Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hurricane Mtn Fire Tower’s 2017 Season Recap

Summit Steward Jonathan TrzepkowskiHurricane Mountain’s fire tower continued to benefit in 2017 from a strong partnership between dedicated community volunteers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The tower restoration project also attracted generous financial support from the 46er Trust and daughters of the Longware family that organized the “Save the Tower” Campaign back in the early 2000’s.

The result was a highly successful year that sets the stage for more progress in 2018 and beyond. Most significant, the tower was staffed again for the first time in nearly 40 years, since the state officially closed the station in 1979. (The tower was re-opened to hikers in late 2015, after safety repairs.) This time, the staffer was not paid to spot fires. Instead, summit steward Jonathan Trzepkowski was hired to educate hikers on how to protect the Adirondack Wilderness from being ‘loved to death.’

He saw and spoke to more than 2,000 people up at 3,674 feet. Many hikers were ill-prepared, with no map or any real idea of where they were in the Wilderness. Most visitors found their way via social media. But most were also very receptive to the Leave No Trace message that is the basis of efforts by the Friends of Hurricane Mountain, the State of New York, the 46ers, the Adirondack Mountain Club and other groups struggling with the exploding number of hikers.

Barbara Juh of Keene, paiting the towerA dozen volunteers organized by Kathleen Blaisel of the Friends spoke to hundreds more hikers on another 17 days when Jonathan could not be there. A half dozen other Friends volunteers gave the entire tower a protective coat of bright silver paint. This was particularly challenging for Tom DuBois and Jon Trzepkowski, who braved a high wind to dangle from the 35-foot structure in rock climber’s harness.

More volunteers participated in National Trails Day work projects, clearing brush and blow down from the three trails leading to the summit.

State and local government cooperation was key. Keene Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson agreed to hire the Friends summit steward. The Town was reimbursed by the state DEC, with a little supplement from the Friends. DEC also paid for the painting project carried out by volunteers, and loaned the steward a radio for emergencies. Fortunately, it was never needed.

A new roof is top priority for the coming year, as one-quarter of the old one is gone, and more sheets of metal are threatening to blow away daily in Hurricane’s high winds. That will be another cooperative project, with Friends volunteers working to assemble the state-purchased roof.

Tom DuBois of Keene, who rigged the climber gear for the painting projectThe $2,500 contribution from the Longware sisters, and another $2,500 from the Adirondack 46er Conservation Trust, will help fund new interpretive signs in the tower cab, including panoramic photos of surrounding mountains. A map table replica is also planned, to sit atop the radio repeater being installed in the cab to help DEC Rangers with emergency communications in the Eastern High Peaks.

New trailhead signs are coming, too, and a marker identifying the site of the observer cabin, which was removed in the 1980’s.

Photos, from above: Summit Steward Jonathan Trzepkowski; Barbara Juh of Keene painting the tower; and Tom DuBois of Keene, who rigged the climbing gear for the painting project.

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Peter Slocum lives in Keene and is a trustee of the Essex County Historical Association and a volunteer at the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm.      

One Response

  1. Scott says:

    I respect and appreciate all the volunteer efforts to restore fire observation towers. I have climbed many fire observation towers thanks to these efforts . The idea of fire observation towers in wilderness areas and the spot zoning to circumvent the SLMP disgusts me. I wish you could do it better and instead of postage stamp spot zoning, classify the whole unit as wild forest and just give it the same protection as wilderness.