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Panel backs deal on fire tower

Panel backs deal on fire tower

County officials have agreed in principle to steps toward letting a citizen group work on re-opening

County officials have agreed in principle to steps toward letting a citizen group work on re-opening the historic Spruce Mountain fire tower in South Corinth as a hiking destination.

The county board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee agreed Monday to pursue having the county-owned land where the tower is located turned over to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC already owns the fire tower itself.

No final action will be taken until there have been talks between the county, DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency, which would need to approve a subdivision.

The county owns the land as part of an emergency communications tower complex on the mountain, but officials agree the land at the fire tower is no longer needed.

“We want to work with the county to move this along,” said Julia Stokes, chairwoman of Saratoga PLAN, a conservation group that’s been working on the fire-tower project.

PLAN and a group called Friends of the Spruce Mountain Fire Tower want to restore the tower and re-open it to the public.

However, the tower needs substantial structural repairs before it can be re-opened.

At 73-feet-tall, it is the tallest publicly owned fire tower in the Adirondacks.

The tower was built in 1928, but hasn’t been used for fire observation since 1988.

It’s already an unofficial hiking destination, though climbing it isn’t legal.

Paul Laskey of Ballston Spa, chairman of the friends’ group, said a re-opened fire tower should generate food and gas purchases and other economic activity from hikers.

The Hadley Mountain fire tower draws about 25,000 visitors a year, Laskey said.

He believes the Spruce tower, since it is closer to the Capital Region population centers and an easier climb, would draw 35,000 people a year, and those people would spend at local businesses.

“It’s really a win-win,” Laskey said. “There’s something in it for you besides good will and getting a little exercise.”

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.

Stokes, who is the county’s representative to DEC’s regional open space planning committee, said she plans to present information on the Spruce Mountain project to the committee next week, so DEC will be aware of the plans.

She noted the hiking trail up the mountain crosses land owned by the state, PLAN, Lyme Timber and the county, all of whom will need to grant permission for hikers to cross their land.

“To say this is going to challenge all of us would be an understatement,” Stokes said.

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