Taking in the Fall Colors at the Mountain Fire Tower

Oct 9, 2020

Credit Katie Thoresen/WXPR

The Mountain Fire Tower stands 100 feet tall.

It was built in 1935 by the U.S. Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corp.

It used to part of a network of fire towers used to watch for wildfires in the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.

More recently, it’s been restored and open to the public from May to November. It’s a great place to 360 degree views of the fall colors.

It’s a 130 fairly steep steps to the top. The tower is wooden steps framed by crisscrossing steel.

Every step is worth it to take in that view from the top.

Of course, taking in all these beautiful colors, many may wonder how nature produces the golds, oranges, and reds we see every autumn. That’s where research plant physiologist Dr. Dustin Bronson comes in. He work at the Northern Research Station for the U.S. Forest Service.

“I think most folks don’t realize is that these colors that they’re seeing, these pigments are actually important molecules and are doing really important things for the tree at this point in time,” said Dr. Bronson.

As we start getting less daylight and more darkness plants to go into dormancy and the plant stops producing more chlorophyl which is what makes leaves green.

Things like the weather, the type of tree, and how much sugar is in the plant can all impact the color we see and how vibrant it is.

“We’re still learning about what these pigments are doing for the trees and how can we use that understanding of trees that turn more red than others, can we use that understand something more about tree health and how that’s changing through time. Those are all things we as a research community are still learning about,” said Dr. Bronson.

While important to the tree and beautiful to humans, these autumn colors are short lived.

So whether you feel like climbing a fire tower or taking a Sunday drive, get out and enjoy the fall colors while you can.

To get to the Mountain Fire Tower take Highway 32 south towards Oconto County.  

As you drive into the town of Mountain, you’ll see sign directing you towards the tower.