The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s closure of the Wakely Mountain trail once again raises questions about the future of the fire tower on the summit.
DEC closed the tower in December because of structural defects and this week closed the hiking trail too, lest the tower collapse and injure someone.
“The condition of the tower has worsened and it is possible the tower may collapse in heavy winds,” DEC said in a news release.
DEC spokesman Benning Delamater said two of the tower footings and their anchor bolts (which attach the tower to the footings) are damaged.
The department says it plans to fix up the structure as soon as possible.
About a decade ago, some environmental groups were calling on DEC to remove the tower. Wakely Mountain abuts the Blue Ridge Wilderness, where towers and most other man-made structures are not allowed. Because of the tower, the 3,744-foot summit is classified as Primitive.
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP) anticipates the tower’s removal: “Once the fire tower on Wakely Mountain is no longer needed, this area should be made part of the Blue Ridge Wilderness.”
Built in 1916, the tower has not been staffed since 1988. When DEC drafted a unit management plan (UMP) for the Blue Ridge Wilderness in 2006, the Adirondack Council and some other groups argued that the tower should be removed and the summit reclassified as Wilderness. However, the public by and large favored keeping the tower. From the tower’s cab, hikers enjoy a superb panorama of the central Adirondacks. Without the tower, which is a National Historic Landmark, there are virtually no views from the summit.
DEC opted to retain the tower (and the Primitive classification) and use it to house a radio repeater to improve communications during fire-suppression and search-and-rescue missions.
David Gibson, one of the partners in Adirondack Wild, questions the need for the radio repeater and argues that DEC should hold off fixing up the tower. “Clearly, this radio repeater function now lacks the significance it may have once had,” he said in an email to the Explorer. “Now that the tower has deteriorated it’s become a public safety hazard. In my opinion, it’s time for another round of discussion about the role of the fire tower and whether or not to amend the UMP to allow its removal and the reclassification of the summit to Wilderness.”
Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, also said DEC should take a second look at whether the tower is necessary. “We would like to see a plan developed and consideration given to removal of the tower, restoration of the wild character of the site, and reclassification of the site to Wilderness per the SLMP,” he said.
But Delamater said DEC is not considering removing the tower, despite its structural defects.
“DEC is working with a fire-tower-restoration expert to undertake an emergency stabilization of the tower within the next week. Once the tower is stabilized we will schedule additional work to repair the footings, replace the bolts and repair the damaged radio equipment,” he said. “Once all repair work is complete, the trail and tower will be reopened to the public. At this time we do not have a projection for completion of all the repair work.”
There also are an old cabin and a helipad on the summit. Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said both should be burned, but he said DEC is within its rights to fix up the tower.
The Wakely trailhead lies off Cedar River Road near the Moose River Plains. The trail to the summit is often steep, gaining 1,635 feet over three miles.