Catamount Mt. joined the growing list of fire tower peaks. The First tower was a wooden structure. This was not quite as crude as some of the other early lookouts. This was a log framed “pyramid) with planks spaced on the sides for support and to work as a ladder. It is believed that the tower was originally constructed by the USGS, during the surveying of the region in the early 1900’s. There was no cab on top of the tower either. Records show that a Fred Watson, from nearby Stark (a little further down the Raquette river) was the first fire observer at Catamount. He served during the fire seasons from May of 1912 until the end of October, 1915. His wage at the time was $60 a month.
1917 saw a major improvement on Catamount with the construction of a 35’ Aeromotor LS40 steel lookout tower. This model in varying heights quickly became the standard for New York state fire tower. This included a cab with windows, and an early telephone system to report any fires that were seen. Amarath Ames of Stark was the first observer to man the new lookout. In 1919, a panoramic map was completed for use with the alidade. This was a table mounted map, with a sighting device to pinpoint the location of a fire or smoke on the map. The panoramic map had the vista of the region along the outside of the map. In 1921, the state developed a standard size and design for the observer’s cabins. The mandate called for a 12X16 cabin covered and roofed with asphalt shingles. The Catamount cabin would be upgraded to this standard in 1925.
Soon people started to own cars and travel for leisure became common. The call of the mountains and woods didn’t require a long stagecoach ride anymore. One popular destination for the outdoor enthusiasts became visiting the fire towers. The observer was more than happy (in most cases) to greet visitors. He would educate the public on their job, the function of the fire towers, and to become more environmentally responsible. The visitors also broke up the monotony of the hours of boredom that the observers dealt with daily. The solitude that came with the job was not for everyone. Many lookouts only lasted a short time. I took a very unique person to thrive at this job, and only a few embraced the job for very long.
In 1946 a radio relay system was also placed on the mountain. A 65’ pole with a 15’ antenna was erected by the New York telephone company, and leased to the New York state troopers. Included in this project was the addition of 690 telephone poles from Brown’s bridge, nearly 20 miles away, to carry the cable from the mountain. This project also saw the construction of a steel building that would house the electronic workings of the relay system, on the western face of the mountain. The building still stands along the trail today, and telephone poles can be found as well.
Carry Falls Reservoir
1952 saw another big change to the area with the Raquette River hydro development project. This would create six power dams and change the Raquette from a river to a series of impoundments. These did create some employment in the area, and helped bring focus to the region in the form of summer camps and recreation opportunities. These places were logged off to salvage timber that would soon be underwater. As mentioned earlier, one of the places to be lost was Hollywood. This small community was the home to loggers and woodsmen, and also the Hollywood in. Before the advent of the automobile and paved roads, stagecoach was the means of travel for those traveling between Potsdam and Tupper lake. It was a two -day journey, and the Hollywood in was at the half way point between the two. Later this in would become the Hollywood Dude ranch, owned by the Fuhr family. They would run this establishment to the delight of hunters, fishermen, campers and vacationers until it came to be covered by what we now know as Carry Falls reservoir in the early 1950’s.
For more on Hollywood & Carry falls, follow this link to a great article by NCPR
About the same (late 1940’s/early 1950’s), construction was also happening between the mountain and the highway. A fellow from Canton NY started building an impressive private camp, which would be come to be known as Catamount Lodge. It completed with a pond and care takers cabin to accompany the lodge. This was the couple’s getaway for many years, until they sold the lodge and 1408 acres to St. Lawrence University (Canton NY.) The lodge would be used as a retreat, conference center and for many of the universities outdoors activities. The lodge would remain under the universities charge for almost four decades. In the spring of 2005, it was sold to it’s current owners, Ruth & Joe McWilliams. Now officially known as Catamount Lodge & Forest LLC, the lodge has been restored to its former grandeur. The lodge is available to rent for groups and families by the week or weekend. It is set up to accommodate 10 or more people, and is a classic Adirondack styled lodge- complete with fireplace, great room and many trails right outside the door. The forest is managed for multi-use recreation and timber production. Trails lead to the fire tower sight, through the woods and also to the reservoir.
