Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. I hope that I can make it worth your while, as I am only a native Adirondacker speaking from her heart, not a public speaker or lawyer.
For those of you not familiar with the fire tower situation, in the early 1900's bad fires devastated many of the Adirondack forests. The State built lookouts situated on mountain tops and hired observers who watched during the season of high fire danger. These men (and some women) triangulated the fires to pinpoint them and communicated with the ground crews to direct them to the spots to find and fight these fires. The towers became very popular with the public to hike and visit. The rangers became a source of knowledge for young and old alike about fire protection and our need for care of our environmental resources. Being a ranger at that time was a position of pride.
In 1973 some people thought the fire watches could be done much more efficiently by aircraft and they discontinued the use of the towers. Slowly the towers started to deteriorate and then some started to disappear. There is still controversy about which method did the best job, but the mandate had been made. In 1987 the State Master Land Plan was developed making towers non-conforming use in Wilderness area. Hurricane Mountain is now in Primitive area but the environmental groups want to change its classification to Wilderness, which means Hurricane must go!
A group of us have formed The Friends Of Hurricane Fire Tower. We are asking that The DEC and APA allow us to adopt the tower. This has been done with others, and can be done with this one. There is a form that stipulates conditions, that is written for three years at a time and checked on before it is renewed. All it takes is a small piece of land under the tower to be designated as Historical. We would be under the auspices of the Adirondack Architectural Heritage.
We feel this tower is part of our history, our culture, and that we should have the right to ask for it to be left for us. In this unstable time we live in, it might prove very helpful at some time in the future. In the meantime, we can teach our younger generations the heritage of the towers and their ancestors who worked in the towers.
Peter Bauer, Executive Director of the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, said in an interview, "The St Regis and Hurricane Mtn. Towers threaten the natural and expansive view that outdoor enthusiasts are looking for when they visit the area. The bottom line is that you have two competing public values, historical and recreational." *
There are a lot of areas in the Adirondacks that are deep wilderness for those people who object to a fire tower in their view as they hike and canoe. Maybe viewing a tower would remind them of fire and that careless people are one of the main causes of forest fires. Why tear down something that may be valuable to our forests again in our future, as a small fire can become a raging inferno in a very short time. From Hurricane you can see every house and village, the Northway, every road between the mountain and the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain. It is not Wilderness, by any means.
Hurricane tower can be seen from several main roads in the area out of your car windows. The youngest, the oldest and the handicapped don't have to hike miles to see it and enjoy it. It can be enjoyed by the hikers and all visitors to the Adirondack Park. Our opponents say the view is good from the summit so the tower isn't needed. Sure it is! But the fire tower enables the prize of all, to look upon 360 degrees of forest in a powerfully unique way that is truly something special!
Why tear down something so beloved by the residents that they are willing to help with the care and maintenance of the tower and the trails? This could also provide an opportunity for display of concern by the agencies for the heritage of the Adirondack citizens, a chance to do something that proves the government cares about the people who live here.
Of utmost importance for everyone's consideration is the fact that once the towers are removed, they will never come back again.
We feel it is important that we continue to compromise to maintain our historical sites which connect us to our deep roots in the Adirondacks. The local people should have a say as to what can be kept or can't. If you feel your property rights are being invaded, speak up, be willing to fight for what you think is right. It is a good feeling when you can turn in 3,500-plus petition signatures, along with dozens of resolutions, hundreds of letters, and you are told by the Agencies, "Yes, We are hearing you."
But, best of all is the ringing in my ears of the words of the almost 90-year-old schoolteacher as she said, "Why do they want to take it down? That tower is my Statue of Liberty. When I see it, I know I'm home."
* March 17, 2005
Things We Have Learned