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Old 10-30-2021, 11:09 PM   #1
DSettahr
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New fire towers in use in PA for wildfire detection

This isn't exactly breaking news, but it's new to me- and I imagine also something that many forum members here are unaware of yet might still be interested to hear about.

Last May, I undertook a through-hike of the 75 mile loop Quehanna Trail in PA's Moshannon State Forest. I've been sorting and editing my photos from that trip (I took over 1,000 photos across 7+ days of hiking), and I happened to notice that while traversing Chestnut Ridge on Day #2, I took a few photos of a fire tower that the guidebook curiously makes no mention of whatsoever.




Obviously, I was intrigued, so I did some googling, and I came across this article: https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylv...ect-wildfires/

It turns out that PA DCNR has decided to go "old school" and begin using fire towers for wildfire detection again. As of 2019, there were 16 new fire towers in use across the state. It sounds like they aren't staffed on a daily basis, but rather only on days with high fire risk- typically in the spring and occiasionally in the fall.

The tower I hiked past on Chestnut Ridge is brand new- so new in fact, that I presume it was built after the QT guidebook was published (my copy was published in 2015), hence the lack of any mention of the tower in the guidebook.

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Old 10-31-2021, 08:00 AM   #2
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It was interesting to read about Pennsylvania determining that fire towers would be the most cost-effective detection method. From the article you linked to above:

Quote:
Hecker said the alternative is paying upwards of $1,000 per hour for a plane to search for fires.

“Our towers always spot the smoke quicker,” he said. “Just a little tiny column of smoke comes up, and they’re looking at that against the blue of the horizon and they can spot that.”
Quote:
Kern said the $4-million-plus price tag for the new towers is worth it if it means catching fires early.

“If we have one big fire, we could spend $1 million or $2 million to put it out,” he said. “If you look at it that way, you can recoup the cost of a tower pretty easily if you can prevent those fires from getting large.”
Some of PA's old fire towers were recently replaced with newer ones, such as the one on Boot Jack Hill off Route 219 south of ANF.

This page gives information on all of Pennsylvania's fire towers. Unfortunately, a lot of these towers are closed off. The Wheeler (ANF) and Pump Station (Pine Creek Gorge area) towers were fenced off when I went. Cook Forest State Park's tower is open, but the view is pretty meh compared to other vistas in Northern Pennsylvania. I'm hoping to swing by Boot Jack and Greenwood sometime within the next year. Greenwood is a bit further away from me, but is supposedly open and is accessible via a spur of the Standing Stone Trail.
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Old 10-31-2021, 10:24 AM   #3
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I hope they will occasionally open them to the public. I remember climbing the one at Greenwood years ago and the view was spectacular.
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Old 10-31-2021, 11:37 AM   #4
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I've often wondered why PA never really experienced the same level of public interest in preservation and recreational use of the fire towers as we've seen in NY. My assumption would be that it's a combination of factors- PA fire tower sites tend to be far less remote and much more easily accessed, there's less interest in hiking in PA generally as compared to the Adirondacks/Catskills, PA's management of public state forest lands has generally been less preservation minded overall as compared to the Adirondack and Catskills, etc.

I do agree that it would be nice to have the new fire towers open to the public especially, even if it's only on certain days of the year. It would also be nice if some of the older unused towers were fixed up and left open to the public permanently.
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Old 11-02-2021, 12:52 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
I've often wondered why PA never really experienced the same level of public interest in preservation and recreational use of the fire towers as we've seen in NY. My assumption would be that it's a combination of factors- PA fire tower sites tend to be far less remote and much more easily accessed, there's less interest in hiking in PA generally as compared to the Adirondacks/Catskills, PA's management of public state forest lands has generally been less preservation minded overall as compared to the Adirondack and Catskills, etc.
Wonder if that easier accessibility might also have something to do with it (the concern of more problems, as we often see at other more easily accessible spots)?
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Old 11-02-2021, 02:24 PM   #6
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Wonder if that easier accessibility might also have something to do with it (the concern of more problems, as we often see at other more easily accessible spots)?
I figure it's a two-pronged impact. For starters, like you say, the increased access probably leads to an increased amount of deprecative use (vandalism and the like). So the towers that still stand are probably in even worse shape than their ADK/Catskill counterparts, and there's also been more efforts by DCNR to simply dismantle them. And perhaps also some who might otherwise be interested in undertaking preservation efforts are less enthusiastic about about actually doing that work... since idiots are fairly likely to continue defacing (and even damaging) the tower in spite of your preservation efforts.

