On Monday the NYSDEC Facebook page had a post about the reopening of the Berry Hill Fire Tower in McDonough. In the evening, my wife asked me if I saw the post. When I said I had, I asked her if she knew much about the tower since she grew up in McDonough.
She told me that she and her family had hiked to the Berry Hill Fire Tower numerous times over the years. She said that she remembered climbing to the top of the tower as a kid.
Fire towers were used across the state until the 1980s. Observation crews would be stationed in these towers and would scan the area to try to see wildfires from their elevated position and contact the Forest Rangers to go put the fire out.
After they were phased out as fire lookouts, some towers held communications equipment that was still used by Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers. Many towers were closed to the public for safety concerns, including Berry Hill. In a management plan written in 1999, an objective listed in the plan was to rehabilitate the tower to allow for public access.
The work at Berry Hill was supported by $125,000 from NY Works. Some of the work that was done include: resurfaced driveway and parking spaces, an accessible path from the upper parking area to the base of the tower, new roof on the tower, and new windows in the tower among numerous other things.
The Berry Hill Fire Tower is close to Bowman Lake State Park and the Finger Lakes Hiking Trail crosses through McDonough State Forest and Bowman Lake State Park before going down Tower Road where it passes the entrance to Berry Hill.
Be warned that hiking to the tower from Bowman Lake can take longer than expected so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get there and back before it gets dark if you decide to try this.
Currently, Berry Hill Fire Tower is the only fire tower that is open for public access in Central New York. So, it will likely be a draw for tourism as people come to be able to climb the 59-foot, three-inch tower and look out over the hills and valleys of EIGHT counties!
Fire towers are known for being “cheap” ways to get amazing views due to the relative ease to get to the tower compared to having to hike to the summit of a mountain to get a similar, uninterrupted view of the surrounding area. If you have the time, it might be worth checking out the Berry Hill Fire Tower, especially with the upcoming changing of the leaves.