Big Pocono fire tower migrates to Grey Towers

Volunteers needed to restore 1919 structure to its former glory for visitors' enjoyment and historic preservation


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  • The Big Pocono Fire tower gets a change of scene (Photo provided)




  • The "cab" (Photo provided)




  • The "legs" (Photo provided)



“People with all kinds of skills are needed. It’s an ideal project for an Eagle Scout."
Lori McKean

By Anya Tikka

— As historic fire towers all over Pennsylvania come down to make room for new, more efficient ones, Grey Towers National Historic Site is preserving one that is nearly 100 years old.

Grey Towers is converting the early fire tower for educational and interpretative purposes. It will honor Gifford Pinchot, who, as Pennsylvania Forestry Commissioner started the fire tower program. Grey Towers was Pinchot's residence, which is now owned and managed by U.S. Forest Service.

Lori McKean, Visitor Services and Information Specialist, said the tower was brought from Big Pocono State Park in Tannersville, where it was first installed in 1919.

The 35-foot-high tower had to be cut into two pieces, one for the "legs" and the other for the "cab" that sits on top, in order to transport it to Milford. The cab is seven by seven feet. The Big Pocono tower is on the small side as towers go, but it was still a big job to move it.

“Out west, where the forests covered hundreds of acres, when the program was first started, rangers lived in them,” McKean recounted. “And some of them were women, the only job available for women in forest service at the time.”

Here in Pennsylvania, rangers monitored the area by climbing the towers. They had to be on high ground so that watchers had the best vantage point as they looked for signs of fire. They are ideal for tourists, providing a 360-degree panorama.

The Big Pocono Fire Tower will be placed on the educational trail behind the mansion. Group access to the top cab will be supervised for safety reasons, McKean said.

The trail already includes other attractions.

“Visitors will learn about the importance of fire detection and prevention in conservation of our forests and about how Fire Towers are used today," she said.

But first, the fire tower has to be brought back to its former glory, and volunteers are needed. Grey Towers will also help, and is seeking grant money from organizations interested in "this sort of thing."

“People with all kinds of skills are needed,” said McKean. That includes the obvious ones, like painting and installing windows. But researchers and sign makers and designers are also needed for the eventual signage and exhibits and other educational postings.

“It’s an ideal project for an Eagle Scout,” McKean mused.

For more information contact McKean at 570-296-9672 or lmckean@fs.fed.us.


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