(For More on Catamount Lodge & Forest – http://www.catamountlodge.com/aboutthelodge.html )
The fire tower was instrumental in fire detection for many years. The fire towers and observers were always a chance for the public to have a positive interaction with NY state D.E.C., and get a glimpse at how they kept the forests safe and sound. After 58 years of service, the fire tower on Catamount Mt. was decommissioned at the end of the 1970 fire season. The fire towers were being phased out during the 1970’s and 1980’s in favor of aerial detection . Untold acres were saved by the fire lookouts and the men who fought the fires, often with little more than shovels, picks, and 5 gallon “Indian Packs” (a steel water tank carried on the back, with a hand pump & water spray nozzle). The Catamount tower was removed sometime in the early 1980’s.
The trailhead to Catamount Mt. is located on the east side of NYS Rt 56, roughly 10 miles from the intersection of Rt 56 & Rt 3 at Sevey corners. The physical address of Catamount Lodge is 2092 State Highway 56, South Colton, New York, and the trailhead is about 300 yards south of the lodge proper. There is a small gravel parking lot and a wooden gate. If you hike in the winter, the parking lot may not be plowed out, so park along the road taking care to be off the road as much as possible.
On the trail
There are some simple, yet very handy maps available at the trailhead. The main trail from the parking area, a dirt road leads east towards the mountain. The trails are marked by colors, and there are several routes you can take. We first headed to the mountain. Around a half a mile in, you will come to a T, with the trail to the mountain ahead (east), the reservoir to the right (south).
The trail starts to climb from here, and soon gets steeper. Just short of a mile, ahead and above you will see an old steel-clad building. This was part of the radio relay system. There is still some old equipment in the building, and scattered around outside. This makes a nice place for a breather while looking around. The trail from here is a bit steeper, and not as well marked – but still not too hard to find.
You will soon find your self on the summit, and the ruins of the fire tower are ahead to the right. Past that near an overlook is the footers to the cabin. All that is left are the cement footers. The summit has grown over with trees since the fire tower days, but there is a nice open view of Stark reservoir to the north. If you hike when the leaves are of, you can also find some views of Bog Mt and Carry Falls reservoir a short ways to the east of the summit.We hiked in December, and we could catch a few glimpses of Carry falls reservoir on the way back.
Back at the intersection of the red & blue trails, we headed left (south) to the reservoir. The water was quite low, so we hiked up the beach for a bit, then back towards the dike. We ended up back at the main trail/woods road that we came in on. All together we hiked just shy of 4 miles. If you went straight to the summit and backtracked, you would hike about 2.2 miles round trip. This is a great trip, and would be wonderful trek on snowshoes as well.
We have also kayaked from the Hollywood boat launch in late September, with the water being quite low. This is an amazing, but long paddle to the beach below Catamount Mt. Round trip on the water was 10.5 miles round trip. From the point where the river/reservoir widens out, the winds have a reputation for being pretty tough, and that day lived up to it. It wasn’t unmanageable, but it was rough slogging and big waves for the last mile to the beach below the south face of the mountain. The trip up through Hollywood & past the Jordan river is a trip to remember. If you are a paddler, you might think about a day (or more) on this piece of water. Just a note, if you go in low water- some of the islands that appeared on the maps were no longer islands. The water was low enough that they connected to the shore. It made orienting myself on the map a real chore.
Here is a Google maps link to the Hollywood road boat launch.
I hope you get a chance to make this trek for yourself, as so many outdoors lovers have before. The fire tower isn’t there, and Hollywood is long gone- but there is still so much to offer today. Things are a bit more civilized here today, even if you are “south of the rock”. If you do make the trip, take some time to reflect on those that worked, lived and visited here. If you don’t get there- enjoy this from the comfort of your home and please share this with some friends.
A special thanks to-
Paul Hartmann of NYS Forest Rangers.com
Cynthia Hennessey & Mary Jane Watson of the Colton Historical Society
Laurie Rankin of the FFLA NY Chapter
for the use of some incredible historic images and a wealth of information that were vital pieces of this story.
for information pertaining to Catamount Lodge
References & Sources
New York State D.E.C.
Forest Fire Lookout Association NY chapter
New York State Forest Rangers
Colton Museum & Historical Society-
“Colton, New York story of a town, II”
by the Colton Historical Society
New York State Historic Newspapers-
About the Author
I am a life-long resident of the north country, calling Edwards my home. I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and for local history. I recently started this site to share places that have been part of our local history and heritage. I hope you get a chance to hike some of these trails for yourself, and reflect on the rich history of those that walked here before you. And if not, sit back and experience these from where ever you are right now. Either way, enjoy!
*ALL RIGHTS RESERVED*