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FIELD NOTES: SAFEGUARDING THE WILD

Adirondack Wild, Fire Towers, and Wilderness
by David Gibson

Adirondack Wild partners Dave Gibson and Dan Plumley hiked up Hurricane Mountain on October 20. Their photographs record the extraordinary 360 degree view from the rock outcrops at the summit, the dilapidated state of the firetower, its missing stairs, and the very wet condition of the principal trail to the summit. For decades, the presence of the firetower has been the main impediment to classifying the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area as Wilderness.
Photographs: ©David Gibson, ©Dan Plumley

If you live in or visit the Adirondack Park, you can simultaneously appreciate cultural history, local heritage and wilderness, and fight for all of them in the right places. Firetowers are a case in point. Firetowers were used to detect wildfire in the early 1900s, and to protect the forest preserve, as protection was then defined. That history and heritage is alive and well on 18 firetowers in Wild Forest sections of the Forest Preserve, and many others on private lands.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve values that heritage strongly. We embrace this form of historic preservation and cultural identification and what can be learned from preserved relicts or structures in the Park wherever that preservation does not conflict with wilderness definitions, and legal guidelines.

In places legally designated as Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe, the APA’s recent actions to permanently preserve five-story steel structures on Hurricane Mountain and St. Regis Mountain violate the very purposes for which these forests were classified as a distinctive system of lands “without significant improvement, protected and managed so as to preserve, enhance and restore…its natural conditions,” and where “man’s works are substantially unnoticeable” (from the Wilderness definition in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan). Therefore, under the Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe classifications, firetowers are nonconforming uses, which must be removed. The Master Plan is cognizant of the fact that the act of maintaining firetowers in a Wilderness area requires the means to restore, maintain and reach that firetower using helicopters, mechanized tools, vegetative cutting, activities not allowed in Wilderness.

Adirondack Wild advocates relocating the towers out of the wilderness, and having them restored as local, cultural and historical sites in their valley communities, benefiting cultural tourism. Already the Town of Keene has passed a resolution supporting this, and town officials have invited us on a site tour of a local, permissible site for the tower relocation. Sadly, the APA made a political decision without taking this win-win concept into consideration. A former DEC Forest Ranger and town supervisor agree with us that this is the preferred alternative, as many thousands more people would learn the history in town than up on the peak. Besides, there are 18 other firetowers to climb in wild forest.

In itself, preserving and managing Wilderness is to affirmatively preserve a different kind of cultural heritage. After all, mankind emerged and evolved with wild nature. Wilderness has left a deep mark on us culturally and ethically. The Forest Preserve is a designated National Landmark because its protection is clear evidence of our evolving social commitment to a sustainable presence on this planet, where humans and their works do not dominate the landscape, but feel most strongly our interdependence with wild nature. These are areas which must remain untrammeled, meaning unconstrained, unhindered, and unshackled from our human tendencies to manipulate the environment.

The firetowers on St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains are surely doing the opposite. They are tall, steely, noisy, dilapidated and a highly noticeable work of man on the very summits, in the very midst of tens of thousands of acres of wilderness. They and their otherwise wild environments starkly contrast with other classified Historic structures which blend into and are compatible with their landscapes. These are Santanoni in Newcomb, Crown Point Historic Site, John Brown Farm in North Elba and the Tahawus ironworks. All were once substantial cleared farms, nuclei of buildings or industries, or military works lying in the valleys near the edge of the great wilderness forests of the Park - not in their very midst.

Therefore, DEC was right to recommend this spring the removal of the firetowers on St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains Mountain. These actions have been legally required for years, would enhance public safety, adhere to Wilderness guidelines and respect Wilderness as its own form of cultural and historic preservation.

By contrast, the Adirondack Park Agency was utterly wrong when they voted for Historic classification of the two firetowers this past week, requiring the towers to be restored in situ as permanent parts of the wilderness. APA’s decision was not based upon the law, but upon what they perceived as the most popular action to take. By choosing popularity over legal responsibility, APA significantly lowered their standards for safeguarding wilderness.

The APA’s decision still leaves open the possibilities of alternative courses of action, such as relocating the towers to interpretive sites in their communities where so many more can appreciate their historical importance. Private-public fundraising efforts for the towers’ restoration might be better spent initially on trail maintenance; the trail to Hurricane Mountain is a muddy mess, and is need of significant work to remove water from the trail and improve the tread. The Governor could ultimately reject the APA’s Historic classification, or through dialogue the communities could recommend alternative locations for the towers through a unit management plan.


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6] Posted 10/21/10
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2010

12/06/10 Law Judge rules on Adirondack Wild  read more >

10/21/10 Adirondack Wild, Fire Towers and Wilderness  read more >

10/12/10 Comment: Proposal to Reclassify…Fire Towers  read more >

10/07/10 Wild Action Now: Moose River Plains  
read more >


10/07/10 Comment: Moose River Plains   read more >


10/07/10 Comment: Public Hearing, Fire Towers on St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains  read more >
10/07/10 Comment: Alternative Actions for Fire Towers on St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains   read more >
10/07/10 Comment: State-Owned Conservation Easements  read more >
10/07/10 Safeguarding the Wild   read more >

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The mission of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is to advance New York’s ‘Forever Wild’ legacy and Forest Preserve policies in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and promote public and private land stewardship that is consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research.

Top left panorama, Hurricane Mountain Fire Tower © Dan Plumley; Mushrooms © Ken Rimany

ADIRONDACK PARK REGIONAL
Peter Brinkley, Honorary Chair
pbrinkley@frontiernet.net
Terry Jandreau, Chair
terry.jandreau@yahoo.com
 
Kenneth J. Rimany, Partner
krimany@adirondackwild.org
David H. Gibson, Managing Partner
dgibson@adirondackwild.org
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