Watchers of the Mountains fire towers light up on Saturday
Arkville — Like huge fireflies dotting the forest preserve, Catskill fire towers will be lit up at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31 for approximately 30 minutes (Rain date-Sunday, September 1). The fire towers that remain from the original pattern are roughly nine miles apart on some of the highest Catskill peaks: Overlook, Mt. Tremper, Hunter, Utsayantha, Balsam Lake, and Red Hill.
These Catskill Park fire towers are remnants of about twice as many that once dotted the region. Each was meant to cover a circular area of about 15 miles, marked on a special sighting map called an alidade used to pinpoint fires.
Fire towers were first erected in the early 1900s after a series of devastating forest fires that hit the region. The fire towers were used to sight and pinpoint fires until the late 1970s, when many were closed, fell into disrepair, or removed. Many volunteers worked to restore these fire towers and open them to the public.
On Saturday, Aug. 31, the tower observation cabs will be lit. Whether you are visiting a tower or spotting one from a Catskill valley, you are surrounded by 300,000 acres of the Catskill Forest Preserve - a huge natural area protected by the state constitution. When you see a light, you are looking back in time almost 100 years – a time when large Catskill hotels known as mountain houses still existed where many famous people spent the hot summer months avoiding the heat and summer diseases of New York City.
The fire towers are Overlook (Town of Woodstock, 3,140 feet), Balsam Lake Mountain (Town of Hardenburgh, 3,723 feet), Mt Tremper (Mt. Tremper near Phoenicia, 2,740 feet), Hunter Mountain (Hunter, 4,040 feet), Red Hill ( Claryville, 2,990 feet) and Utsayantha (Stamford, Delaware County, 3,214 feet). Mohonk Tower on the Shawangunk Ridge, visible from New Paltz and several of the Catskill towers, will also be lit.
An honorary Catskill fire tower, reopened at the Ferncliff Forest, Rhinebeck visible from the Catskills across the Hudson River, will also be lit. This tower was built by the Army Corp of Engineers during World War II and served as a strategic watchtower to provide early warning of attacks, particularly on President Roosevelt’s home and planes that could be headed to NYC. That last tower was removed in 2006, but was replaced by a new tower to commemorate the rich history of this region.
Mount Beacon fire tower, recently reopened, though away from the Catskills in southern Dutchess County, may also be lit up to show that the “Watchers of the Mountains” are not only in the Catskills, but also the Hudson Highlands and other parts of the state.
For more information on the fire tower lights, please contact the Catskill Center at 586-2611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.