A New View From the Top

  • Visit North Central

If you’re looking for spectacular views — from Boston to the Berkshire Mountains — head to the summit of Wachusett Mountain. And the trip to the top will now be an easier one, thanks to a recently completed $8.4 million rehabilitation and improvement project. The project, which state officials said was funded through federal stimulus money, incorporated the latest designs for recreational roadways and included the restoration of the mountain’s historic Harlow Outlook. Improvements also include a new 80-foot steel fire tower with a 12-foot high, fully-accessible public observation deck providing 360 degree views.

Boston’s skyline is visible to the east, and Worcester’s bank towers can be seen to the south, tucked among low hills. To the southeast, visitors will see the lake system of Wachusett Reservoir in West Boylston. And the view to the north is dominated by the stony brow of Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, N.H., a distance of almost 30 miles as the crow flies. In addition to providing great views for visitors to the summit, the new tower — a key component of the state’s 43-tower network — will be essential in detecting forest fires and giving local fire departments an edge in battling them. The tower also boosts high-speed internet service for the region.

Some two years in the making, the rehabilitation project carried out by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has resulted in better access for both vehicles and pedestrians, along with increased parking. The granite summit itself, however, remains a pedestrians-only area. At 2,006 feet of elevation, the mountain’s summit is the highest point in Massachusetts east of the Berkshire. The elevation of Wachusett Lake, lying directly north at the base of the mountain, is 887 feet, and the maximum visibility from the bare, granite top is about 120 miles. A popular destination for tourists, hikers and hawk-watchers, Wachusett Mountain — which is also home to the privately-operated Wachusett Mountain Ski Area — has been welcoming visitors for two centuries.

Welcoming Tourists
A description of the summit dating from 1793 mentions pastureland and blueberry bushes, though only ox carts made it to the top before 1825.

By 1870, great numbers of visitors were reportedly drawn to the summit via a Coast Survey Road—a rough, steep track on the mountain’s southeast slope created for the federal Coast Survey mapping project. The first commercial structure on top was a simple sales stand, built in 1866 to accommodate early tourists. The summit developed rapidly as a popular destination: A publication in 1891 complains that the area included a “common place” hotel, barns, sheds, a bowling alley, billiard room, tintype gallery and even a leaky gasoline cask and other trash littering the groves around the open summit.

Protecting the Environment
But during the most recent construction, concern for the environment was clearly front and center. At a ceremony marking the opening of the rehabilitated roadway in July, state officials said, “Because Wachusett is such a sensitive and important environmental property, DCR worked with the construction team to provide extensive environmental training and monitoring throughout the duration project. Project staff was committed to preserving the character and defining features of this historic parkway, and native materials were used to the maximum extent possible.”

The result: A lofty 360-degree panorama for visitors wanting to enjoy the breathtaking views from Wachusett’s peak. If you’re driving, note that the summit road closes for the season in mid-October. Until then, take advantage of the park’s daylight hours–the road stays open until dusk, so you can join other “fans” and watch the sun sink into a fiery-hued horizon–from the best (and highest) seat in the house.