But also I think for the ADK and Catskill towers... the hike itself is part of the appeal, as is the remoteness of the towers (regardless of whether that remoteness is real or perceived... even in the ADKs, many observers had closer motor vehicle access to their towers than what the public is allowed today). Would a "PA Fire Tower Challenge" patch mean as much to folks if all they have to do is park and walk maybe a flat quarter mile at most to access most of the towers? I'm sure some would still enthusiastically tackle such a challenge, but overall I don't think you'd really see such universal interest within the hiking community as we've seen with the ADK/Catskill Fire Tower Challenge.
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Old 11-08-2021, 07:37 PM   #7
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I'm hoping to swing by Boot Jack and Greenwood sometime within the next year. Greenwood is a bit further away from me, but is supposedly open and is accessible via a spur of the Standing Stone Trail.
Greenwood fire tower isn't technically open to the public. While it's not fenced off, the bottom steps have been removed to prevent access (possible to climb but obviously not encouraged). It's a great area though, and some of the surrounding trails are quite excellent. If you do happen to go I prefer the climb up from Alan Seeger, but the climb from Greenwood Furnace is nice too and offers some quality loops.
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Old 11-08-2021, 10:19 PM   #8
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Greenwood fire tower isn't technically open to the public. While it's not fenced off, the bottom steps have been removed to prevent access (possible to climb but obviously not encouraged). It's a great area though, and some of the surrounding trails are quite excellent. If you do happen to go I prefer the climb up from Alan Seeger, but the climb from Greenwood Furnace is nice too and offers some quality loops.
Hmm, guess I'd have to make a judgment call on climbing the Greenwood tower if I end up going there. There look to be impressive views from there based on photos I've seen on Reddit and Alltrails.

Looking at Caltopo, there's no shortage of trails leading there, with four different routes offering 1,000+ feet in elevation change. Unless I wanted to do an extended hike on the SST, a good option might be doing all four trails below (counter-clockwise from the Alan Seeger parking area). Caltopo calculates the total distance as being ~9 miles.

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Old 11-09-2021, 09:37 PM   #9
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Hmm, guess I'd have to make a judgment call on climbing the Greenwood tower if I end up going there. There look to be impressive views from there based on photos I've seen on Reddit and Alltrails.

Looking at Caltopo, there's no shortage of trails leading there, with four different routes offering 1,000+ feet in elevation change. Unless I wanted to do an extended hike on the SST, a good option might be doing all four trails below (counter-clockwise from the Alan Seeger parking area). Caltopo calculates the total distance as being ~9 miles.
Yeah, the views are great; I haven't been up there since they took the stairs down though (years ago). There's been some logging just east of the tower unfortunately, but the area's still worthwhile.

That loop you show is one of my favorites from when I lived nearby. I typically come down the steeper Ruff Gap Trail, but either way's fine. If you're doing the whole thing you can also park at Greenwood Furnace SP, just a bit off map in the SW. This doesn't show it but there's also a fun short side trail to a vista among those switchbacks on the NW.

If you're in Rothrock you might as well hit up the Little Flat fire tower too. That one's also missing the lower stairs, but a short trip down the MST will take you to a series of very nice vistas over Bear Meadows.
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Old 11-10-2021, 07:43 AM   #10
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Yeah, the views are great; I haven't been up there since they took the stairs down though (years ago). There's been some logging just east of the tower unfortunately, but the area's still worthwhile.

That loop you show is one of my favorites from when I lived nearby. I typically come down the steeper Ruff Gap Trail, but either way's fine. If you're doing the whole thing you can also park at Greenwood Furnace SP, just a bit off map in the SW. This doesn't show it but there's also a fun short side trail to a vista among those switchbacks on the NW.

If you're in Rothrock you might as well hit up the Little Flat fire tower too. That one's also missing the lower stairs, but a short trip down the MST will take you to a series of very nice vistas over Bear Meadows.
Appreciate the info. Another place I've been wanting to visit in that general area is the Throne Room, a little further south on the SST. Looking at some photos online, the rocky vistas remind me of a few places I've visited in WV & VA in recent years.

Another option is backpacking a longer stretch of the SST that would include a few of these spots. Haven't made concrete plans yet since I probably wouldn't go until next spring at the earliest (got a lot of other trips on my calendar between now and then).
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Old 11-10-2021, 03:47 PM   #11
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Another option is backpacking a longer stretch of the SST that would include a few of these spots. Haven't made concrete plans yet since I probably wouldn't go until next spring at the earliest (got a lot of other trips on my calendar between now and then).
Great idea. The SST terminates at the MST in the middle of Rothrock, not even a trailhead (but near one). A great route would be starting on the SST far enough south to get the Throne Room and 1000 Steps, then continue "south" (really trending west here) on the MST to Jo Hays Vista at Rt 45. That would pass both towers and plenty of views. Just use the Jackson Trail for the last couple miles to the 45 trailhead instead of the MST; it's far, far better.
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