Towering Treasures

Area fire towers offer an interesting history — and great views of fall colors

Looking for some scenic Valley views this fall? If so, lace up those hiking boots and get ready to try your hands (and feet) at a unique type of conquest — a local fire tower.

Fire towers first appeared in New York State in 1909 as a way to combat large fires that devastated local forests. The steel structures, located on the summit of area mountains, were staffed by lookouts who would contact local forest rangers upon spotting a fire. Now in their centennial year, the towers are no longer used as a system of early prevention. Rather, they have become local landmarks; the tower that sits on Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, for instance, boasts views of the Hudson River, the Ashokan Reservoir, and Devil’s Path.

During the years of frequent fires, over two dozen towers stood in the Valley. Most have been removed after decades of wear and tear made them unsafe; now just 11 of the area’s fire towers are open to the public, some of which are currently undergoing restoration.

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One such site (pictured above) sits atop the southern peak of Mount Beacon in Dutchess County. A volunteer committee, chaired by David Rocco of Yorktown Heights, was formed in 2006 to restore the tower to a condition safe for public access. State grants and public donations are funding the effort, but Rocco says his team also has gotten help from other Valley improvement projects — most notably the renovation of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, which reopens as the new Walkway Over the Hudson next month. Recycled materials from the bridge were used to rebuild the tower’s foundation. The committee hopes to see the restoration completed in the near future.

Though faced with many challenges — including the grueling task of lugging heavy supplies more than 1,500 feet up the mountain — Rocco feels that, in the end, all the work is worth it.

“The towers represent a place and time in history that was much simpler than today,” he says. “They are forgotten hidden treasures that played an important role in protecting natural resources in the Hudson Valley.”


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