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County may give up land

County may give up land

County officials next week will consider clearing the way for restoration of the historic Spruce Mou

County officials next week will consider clearing the way for restoration of the historic Spruce Mountain fire tower in South Corinth by giving up ownership of county land underneath the tower.

A citizen group called Friends of the Spruce Mountain Fire Tower will ask county supervisors to transfer the land to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which already owns the tower.

That would let group members begin working on the tower restoration, which needs substantial structural repairs before it can be re-opened to the public as a hiking destination. It would also transfer liability for the property to the state.

“We have a fair number of people who are anxious to get started on it,” said Julia Stokes, chairwoman of Saratoga PLAN, a land conservation group that is leading the restoration effort.

The group was formed last October to work on re-opening the tower, which at 73-feet-tall is the tallest publicly-owned fire tower in the Adirondacks. The cost of those repairs has yet to be determined. Friends officials say they plan to conduct a fund-raising campaign to pay for the repairs.

The tower already is an unofficial hiking destination, though climbing it isn’t currently legal.

“It’s something somebody would hike to. There’s a nice view from up there,” said Supervisor Frank D. Thompson, R-Milton, who has already met with the trail advocates.

The tower was built in 1928 but hasn’t been used since 1988.

The remaining old fire towers across the Adirondacks and Catskills have become popular hiking destinations, and the Spruce tower is the closest to the Capital Region. The Adirondack Mountain Club supports the restoration effort.

“The tower will be much more accessible than a lot of them, so we think there will be a lot of visitors,” Stokes said.

Those visitors will also buy food and gas and maybe rent motel rooms, said Paul Laskey, chairman of Friends of the Spruce Mountain Fire Tower.

“It’s really a win-win for everybody. It’s not going to cost the county anything,” Laskey said.

The county owns the summit of Spruce Mountain, including the land under the fire tower, as part of its county-wide emergency radio communications system. Until recently, it was using two large radio towers located near the fire tower.

However, as part of a county-wide radio system modernization, the county no longer needs those towers, and county officials have indicated a willingness to give up their land.

The county would give the state about three acres and would continue to own about five additional acres near the summit where it will still have communications equipment.

The Buildings and Grounds Committee chairman said he’d like to see the fire tower restored.

“I think it’s a good idea, myself,” said Thompson. “These tower people would maintain it, and they’d take on the liability.”

The land transfer would still leave an unresolved issue concerning access to one part of the hiking trail up the mountain to the tower.

Part of the trail is owned by Lyme Timber of Hanover, N.H., a private lumber company that has an agreement with the state to sell easements to its forest land, though details concerning Spruce still have to be negotiated. Another part of the trail was bought by Saratoga PLAN in 2004 to be sure it would be available if tower restoration became feasible.

The friends group will make its case to the county’s Buildings and Grounds Committee in Ballston Spa on Monday, Feb. 2.

A recommendation from the committee would eventually go to the full Board of Supervisors for a final decision. So far, no objections have been raised.

The county is in the process of removing its communications equipment from the area.

In December, supervisors awarded a $32,000 contract to remove the two unused county radio towers on the site and restore the natural condition of the land around the fire tower.

The Adirondack Park Agency will also have to grant a subdivision approval before the matter is final.

Stokes and Laskey said they hope restoration work can start by late summer.

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