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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. 

old towerOctober 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 towers.

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 sponsor.

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.
tower + flag
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




The Azure Mountain Friends, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization.