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Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit region’s fire towers

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Will you take the 2023 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge? Contributed photo

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos announced the 2023 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge to highlight the world-class tourism destinations and recreational opportunities in the Mid-Hudson Region.

“The annual Fire Tower Challenge is a great way to keep the history and traditions of our Catskills fire towers alive for future generations to appreciate and enjoy,” Seggossaid. “The Fire Tower Challenge provides opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors to reach the unique viewing experience of the spectacular Catskill Mountains while making everlasting memories with family and friends. I encourage anyone that has participated in years past, or those looking to try the tower hikes for the first time, and take the 2023 challenge.”

For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York state — including the Catskill and Adirondack forest preserve — from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires.

The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit the region’s remaining fire towers located on Balsam Lake Mountain (Hardenburgh), Hunter Mountain (Hunter), Overlook Mountain (Woodstock), Red Hill Mountain (Denning), and Tremper Mountain (Shandaken), along with the Upper Esopus Fire Tower at the Catskills Visitor Center. The Upper Esopus Fire Tower allows visitors who may not otherwise be able to undertake the challenging hike of several miles to experience a fire tower on the high peaks in the Catskills.

Stewardship of the fire towers is a partnership with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. The Catskill Center, through the Catskill Fire Tower Project, manages six fire towers in the Catskill Park for public access and interpretation under a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement with DEC. Dedicated volunteers help maintain and staff each of the fire towers on weekends and holidays throughout the summer and fall seasons.

For more information about the Catskills and to experience the newest and easiest to reach fire tower in the region, the Upper Esopus Fire Tower, consider a visit to the Catskills Visitor Center on Route 28 in the heart of the Catskill Park.

To participate in the challenge, hikers must hike to all six DEC-owned fire towers in the Catskills between Jan. 1, and Dec. 31, 2023. Once completed, participants submit a log of their completed hikes along with a favorite photo or selfie via a web form or to the designated email inbox: CatskillsChallenge@dec.ny.gov. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 7, 2024.

All participants who complete the challenge will receive a letter and a commemorative Catskills Fire Tower Challenge patch designed with the 2023 completion year. The first 1,000 finishers will also receive a one-year subscription to DEC’s Conservationist magazine. Upon completion, finishers will also be able to download a customizable certificate and will be eligible to win prizes after the challenge period is closed.

To promote responsible recreation, DEC will offer a bonus prize entry to finishers who also submit a photo of themselves practicing Leave No Trace while participating in the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge (e.g., picking up litter, carrying out, planning and preparing for their hikes, staying on trail).

New for 2023, finishers who completed the challenge multiple times will receive an additional commemorative Catskills Fire Tower Challenge prize.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge,” said Executive Director of the Catskill Center Jeff Senterman. “The challenge is a great way to introduce new visitors to the Catskill Park. By bringing visitors to the fire towers, we are directing them to durable trails, amazing views, and the opportunity to interact with our fire tower stewards to get information about the Park, history, and much more. We love that having the Upper Esopus Fire Tower, included as part of the Challenge, brings more people to the Catskills Visitor Center where they can learn about the Park, get information on how to recreate responsibly while they visit, and learn more about the communities of the Catskills that they can visit before and after their hikes.”

The 2022 challenge, which continues through the end of the year, has drawn more than 800 finishers to-date. Entries have been received from every region of New York, 12 other states, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

With DEC giving participants a full year to complete the challenge, hikers can take their time. Hikers are reminded to practice Leave No Trace principles and to Love Our NY Lands by recreating safely, sustainably, and hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level.

For more information about the fire towers and challenge rules, visit DEC’s website at dec.ny.gov.

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