Tourism

ppr_hurric tower w kid
Students at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School have traditionally made the hike up Hurricane Mountain to see the landscape and the fire tower. The public can weigh in on whether the State Department of Environmental Conservation will rehab the structure â€" and the one on St. Regis Mountain -- to open it to visitors. (P-R File Photo)

Fire-tower plans ready for review

By: KIM SMITH DEDAM

KEENE — The State Department of Environmental Conservation is looking to put a radio repeater on Hurricane Mountain’s fire tower.

And newly released unit management plans propose resuming maintenance of that tower and the one on St. Regis Mountain in Santa Clara for interpretive and educational purposes.

The small parcels land beneath both towers were designated Historic Areas after a lengthy public review session that ended with Adirondack Park Agency classification in 2010.

The public has until Nov. 15 to weigh in with comments before the final version of each is complete.

“As Governor (Andrew) Cuomo continues his commitment to spur tourism, the release of these draft unit management plans is another step in ensuring these historically significant resources will be enjoyed for many generations to come,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a news release.

“Throughout the 20th century, fire towers played a critical role in the protection of New York state’s natural resources, and resuming maintenance of these structures for educational purposes will attract travelers and provide the public a better appreciation of that legacy.”

OUTCRY SAVED TOWERS

The fire towers were once used by forest rangers who watched from the top of the slender steel platforms for any sign of smoke in the Adirondack forest landscape.

The Hurricane tower was built in 1919 and discontinued use in 1979. The St. Regis tower dates to 1918 and was used for fire observation until 1990.

A groundswell of local support during public hearings moved the state to keep both towers in place, though they were slated to be torn down as “non-conforming” structures in Adirondack wilderness.

During land-use review three years ago, the towers were protected under tenets of the State Historic Preservation Act, which is cited in the unit plans. To garner historic designation, APA created a small, square historic area below each tower. 

RADIO REPEATER

The management suggests that a permanent radio repeater be placed on the Hurricane tower to support DEC search-and-rescue operations.

“The Eastern High Peaks receive some of the highest recreational use in the Adirondack Park, and accordingly, the area consistently requires a higher number of rescues by emergency services personnel,” the unit plan says.

“When a rescue occurs in or near an area that does not receive a good signal, a temporary base station with a repeater must be established in order to provide good radio coverage for search and rescue teams.”

‘IDEAL LOCATION’

Because of this gap in coverage, the plan says, and “according to the provisions of the Mountaintop Policy, the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain has been identified by the (DEC) radio communications staff as an ideal location for the placement of a permanent radio repeater.”

The radio equipment is outlined as “a Daniels Electronic Ltd. repeater (or equivalent) with a transmission power of four to eight watts.”

A protective enclosure around the repeater would measure about 5.5 square feet, or 11 percent, of the tower cabin’s 49-square-foot area. 

The rest of the space, also called the cab, would remain open for public use.

ANTENNA SPECS

Two to four Deka L-16 batteries would power the antenna, which is described as a “low profile omnidirectional antenna on a bracket located on a corner of the cab roof.”

A typical antenna would measure between 5 and 6 feet in length, extending about 4 feet above the roof peak, the plan says.

DEC is also looking to mount four 75-watt solar photovoltaic panels (or equivalent), each “measuring 46.8 inches by 20.9 inches by 1.5 inches on the tower structure below the cab.”

The repeater system would be connected to the ground with a grounding wire and rod.

“This would all but eliminate the signal shadow in the area, thereby eliminating the need for a temporary base station during rescues in the region,” DEC says in the plan.

PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE

In the draft plans for each tower, DEC also suggests refurbishing the them so that hikers can climb to the top, noting that as the “preferred alternative.” 

“The tower would be maintained for full public access, including the stairs and cab (open cabin area on top), and written interpretive materials would be strategically placed within the unit so as to be informative but not intrusive.”

DEC would, in both tower plans, “sign an agreement with a volunteer organization to be present during higher-use periods for the purpose of educating the public and monitoring use of the (fire tower) unit. Volunteers would also be sought to assist with opening the tower for public use as well as the long-term maintenance of the tower.”

NO ELEVATORS

The draft plans outline the use of helicopters that may be needed to deliver steel and other materials for tower renovation, saying DEC staff would be required to monitor any building process. And helicopters would not fly during the nesting season of the rare Bicknell’s thrush, between May 15 and Aug. 1.

DEC also reviewed possible handicapped accessibility, but there is no plan to provide any elevator or electrical method to climb the tower at the top of Hurricane or St. Regis mountains. 

DEC is proposing, however, that “as interpretive materials related to the fire tower are developed, they will be delivered in a manner that is accessible to people of all abilities. This may include web based materials, wheelchair accessible kiosks at the trailheads, and written educational materials.”

Proposals for each tower also include dismantling them and taking no action at all.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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PUBLIC-COMMENT PERIOD

Find the unit-management plans for Hurricane and St. Regis fire towers at DEC Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook and at the town offices in Santa Clara (St. Regis tower) and in Keene (Hurricane tower). Or go online. Hurricane tower: www.dec.ny.gov/lands/78001.html Saint Regis tower: www.dec.ny.gov/lands/78006.html

Mail written comments through Nov. 25 to: Josh Clague, Natural Resources Planner DEC, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-4254 Or email to: lfadk@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

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