Straddling the boundary of Appleton Township and T5 R7 BKP WKR in the heart of northwestern Somerset County is the 3,186-foot peak known as Number Five Mountain. An old fire tower, erected in 1933, stands on the open summit ledges, which offer unobstructed views of the vast wild country that ranges west and north to Quebec, east to US Route 201 and south to Flagstaff Lake.

Number Five Mountain is the central natural feature of the Leuthold Forest Preserve, a 16,690-acre swath of rugged forestland owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. TNC assembled the ecologically rich preserve, which also features remote ponds and bogs and a long stretch along the Moose River, through two separate purchases, in 2009 and 2015.

I’d never heard of the Leuthold Forest Preserve until a couple summers ago when I was scouring the state for more trails to add to the 11th edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Number Five Mountain and its remote location appealed to this hiker straight away, earning a top spot on my to-do list of places to explore.

Getting to Number Five Mountain takes some work. Opposite the boat launch on Parlin Pond on Route 201 in Parlin Pond Township, head west on the gravel-surfaced Spencer Road (aka Hardscrabble Road on map 39 in the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer) for 16.1 miles to an old tote road on the right, which leads another half-mile to the trailhead and information kiosk.

The mountainous view southward from the summit ledges on Number Five Mountain is equally impressive. Photo by Carey Kish

The old fire warden’s trail that ascends the mountain from the south has been rehabilitated by TNC trail crews and makes for a fabulous 6-mile round-trip hike, one of the very best in Maine, in my opinion.

“The trail, which hadn’t any known maintenance for years, was a typical fire tower trail, straight up the mountain and heavily eroded,” said Dan Grenier, TNC’s Maine preserves manager. “We saw the recreation potential and got to work.”

The lower section of the Number Five Mountain Trail required rerouting, stone steps and bog bridging to alleviate water issues. Heavy equipment was used for much of this remediation work.

For the upper mountain, TNC employed the expertise of Lester Kenway, a highly regarded trail builder who has left an indelible mark on countless miles of Maine trails. TNC also worked with a Student Conservation Association crew for six to eight weeks each summer for three years.

The new trail route is a real gem, a nice walk that rises easily to a wet, grassy meadow. Beyond, the angle increases through dense woods and past mossy boulders. After one short, steep pitch, a moderate stretch leads to the summit ledges and finally, to the tower. Given the obvious public risk factor, TNC has removed the lower steps of the tower. No matter, the view in every direction is fantastic from ground level.

The Leuthold Forest Preserve abuts an enormous array of contiguous conservation lands, and looking north from the Number Five summit, all are on display: the Holeb Public Lands (20,000 acres owned by the state of Maine), the Attean Pond conservation easement (20,000 acres held by the Forest Society of Maine) and the Moose River/Number Five Bog Conservation Land (5,000 acres owned by the state of Maine).

For more information and a Leuthold Forest Preserve map, visit www.nature.org.

Not much is left of the Spencer POW Camp, but given its fascinating history, it’s still a worthwhile stop. Photo by Carey Kish

History note: On the drive in to Number Five Mountain, you’ll pass the Spencer POW Camp Memorial at 11.8 miles. There’s not much left of the old camp, but the story behind it makes this a fascinating stop. Poking around the site, it’s incredible to think that there were once 22 buildings here in the deep woods surrounded by barbed-wire barricades and guard towers.

During the latter part of World War II, some 4,000 German soldiers were brought to Maine and housed at four camps, at Houlton, Princeton, Seboomook and here at this location near Spencer Lake. With the exodus of young men enlisting in the war effort abroad and elsewhere at home, Maine’s potato and paper industries suffered an acute labor shortage, a vacuum that was eventually filled by German prisoners.

The eminently readable “Prisoners, Pulpwood, and Potatoes” by William R. Randall is the fascinating account of the German POWs in Maine from 1944 to 1946.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and author/editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish. 

 

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