The debate that won’t die

The State Land Master Plan calls for the removal of the Hurricane Mountain fire tower.
The State Land Master Plan calls for the removal of the Hurricane Mountain fire tower.

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?

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Barry Lobdell says

    The fire towers are an important link to the history of the Adirondacks and should be preserved – and repaired, if volunteers are willing to take on the job. The fire tower in Elizabethtown is an example of what having a tower in town is like – boring, and no doubt used very little.

  2. Paul says

    I rarely agree with Dan Plumley but he has it right here. For lack of a better word this a “dumb” decision. What is the plan here just delay the decision for another few decades?

    If I were Dan I would be more pleased with this decision than if I were advocating for the towers to remain. Under this plan they will have to be removed it is only a matter of time.

    I guess this is what you do when you have a tough decision to make, put it off, maybe the next time the majority of folks won’t be opposed to what you want to do. As I understand it the vast majority of folks that sent in comments are opposed to this alternative.

  3. Tony Goodwin says

    i agree that the APA staff recommendation is the ultimate ‘punt”. As I have argued before, neither the Hurricane nor the St. Regis tower is needed for a view. There are already over a dozen towers that have been or are in the process of being preserved – so we’re not going to lose that part of Adirondack history. While “friends” groups have put a lot of time and money into preserving these towers, the DEC still ends up spending money as well – money it just doesn’t have without taking it from other programs. A friend involved with the Poke-O-Moonshine tower restoration told me that the DEC has finally established an accounting “cost center” for fire tower rehabilitation efforts.

    I find it most amusing/ironic that those who are most in favor of keeping the towers (even if they never intend to climb up to them) are often the ones who rail the loudest about wasteful government spending. Could there be any bigger waste of tax dollars than to spend money on preserving an obsolete structure just so someone can look at it from the valley and “know that they’re home”. (The above quote comes from a statement made at the latest hearing held in Keene Valley.

  4. Paul says

    Tony, I happen to agree with you on these towers but if someone thinks that spending tax dollars on something like this is a good idea why not? Maybe the Lincoln Memorial is an obsolete structure and in some folks eyes they think maintaining it a waste of taxpayer money? Who are we to tell them what their “memorials” should be? We spend taxpayer dollars on maintaining many historical structures all over the country and many of them are duplicates. Give me a break. Everyone has their beefs on government spending. Maybe I think that spending millions of taxpayer dollars on land to save it from development when it is probably never going to get developed to any real degree is a waste of money?

    If people want the towers torn down just be honest for why they want it done. If it is a campaign to cut government spending than so be it but I doubt that this is many peoples motivation. Personally I think the towers should be torn down, I think they should be torn down because the SLMP says they are illegal. There are many people in the Adirondacks that feel the SLMP is a “law” that has many problems. For me tearing down the towers will solidify opposition to the SLMP and maybe someday we will see it change.

    Talk about wasteful government spending. How many tax dollars have been wasted with proposals and counter proposals on these towers. Public hearings, legal fees. All because we passed a “law” making a state structure that already existed on the top of St. Regis Mountain illegal. It is just crazy. We are doing this with things all over the Adirondacks just because some brilliant person thought that we should try and legislate certain things out of existence. It is really sad.

  5. Andy says

    The firetowers battle is not really about the firetowers, but about the public’s access to the Adirondacks. We all know the environmentalist folk want to close off all access to the Adirondacks, and make it as forbidding of a wilderness as possible. They want no hiking trails, no camping, no snomwobiles, no ATVs, no highways, no public access.

    They want to turn the Adirondacks into a private park, where only the wealthy and extremely physically fit can access.

    I don’t think anybody wants to take away from the scenery of the Adirondack Park. A majority of it is currently fully protected wild forest and wilderness, or privately owned logging parcels with public easements. What we want is to keep currently open parcels open to current public use levels — which are balanced and make sense, and preserve the public park to a variety of public uses.

  6. mary says


    I consider myself an environmentalist and I favor hiking trails,firetowers and camping. I don’t like interstate highways and atvs in the wilderness areas.

    I think the firetower issue has more to do with money than anything else. If the DEC and APA were fully funded, then keep all the historical firetowers and refurbish them for safety. But since the DEC can’t maintain what it has, the firetowers become a lower priority. Certainly the APA cannot even keep its VICS….

    Things are changing and more can be lost in the future. Let’s just hope that the public does not lose access to large portions of the preserve (such as was suggested for the Moose River Plains).

  7. Paul says

    There is also a component of “who controls what”. The DEC could just say: “fine we are going leave these towers and if some group wants to fix them up and maintain them then go for it. Use your group’s money not the state’s. If you can’t get them fixed up and keep them maintained at some safe level then we are going to have to tear them down.” If they could just relinquish power enough and just change the SLMP so they stay (they have to change the SLMP for this new cockamamie plan anyway!).

    I bet the only reason they need this “cost center” that Tony describes is because they keep plotting and planning. Just be reasonable for a change!

  8. CFWhitman says

    The APA’s recommendation is the one course of action that makes no sense to me. If the towers are there, I want to be able to climb them, or at least to know that I may be able to climb them in the future if someone fixes them up. If they can’t be restored, I don’t see much point in keeping them there.

    Of course, I actually do hike up mountains and climb fire towers, which I doubt many people on the various committees involved in reaching these decisions do.

    It just seems to me that I would be more satisfied with either the decision to make it possible for the towers to be restored or the decision to tear them down than with this recommendation. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the issue, but I don’t pretend that ambivalence is a decision.

  9. Joe Kurch says

    The debate is Naturalists vs. historians; the Naturalists believe that the towers take away from nature. When they climb to the summits and see a tower there that should not be there it does not feel right. As for the historians they believe that they are an important piece of history that goes along with the Adirondacks. Without them there would be no nature to look at for those Naturalists. Well i am on the historians side, with out these towers in the 1910 there would be no Adirondacks. Forest fires would of pretty much taken over. Without the deveoplment of the towers and the Osborne Fire finders in the towers the naturalists would really have nothing to see. So I hope someday soon I can climb the St. Regis tower that is located right next to the school pretty much.


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