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To Keep the Towers?

View from the Mt. Arab Fire Tower

To Keep the Towers?

By Jacob Malcomb
October 24, 2013

If you’ve climbed nearby mounts Arab or Azure, you can attest to the view-enhancing benefits of a summit fire tower.  The climb to a fire tower’s observation deck affords a commanding 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape.  Adirondack fire towers are relics of Park history. In 1903 and 1908 severe forest fires burned over a million acres of Adirondack forests, prompting officials to mandate the construction of fire towers across the region.  By the mid-20th century, there were 57 towers in the Adirondacks, manned by park rangers who spent the 6-month fire season on the mountaintops, mostly in solitude.  However, as aerial surveillance improved and the cost of manning the towers continued to rise, they were gradually deactivated, and by the 1980s none remained in operation.  Today, 23 of those towers are still standing, and most are kept open for their recreational and educational value.   

St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower

The NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recently drafted plans to restore and reopen two more towers, the St. Regis Mountain tower in Hamilton County and Hurricane Mountain tower in Essex County. Both have been closed and unmaintained for more than 20 years, and are not safe for public use. State officials assert that restoring the towers will attract visitors, and accompanying interpretive materials will educate them about the history of conservation in the Adirondacks.  The St. Regis tower was formerly within the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Hurricane Mountain tower within the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness Area, two land classifications that prohibit structures such as fire towers.  As a result, both were slated for removal until 2010, when the Adirondack Park Agency moved to declare that the land under each tower was historic, allowing the structures to be maintained. Both towers are now listed on the state and national historic registries. 

For some, fire towers increase the scenic value of an Adirondack hike, and serve to remind us of our history.  For others, they are an unnecessary addition to our natural areas.  Have an opinion about the restoration of the St. Regis and Hurricane Fire Towers?  From now until November 15th, the DEC is accepting public comments about reopening the towers. Comments may be mailed to Josh Clague, Natural Resources Planner, DEC, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-4254, or emailed to lfadk@gw.dec.state.ny.us

For more details, the St. Regis Unit Management Plan can be viewed at www.dec.ny.gov/lands/78006.html, and the Hurricane Unit Management Plan can be viewed at www.dec.ny.gov/lands/78001.html

By Jacob Malcomb
Canton, NY

Jacob Malcomb is the Project Manager of Nature Up North. He hopes to see you out on the trail.