A NEAR ENDING, A NEW BEGINNING: A
HISTORY OF THE FIRE TOWER RESTORATION
The steel fire tower
present on the summit of Azure was built in the summer of 1918 and has
a history as varied as the views on an ever changing day, and as
diverse as the stories of the hikers who have climbed the mountain over
the last century. What follows is but a brief capsule of the closure
and rebirth of an incredible part of Azure Mountain.
of 1978: Nineteen year old Fire Observer Michael Richards of St. Regis
Falls closes the Azure Mountain Fire Tower for the season. Mike has
kept himself busy over the summer and early fall, maintaining the cabin
and the tower, greeting hikers, and watching for fires. The phone, the
radio, the binoculars, and other equipment are removed from the tower
before closing it for the winter and packing away things for next year.
Unknown to Mike, the tower would remain closed for over 24 years.
September of 1989: A
“Fire Tower Closed” sign greets you at the trail head. The trail to the
summit is quite overgrown in some places, and the tower is in severe
disrepair with the bottom two sections of stairs removed to deter
hikers from climbing the structure.
July of 1995: A late
afternoon climb of Azure Mountain finds the picturesque caretaker cabin
located near the foot of the mountain has been torn down by the
Department of Environmental Conservation; the cabin also has been
neglected since 1978.
August of 2001: DEC
Region 5 Forest Ranger Jeff Balerno and DEC Operations staff visit
Azure Mountain to identify a landing zone for a helicopter with
intentions of dismantling the fire tower and removing it from the
summit. Jack Freeman of The Adirondack Mountain Club and Steven
Engelhart from Adirondack Architectural Heritage are key in preventing
the removal. Helpful in “saving” the Azure Mountain Fire Tower
was the fact that it had just been accepted on the list of State
Historical Sites, and was expected to be accepted on the National
Register of Historic Places, along with six other Adirondack fire
November of 2001: Under the direction and persistence of Carolyn Kaczka
and Michael McLean, a public organization meeting to save the fire
tower is held in St. Regis Falls. Twenty four people from all over the
North Country agree to create and represent the Azure Mountain Friends.
Jack Freeman, author of Views from on High, Fire Tower Trails in the
Adirondacks and Catskills, released in July 2001, presents a
wonderful slide show during the meeting. Strong support is received
from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and
Adirondack Architectural Heritage agrees to become our non-profit
March of 2002: The $15,000 fund raising effort to restore the tower is
officially launched in St. Regis Falls. Marty Podskoch, fire tower
historian and author, gives a slide program on Adirondack towers.
June of 2002: With persistence from Ranger Jeff Balerno and planning
and help from Phil Johnstone of DEC Operations, seven helicopter
flights transport three and one half tons of construction materials to
the summit. Five Rangers and seventeen Azure Mountain Friends help load
and unload the material, the majority of which was donated by local
businesses. Special thanks to Dwyer’s Home Improvement Center in North
Bangor, Merriman’s Lumber in Norwood, and Bicknell Lumber in Potsdam
for donation of the pressure treated wood; Ned Potts Steel Fabrication
in Norwood for donation of the galvanized and welded channel iron for
the windows, Evans and White True Value for nuts, bolts, concrete, and
numerous hardware supplies, Duquette and Son Excavation in Malone for
the cobblestone, Foothills Forest Products in Nicholville for cedar
logs, and to Phil Johnstone for finding much needed spare stair risers,
a roof panel, and other fire tower parts necessary for the restoration.
July of 2002: Rangers Jeff Balerno and Christine Blanchard, Phil
Johnstone, Six AmeriCorp Volunteers, (Wayne Larsen, Nick Rogers, Liv
Rand, Massey Burke, Sarah Auer, and Molly Snedden) and numerous Azure
Mountain Friends and volunteers perform extensive work on the tower,
including: entire wood structure (stairs, landings, and cab floor)
replaced and secured with new hardware; poured/repaired concrete pad
for stairs and one support leg; missing hand rails/stair risers
replaced; new channel iron windows installed in cab; wooden railing
installed in cab; entire tower painted; and extensive cedar steps
installed to curb erosion, summit vegetation work completed.
August and September of 2002: Work on the fire tower continues,
including: damaged roof panel removed and replaced with reconditioned
panel; fencing replaced and secured with staples/wire; water bars
installed above cedar step work to reroute water; 3 tons of stone (one
ton flown and two tons hauled by hikers) on summit being used for soil
erosion prevention; summit areas seeded and brushed in; and a new cedar
ceiling installed in tower cab.
As of December 2002: The Azure Mountain Fire Tower remains “officially”
closed until the tower is inspected by a DEC Structural Engineer.
Structural members and cross bracing on the tower may need replacement,
as identified on Mount Arab, Poke-O-Moonshine, and other
Adirondack fire towers. This required replacement has yet to be
performed on these towers, and these towers are open and accessible to
the public. A climb of Azure Mountain over the last few months found
and in the future will find hikers enjoying tower access and the
incredible 360 degree views of the Adirondack North County.
Note: Since this article was written, the tower was officially "opened"
on Sept. 27, 2003. A new map was also created and installed in the cab
using the original metal supports.
By Michael McLean, AMF Co-chair
Azure Mountain News, Volume 1, February 2003