HAGUE — Hidden in the woods off Route 8 in a remote corner of northeastern Warren County is a mountaintop fire tower that could become a destination for hikers, and bring more visitors to the quiet towns in the region.
The 101-year-old fire tower on Swede Mountain has been closed to the public since 1968, as the state discontinued staffing of most of the fire towers around the Adirondacks.
One of the more popular hiking “challenges” in the Adirondacks is what’s called the “fire tower challenge,” where hikers summit a certain number of the 30 mountains that have fire towers around the Adirondack and Catskill ranges and are open to the public.
The tower at Swede Mountain is not part of the list, but that is expected to change in the coming years as Warren County leaders look to reopen the tower and negotiate access to the property with an adjacent landowner.
County representatives met last month with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and a representative of the New York chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association to discuss what would need to be done to reopen the tower to the public.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, said the county Department of Public Works plans an engineering review to determine the state of the tower and how much work it would need to make it usable by the public.
Simpson said initial indications are that the tower is in “much better shape” than many of the old Adirondack towers that have been reopened in recent years.
There is not yet a timetable for the project, though Stec said it would likely be 2020 at the earliest before the work that needs to be done would be complete, including state and county approval, and obtaining whatever funding would be needed.
One issue that has popped up during an initial review of the project is that paperwork does not appear to be in order as to the county’s apparent ownership of the tower itself, Simpson said.
“The state believes we do own it, but the paperwork isn’t in order,” Simpson said.
Stec has been assisting with the process to clarify ownership of the tower and has been working with county officials to reopen the tower to the public.
The tower sits atop the 1,896-foot-high Swede Mountain, just a few hundred yards south of Route 8 and east of Swede Pond.
Warren County became owner of the 11-acre property in 1999, through an eminent domain proceeding amid discussions to potentially use the tower for communications equipment. But a decision was made not to use it for that purpose, and it has been unused since.
Simpson said there is a cabin that had been used by the fire tower observer on the property as well, which may have to be taken down because of its state, when the property is reopened to the public.
The property is landlocked by private property, but Simpson said initial discussions with the owner of the property between Route 8 and the tower, Lyme Adirondack Timberlands, have been encouraging as to the possibility of a trail to the fire tower. Lyme does lease its land to hunters, so the property might be off-limits during hunting season, as is the case with the recently reopened fire tower on Spruce Mountain in Corinth.
“Lyme has lessees who use the property, but they feel we can come to an agreement,” Simpson said.