Hiking Challenge Returns, Highlights Opportunities for Recreation in the Catskill Park
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced the 2022 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge, designed to highlight the world-class tourism destinations and recreational opportunities in New York’s Hudson Valley. Starting Jan. 1, 2022, visitors are challenged to hike each of the six fire towers in the Catskill Park and submit information about their visit at any time during the year to earn recognition and prizes.
“Since 2019, the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge has introduced thousands of New Yorkers to the unparalleled experience of viewing the natural wonders of the Catskill Mountains from one of the park’s historic fire towers,” said Commissioner Basil Seggos. “To introduce even more New Yorkers and visitors to this awe-inspiring experience, we are announcing the 2022 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge. The 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.”
For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York State—including the Catskill and Adirondack forest preserves—from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires. The Fire Tower Challenge highlights the remaining public fire towers in the Catskill Park. Launched in 2019, the first Challenge drew 878 finishers who submitted nearly 4,400 selfies from the base of the region’s five remaining fire towers. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received challenge entries from every region of the state, 12 additional states, and Canada, and participants hiked an estimated 21,000 miles in the Catskills. The 2019 challenge was part of the State’s ‘See the Catskills Like Never Before’ tourism campaign, developed in collaboration with Empire State Development and I LOVE NY.
Empire State Development Vice President and Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, "The Fire Tower Challenge is yet another opportunity to showcase the unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation that exist in New York State. I LOVE NY encourages residents and visitors alike to come be a part of the Catskills by planning a 2022 getaway with a fire tower hike as its centerpiece, as well as skiing, ziplining, fly fishing, craft beverage and farm-to-table dining experiences and a stay at a world-class resort. It's sure to be a vacation they will never forget."
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.
“The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge is a great way to introduce new visitors to hiking and outdoor recreation in the Catskill Park,” said Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Center. “By bringing visitors to the Fire Towers, we are directing them to durable trails, great views, and the opportunity to interact with our Fire Tower Stewards to get information about the Park, Fire Tower history, and much more. We are very excited to have the Upper Esopus Fire Tower included, as the Challenge will bring 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 the can visit before and after their hikes.”
The 2022 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit the region’s five historic fire towers located on Balsam Lake Mountain (Hardenburgh), Hunter Mountain (Hunter), Overlook Mountain (Woodstock), Red Hill Mountain (Denning), and Tremper Mountain (Shandaken), as well as a new sixth fire tower that was opened in the Catskills in the fall of 2019. The Upper Esopus Fire Tower is located at the Congressman Maurice D. Hinchey Catskills Visitor Center in Mt. Tremper and allows all 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.
To participate in the challenge, hikers must hike to all six DEC-owned fire towers in the Catskills between Jan. 1, and Dec. 31, 2022. Once completed, participants submit a log of their completed hikes along with a favorite photo to the Challenge email address: CatskillsChallenge@dec.ny.gov. or via mail. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 7, 2023. Participants that complete the challenge will receive a letter, commemorative 2022 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge patch, and a one-year subscription to DEC’s Conservationist magazine, currently celebrating its 75th year in circulation. Upon completion, finishers will also be able to download a customizable certificate and will be eligible to win hiking accessories after the challenge period is closed.
Interested hikers can complete their first fire tower of the challenge during two of the guided First Day Hikes recently announced by Governor Hochul. The Catskill Center, in partnership with DEC, will host two guided fire tower hikes on Jan. 1, 2022, to Overlook Mountain Fire Tower and Upper Esopus Fire Tower. Space is limited and preregistration is required for both hikes. For additional details and to register, visit DEC’s website.
Participants are encouraged to practice Leave No TraceTM principles and Love Our New York Lands by recreating safely and sustainably, hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level.
For more information about the Catskills and to experience the Upper Esopus Fire Tower, the newest and easiest-to-reach fire tower in the region, consider a visit to the Catskills Visitor Center on Route 28 in the heart of the Catskill Park. For more information on the fire towers and complete challenge rules, visit: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/76620.html.
Under the Adventure NY initiative, DEC is making strategic investments to expand access to healthy, active, outdoor recreation; connect more New Yorkers and visitors to nature and the outdoors; protect natural resources; and boost local economies. Read more about the Adventure NY initiative on DEC's website.
Note: Photo attached of Balsam Lake Mountain Fire Tower, courtesy of NYSDEC.