Residents hope to save lookout tower

October 31, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, PA. - So far, there has been no concerted effort to decide the fate of a 90-foot former fire lookout tower atop Dunlap Mountain here, but a few area residents are interested in preserving it.

The tower, erected in 1936 by the Old Forge Road Camp 70 of the Civilian Conservation Corps, was part of a network of lookout towers in area forests, Stephen Cummings said.

A dirt lane leads to the tower off Pennersville Road.

Cummings, 71, of Fayetteville, Pa., is a member of the local chapter of the National Forest Fire Lookout Association and the Pennsylvania Forest Fire Museum Association, both of which are seeking information about the Mount Dunlap tower.


John Gorman, 45, a Blue Ridge Summit resident interested in protecting the tower, said he plans to lobby the Washington Township Supervisors to get the tower listed as a township cultural heritage site.

"It needs to be preserved," said Chris Firme, a township supervisor who was at the tower Wednesday afternoon with Gorman. "The township should take the initiative to protect it as a historic site."

The township has owned the tower for about a year. The tower has only been used as a platform for radio antennas carrying signals for the township's in-house radio system and that of the Washington Township Police Department, according to Jerry Zeigler, code enforcement officer.

The township bought the tower and its acre site from Antrim Faith Baptist Church on Marsh Road, Zeigler said. The church obtained it about 15 years ago in a land trade with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, he said.

The township, which had been leasing the tower from the church for 10 years, built a small concrete building near the base of the tower to house its radio equipment, he said.

According to Cummings, the Mount Dunlap tower and dozens like it across Pennsylvania had cabins built at the bases by CCC workers for foresters who operated the towers. The cabin on Dunlap Mountain burned down long ago, he said.

According to a history of the tower provided by Cummings, it looked out over more than 100,000 acres of forest.

At one time, there were nine lookout towers in Michaux State Forest - more than 80,000 acres in Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties. The towers, built by CCC workers, are named for the mountains on which they were erected.

It is estimated that more than 8,000 lookout towers were built in the United States, Cummings said.

They gave way to patrol aircraft in the 1970s, but that proved to be too expensive, he said. The towers came back into limited use in the 1980s.

Population growth and increased use of cell phones now enable citizens to quickly report fires, Cummings said.

The only lookout tower still in use in Franklin County is atop Snowy Mountain in Michaux State Forest. It looks out over woods where there are few people.

In October 2001, a ceremony was held at the base of the 110-foot Snowy Mountain tower when it was listed on the National Historic Lookout Register, a designation that should help to protect it for posterity.

Cummings, Gorman and Firme want the Dunlap Mountain tower to have the same protection.

Zeigler said the township has no plans to restore or repair the tower.

It needs new wooden steps and landings and its steel structure should be inspected, Gorman said. He would like to see it repaired and opened to limited public use.

The tower is protected by a gate and by a chain-link fence. The lock on the fence is broken and a hole big enough for a person to get through has been opened in the back.

The township has done some maintenance on the tower, Zeigler said, but the metal in it is greatly fatigued.

"A total rehabilitation would be too expensive," he said. "There's no cost-effective way to save it. The metal is too stressed."

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