The Adirondack Park Agency’s recommendation to keep the fire towers on St. Regis and Hurricane mountains but prohibit volunteer groups from fixing them up is unlikely to please either side in this long-running debate.
Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild, a new environmental organization, argues that it merely ensures that the debate will continue indefinitely.
“The agency is taking a weak, muddling position,” Plumley said. “For the most part they’re choosing to punt the question.”
Plumley argues that the towers should be moved from the mountaintops to locations within nearby communities. He said the towers could become a tourist attraction. “Many thousands more people then would get to see them,” he said.
At least some of the APA board members also are displeased with the recommendation. Lani Ulrich and Bill Thomas, both of whom live in the Adirondack Park, said at Friday’s meeting that they’d rather see the towers rehabilitated and left in place.
“People who want to save the towers are willing to raise money to do it,” Thomas said.
The board will vote on the towers’ fate at a future meeting.
The Park’s State Land Master Plan calls for the removal of both towers, which are located in the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area. Under the master plan, towers are not allowed in Canoe Areas. The plan contemplates reclassifying Hurricane as a Wilderness Area once the fire tower is removed. Towers are not allowed in Wilderness Areas.
Under the APA staff’s proposal, a small portion of land under the St. Regis tower would be reclassified as Primitive, while the land under the Hurricane tower would retain its Primitive classification (the rest of the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area would be reclassified as Wilderness).
James Connolly, the APA’s deputy director, said the staff wanted to reach a balance between the competing values of wilderness protection and historic preservation. The proposal would allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to do minor repairs to prevent the towers from collapsing, but major rehabilitation, such as replacing steps, would be prohibited. The towers could remain indefinitely, Connolly said, though the State Land Master Plan would still contemplate their eventual removal.
Those calling for the towers’ removal point out that hikers can enjoy wide-open views from both summits without climbing the towers. In fact, steps are missing from both structures, making them inaccessible. DEC estimates that fixing up the towers to allow public access would cost roughly $50,000 each.
What would you like to see happen to the towers?