Happy Birthday Hurricane Mountain Fire Tower! 100 Years

Hurrican Mountain Renovations
by Peter Slocum

Hikers are lured to Hurricane Mountain by three excellent trails, a bald peak with spectacular 360-degree views that shine on social media, and a newly reopened fire tower. Outside Magazine recently ranked Hurricane as the “Best Hike in New York.” So it’s a good thing the state and volunteers are hustling to protect those trails and finish restoring the fire tower. They’re also mounting an education effort to help all those eager hikers understand that they, too, need to safeguard this wilderness. Hurricane’s fire tower was constructed in 1919 as part of a statewide effort to protect forests and communities from fires. More than 50 of the state’s 127 towers were built in the 6-million acre Adirondack Park, and the vast majority of those were erected in the 1910s, following the devastatingly dry fire years of 1903, 1908, and 1913. Before then, the state had no early warning network. Lumbering was essentially unregulated, and the ember-spewing locomotives that hauled timber out of the woods set fire to thousands of acres. State government woke up to the danger, regulating lumbering, hiring mountaintop observers, and eventually building steel towers. While 2,000 fires were spotted annually through the 1920s, the acreage burned per fire plummeted. Early warning worked! Gradually, airplanes replaced the towers. Hurricane’s tower was mothballed in 1979, and ultimately slated for demolition as a nonconforming structure in a wilderness area. However, a determined local campaign and changes in state policy saved that tower and others. In November 2014, the state Department of Environmental Conservation officially granted the structure a new life, as a “historically significant resource”adapted to educate
the public about “the role of fire towers, the people that worked in them, and the natural resources they protected.” Local volunteers formed a Friends of Hurricane Mountain group to partner with the state in renovating the tower and performing trail maintenance. New stairs and fencing were added, and volunteers painted the entire 35-foot structure. Once a new roof is flown up and installed—projected for later in 2019—the Friends plan on recreating the map table observers used for sighting fires. They also plan to erect interpretive signs to help people appreciate how the observers did their jobs. The Friends also hire summer summit stewards—trained with the Adirondack Mountain Club program—to work atop the peak and educate hikers. They do not just talk about how the Forest Preserve was protected from fire, but about the need to protect it today from the hordes of modern day hikers. One hundred years ago, Hurricane’s tower helped save the magnificent Adirondack Forest Preserve from ruinous fires. Now that “Leave No Trace” has replaced “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” as the dominant mantra for protecting the Adirondacks, the 3,694-foot peak can be part of the effort to keep the woods from being loved to death. This summer the Friends will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hurricane Fire Tower, opening a special exhibit August 8th at the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown, and leading hikes to the summit on August 10th. For additional information on the celebrations, specifics on hiking trails, and more photos, go to: www.hurricanefiretower.org

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Hurrican Mountain Fire Tower