St. Regis Fire Tower

Endangered Fire Towers

Here are two endangered fire towers in the Adirondack Park. The Park is an amalgamation of state and private land along with easements. The state land is divided up into many different areas, such as wilderness and wild forests. Each area has its own set of regulations. Wildernesses, for example, are set aside freed from mans’ influence. Most human made structures were removed to preserve the wilderness setting. In contrast, wild forests and intensive use areas are less extreme. This is all part of the master plan. St. Regis and Hurricane Fire Towers are on lands were the plan is to remove almost all evidence of human habitation. They have been classified as non-conforming structures in their areas. The state plans for their eventual removal, but the fight continues. The towers can also draw to much attention for the wilderness setting.
On the opposing side, preservationalists want them to remain. They have become an icon for their communities. Think- a tower with the American Flag attached to it overlooking the area you live in with lakes and mountains in the background. Bald Mountain tends to have that image. They also provide 360 degree views on summits were trees make it impossible. On top of all of that, observers lived up there greeting people. I had some one tell me about how an observer invited them for dinner up on Arab mountain years ago. It was like family, I was told. They helped warn the communities about forest fires and were instrumental in fighting them. There is a whole history about them. People just can’t live without the tower up on their mountain. Many times when a tower is scheduled for removal there is resistance. I read about a vicious fight for the Pharaoh Fire Tower. It got vandalized and eventually fell over.
I climbed Hurricane Mountain on December 4th. It was the 18th fire tower mountain I climbed in the ADK. This is a special number, because I earned my fire tower patch here. There are three ways up this mountain. I chose the trail from route 9N between Keene and Elizabethtown. One thing I learned is that people here call Elizabethtown E-Town. The trail from 9N climbs 2000 feet to the summit. It starts out steep briefly. Then the trail levels out and crosses a boggy area before beginning the steady climb up. This climb will gradually intensify to a steep climb until breaking near the summit at 2.5 miles. Here the north trail meets the trail from 9N. Turning right brought me to the rocky summit at 3694 Ft. in elevation. This section was solid ice when I climbed it, but was only a tenth of a mile long. I had no views due to cloud cover. What I did see was a lot of rime ice covering the trees and fire tower. The fire tower was in bad shape and is dangerous to climb. Its fate is unknown. The tower stands in the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area. The plan is for the eventual removal of all non-conforming structures.
I climbed St. Regis on New Year’s Eve. It was the 25th fire tower in the ADK I visited. I included the two museum fire towers in this count. St. Regis is 2874 Ft. in Elevation. The hike is 3.4 miles to the summit and is a 1266 Ft.climb. To get there, go to Paul Smiths College, by either using route 30 north of Tupper Lake or drive north up 86 from Saranc Lake. At Paul Smiths find Keese Mills Rd. The trail head is about two miles down the road on the left. The Tower stands in the St. Regis Canoe Area were the setting is supposed to be similar to that of a wilderness. I got to the trail head around 1:40pm. I was short on time but had excellent weather. I asked someone what the conditions where. One guy said wait you’re going up the mountain? There’s eight inches of snow on the trail, it’s wet, and you’re not dressed appropriately. You might make it. I almost always get the worst case scenario when I ask. I dashed toward the trail.
The trail starts out on a road immediately crossing the St. Regis River. Within a tenth of a mile the foot trail to the summit starts on the right. It turned out the trail was already broken from previous hikers. There wasn’t that much snow around and it wasn’t wet. The only problem was it was hard to walk fast on the surface. I had to maintain at least a 2 mile per hour pace up this trail to make it in time. The foot trail started out climbing a hill. Soon I saw a huge wall of rock on my left with huge ice formations. Then I found myself walking along the contours of a hill with a gully on my right. Eventually the hilly hike turned into a slow descent. As I descended, I noticed a mountain ridge slightly to the left across a basin. Was it St. Regis? The descent brought me down into this basin with the mountain in full view. The basin was unusually flat for a distance. Next began a long gradual climb toward the ridge. I watched the ridge get closer as I approached. Then it was on my right. I was walking along side of it as I climbed gradually. I was wondering when the true climbing would begin; time was short. Finally, after a wooden bridge, gradual climbing became moderate climbing. Here, I noticed St. Regis, like many mountains, was composed of many peaks. The trail was leading me to the highest one. I kept looking to my right, wondering which peak it was. The moderate climb leveled off then the trail turned slightly to the right beginning a steep climb. This was it. Finally, I knew where the summit was. The climb carried on for a short distance then wrapped around before breaking out at the rocky summit. Just like Hurricane, the tower stands on an almost bald summit. There were cliffs all around with a few trees blocking the north view. The tower was in very bad shape; Once again missing its bottom two stairs. The DEC doesn’t want anyone to climb it. I turned back at 3:30 and made it back by 4:45 with enough daylight to still see well. It was a success.
The view from the summit was impressive. Looking toward the south and east, I could see a multitude of lakes and ponds around the Saranac Region. Across them were the high peaks standing like a wall with sharp jagged peaks across the eastern horizon. I could pick out Whiteface and Esther toward the left. Whiteface’s tower now stands at the Adirondack Museum. Looking towards the south I notice Tupper Lake and Mount Morris. Mount Morris has a 22 Ft. fire tower. Unfortunately it’s under strict private control within private land. To the right of Tupper Lake is Arab Mountain, another fire tower Mountain. Somewhere west is the Raquette River. Moosehead, Catamount and Whites Hill where all once fire tower mountains along this river. The Northwest region of the Adirondacks is a unique area of rolling hills with a few isolated bands of mountains. The St. Regis snakes through part of it eventually passing Azure Mountain. I could just barely make out its fire tower in one of my photos. I didn’t get a chance to see Loon Lake, Debar, and Meenahga Mountains. Debar Mountain was once a fire tower mountain. Meenahga is one of the towers built privatly that worked with the state. It’s still standing north of Rainbow Lake closed to the public. The summit of Loon Lake Mountain is state land, but is blocked by private land. This may change soon. That tower still stands.
The fate of Hurricane and St. Regis is unknown. I don’t want to say what their classification is, because the fight for them continues. It seems like a tug a war between the Adirondack Park Agency and the public. One day the towers are doomed, and at other times talks are held about making them a historic sight. Well, if a decision is not made, they will just deteriate and fall down.

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