Opening Day on Mount Arab!
The Canadian holiday weekend celebrating Victoria Day marks the official opening of the fire tower observer’s cabin on Mount Arab each year. I led a Northern New York Audubon bird walk up the peak on opening day with the mountain’s nature interpreter, Thomas Cullen. Thomas spends 3 to 4 days a week on the summit stationed at the restored observer’s cabin. The cabin has been turned into a museum of fascinating information about the mountain’s human history.
We gathered at the trailhead at 7 am and everyone met Toby and Apollo, Thomas’s huge & friendly Newfoundlands!
A singing Tennessee Warbler migrant was an exciting surprise at the trailhead. Twelve warbler species were tallied during the hike including the sought after Mourning Warbler, which nests in berry thickets that grow up after logging.
Participants picked up trail guides at the register. There are 10 numbered markers on the trees as you climb the mountain, which correspond to the trail guide. The guide provides information about the plants and animals. The Friends of Mount Arab produced this informative pamphlet.
The trail up Mount Arab is one-mile long with an elevation gain of ~760 feet. The habitat is mostly deciduous forest with a few conifers appearing as you approach the summit at 2545 feet.
As we started up the peak, everyone was noticing May’s beautiful wildflowers. Foamflower was in bloom.
False Solomon’s Seal was also blooming.
Birdsong frequently stopped us and we had some lovely views of warblers, including a Black-throated Blue Warbler.
We also heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming, a flyover Common Loon calling, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Least Flycatchers, Winter Wrens, the captivating flute-like song of the Hermit Thrush, Blackburnian Warblers, White-throated Sparrows (the mascot of the north!), Scarlet Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks among the 31 species found during our hike.
There are quite a few big old trees along the trail.
A lovely lookout area can be found a short distance before the summit with views of Mount Arab Lake and Eagle Crag Lake. Even with a cloud cover, the views were still gorgeous!
Continuing on the trail, there is a short, steep area that can be avoided with a switchback side trail.
The Summit & Its Human History
We arrived at the summit and Thomas opened up the observer’s cabin where he greets climbers and provides nature interpretation to the public. He also shares the history of the Adirondack fire towers. Thomas is an entomologist so he also answers insect questions.
There is a wealth of historical information in the cabin. The Mount Arab fire tower was originally built in 1912 as a wooden tower. It was replaced by a metal tower in 1918. Past fire observers are listed with interesting information including “Doc” LaVasseur, who manned the tower from 1937 to 1964. He greeted 10,800 people on the summit during that time! There is also information on how many fires he reported.
The observer’s cabin contains information about “The Friends of Mount Arab” organization and chronicles the restoration work on the fire tower and cabin.
Information on other fire towers in the Adirondacks can also be found in the cabin-museum.
Thomas maintains many Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeders on the summit and explains the fascinating relationship between this species and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to visitors.
After spending time in the cabin-museum, we hiked to the overlook areas, where there are wooden benches. It is a relaxing, peaceful place to linger and take in the views.
A Dark-eyed Junco sang near the bench. This species nests on rocky areas, so they are common on mountain summits.
Finally it was time to climb the fire tower, except for those of us that suffer acrophobia! I made it up two flights and another participant, Julia, made it three flights before she froze. Everyone else went all the way up the entire five flights. From the fire tower there are beautiful views of Tupper Lake, Mount Morris, the Adirondack High Peaks, the Raquette River Valley, Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest, and many lakes.
It had been 14 years since I last climbed Mount Arab. It was a year when my two sons, then 9 and 6 years-old, and I climbed all the fire tower peaks. As usual, “Mom” was not planning to climb the tower. But on this particular trip, Ryan, my 6 year-old said, “Mom, I’ll hold your hand so you can go up!” So, Ryan held my hand as I crawled up five flights. I never stood up, but just peeked over the wall in the top of the tower to see the views. I was thinking, if only Ryan was with me on this trip, I might have made it up the tower again!
Toby and Apollo rested on the porch of the cabin.
Thomas settled in to greet climbers for the day while the rest of us headed back down the trail. We passed many groups of hikers on their way up the mountain, including several family groups. Mount Arab is a wonderful peak for children since it is a relatively short trail and has a fun destination with a fire tower to climb.
Arriving back at the trailhead, the Tennessee Warbler migrant was still singing! The parking area had filled with cars and more were arriving. A man yelled over to me asking, “Is the man with the two dogs working on the summit today?” Thomas and his dogs seemed right at home up on Mount Arab.
After the field trip participants said goodbye, I decided to drive to the end of Mount Arab Road, which is a dead-end route. I found some lovely boreal habitat and tallied 8 more species including a first-of-the-season Olive-sided Flycatcher singing its “Quick, Three Beers” song, and four more warbler species. It was an interesting contrast from the deciduous habitat on the trail up the mountain. If we hold this bird walk again, I will add on the short drive to the end of the road.