Views on Adirondack fire towers aired
ALBANY The Hurricane Mountain and St. Regis Mountain fire towers had their defenders at a hearing Monday, but the Adirondacks’ two biggest environmental groups said they should be removed from their wilderness mountaintops.
The public hearing was part of a review by the Adirondack Park Agency of whether the state’s Adirondack land use master plan should be changed to allow the fire towers to remain, even though they are in areas designated for wilderness.
“I feel these towers are a concrete and steel example of the values of the people who came before us,” said one speaker, Matthew Hogan of Niskayuna.
But Allison Beals, director of government relations for the Adirondack Mountain Club, said changing the land use plan to allow the towers to remain would set a dangerous precedent.
“We do believe they should be removed as they are,” she said.
Six people spoke at the hearing, held at the state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters. Another hearing will be held tonight in Keene Valley, just miles from the Hurricane tower, and a final hearing will be held Wednesday night at Paul Smiths, close to the St. Regis tower.
The APA staff will review the public comments and make a recommendation to the APA board, possibly as early as its Sept. 9-10 meeting, said James Connelly, the APA’s deputy director for planning.
Among the alternatives the APA is considering are creating “historic” zones around the bases of the two fire towers, or amending the land use plan to say fire towers are acceptable in some primitive areas. It could also recommend doing nothing, which would lead to the towers’ removal.
The Hurricane and St. Regis towers are among 34 towers remaining from the towers that were built after the major wildfire seasons of 1903 and 1908. A DEC report last winter said that as a group, they could be restored as hiking destinations, but the report recommended removal of the Hurricane and St. Regis towers, because they’re in areas intended to be free of all man-made structures.
That recommendation led to a public outcry which has prodded the APA to look at ways the two towers could be saved, potentially by changing the state land use plan that calls for their removal.
“Obviously, this is something the public has a keen interest in,” Connelly said.
Two men who have devoted years to documenting Adirondack fire tower history spoke for their preservation.
The towers “have actually become part of the wilderness in which they stand,” said Bill Starr of Scotia, state director of the Forest Fire Lookout Association and a former Adirondack fire observer.
Marty Podskotch, author of a history of Adirondack fire towers, said local people in the Adirondacks react passionately to them, often telling their personal stories.
“The importance, I think, is to save these towers,” Podskotch said at the hearing.
The Adirondack Council, however, submitted testimony in favor of removing the towers.
“These towers, while they have sentimental value, are not sustainable,” said Alanah Keddell, legislative associate at the Adirondack Council.
Both towers are currently closed and in disrepair, and would need to be restored before the public could use them. Supporters of removal note that both mountains have open summits that offer excellent views without having to climb the towers.
Mike Camoin of Videos for Change Productions in Albany, who is making a documentary about the Adirondack fire towers, said restored towers could attract hikers who spend money locally, and also provide historic and educational benefits.
“Man is part of wilderness. The fire towers are part of wilderness. They are part of our story,” Camoin said.
The APA will continue taking written comments at its Ray Brook headquarters through Aug. 25, Connelly said, then staff will formulate a recommendation for the APA commissioners. The commissioners could then make a recommendation to the governor, who has the authority to alter the state land use master plan.
The final decision on whether to remove the two towers will remain with DEC.