Landing Replacement Project

Last year the Kent Conservation Advisory Committee, asked the Kent Conservation Foundation to develop a long term plan for the tower’s maintenance. The KCAC is a Town of Kent government committee that has held the stewardship agreement with the State of New York for the fire tower atop Mount Nimham for many years. The KCF is a not-for-profit organization established to carry out projects for the KCAC that can’t be funded by the Town or the State.

As a first step, the Foundation contracted with a professional engineer to have the tower inspected. His report makes it clear that the tower is in good shape — the CAC volunteers have done a great job over the years keeping it up.

Bill and Dave at the end of the day

But the tower is a structure on the top of a mountain that is and has been exposed to the elements, so it’s no surprise that the report recommends actions to preserve and protect the tower so that the public can continue to enjoy it. The two major ones are to get the tower on a regular painting schedule and to replace the wooden landings “within the next two years.”

Putting together and carrying out the plan for the regular painting schedule is the big item, of course. It’s well underway and we’ll cover those activities in future articles.

Replacing the wooden landings, while no piece of cake, is certainly doable with a small crew of volunteers if we take it slow and easy. And since the work needs to get done soon-ish, the CAC and the KCF decided now was the time.

After preparatory work the day before, a small crew gathered at the tower on July 10 to replace the landing that was in the most need of help — landing 3, the one about 20 feet above the treetops — and to do ongoing anti-graffiti maintenance in the cab at the top of the tower.

A few of the bolts had rusted through quite badly.

Volunteers Emi Pennington and Jolie Siegel started the day by repainting the inside of of the tower cab while Dave Ehnebuske and Bill Volckmann set up a portable woodshop and worked out how to cut necessary planks, including the various notches and cutouts required to accommodate the tower’s steel structure. In the afternoon, Jolie and Emi stood watch to keep hikers away from the tower while Bill and Dave did the work of removing the old planks and replacing them with the new ones.

The people who built the tower did a good job and used good materials: 77 years after their installation, it was still possible to remove most of the bolts by unscrewing the nuts on the underside of the floor. And once the nuts were removed most of the planks came out intact. But a few bolts were in locations where water not only rusted them solid, but had considerably rusted the shank of the bolts, and one of the planks came apart when it was removed.

The engineer was right: it’s time to replace the landings. The continuing plan is to do them one at a time over the course of the coming months. They’re fine now but won’t last indefinitely.

All told, including the preparation, the actual work day and the unloading and clean-up afterwards, the project required 171 person-miles of travel, 49.5 person-hours of volunteer work, and $326.76 in supplies and equipment rental.

It’s great to see what volunteers can do and how far they can stretch the Foundation’s funding. That said, there are also some things volunteers probably shouldn’t do. Like scraping out-of-the-way rusty patches on the tower frame way above the ground and painting the whole tower structure. After much debate and thought it’s become pretty clear that to do the job well and safely, the Foundation will need to hire professionals with their expertise, skills and equipment.

But that’s for another day. For today, the tower has a fresh coat of paint in the cab and a new landing. We hope you’ll go up and have a look!

A Big Project

When I talk to people about the Kent Conservation Foundation their first question is,  “What is it?” The second is,  “What does it do?” I explain that it’s a nonprofit organization that carries out projects identified by the Town of Kent’s Conservation Advisory Committee. Naturally, that leads to questions about the kind of projects the Foundation undertakes for the CAC and why the KCF is doing them instead of someone else.

Those are a reasonable questions on several levels. After all, the outdoor treasures the CAC takes care of — things like the fire tower on Mount Nimham, the trails to Hawk Rock, the site of the Mead farmstead and Hawk Rock itself — are all on land owned either by New York State or by New York City. Aren’t they taking care of things? Also, the tower has been where it is since 1940, the farmstead dates to the colonial period and Hawk Rock has been there since the end of the ice age. So, what’s to do?

The answer to these questions is a little complicated. In this post I’ll try to explain why by describing the big project that led Kent residents to form the KCF. It involved the fire tower on Mount Nimham.

Photo of the tower "cornerstone"
Been here for a long time

When it was built by the CCC in 1940, the cabin of the tower was equipped with a solid floor made of big wooden planks. Good stuff, too: it lasted more than 75 years despite being exposed to the elements. But by late 2013 CAC members noticed a few planks were starting to get “spongy” where they bolted to the steel frame of the tower. The floor would have to be repaired or replaced in the next few years to keep the tower safe for public use. That would be a Big Project.

The tower belongs to the State of New York on land managed by the DEC. While the agency people who manage the land often wish it were otherwise, this sort of project just doesn’t come high enough on the priority list to get funded. So, no funding from the State. And no funding from the Town or the County, either. It would amount misappropriating tax money since the tower doesn’t belong to them.

To keep the tower open and safe, CAC members had been doing the regular maintenance — mostly painting, graffiti removal and regular trash pick up for years under a stewardship agreement with the DEC. In recent years they had even found ways to take on a few larger projects like replacing the sign on the tower and adding a much-needed brace to the first flight of stairs. But replacing the floor would be the biggest project since the tower was reopened to the public about ten years prior. And it would require professional help.

Estimates from contractors showed the cost would be more than $2,700, quite a burden for the informal “I’ll pay for it this time” funding system they’d been using. Faced with this real need, a group of Kent residents decided to form the Kent Conservation Foundation to take on this and other CAC-identified preservation and restoration projects in the Town of Kent that can’t be funded other ways.

At the end of 2014, with the KCF in place, the CAC asked it to develop a plan to replace the floor. While casting about for less costly alternatives than hiring a contractor, KCF Board Member Bill Volckmann met a regular visitor to the tower, David Tompkins, who was also a licensed contractor. After discussion, David volunteered to lead the construction part of the project pro bono if the KCF would supply the necessary additional volunteers, materials, and administrative support. The KCF and the CAC were thrilled!

Photo of men carrying lumber for the new floor of the fire tower cabin up the stairs
KCF volunteers Bill and David did the hard work

By early May, 2015 everything was lined up. The DEC temporarily closed the tower to the public and issued the necessary permits. The KCF purchased the materials and lined up volunteers. And the weather cooperated. Over the course of two days David and Bill replaced the floor and the railing around the trap door, assisted at ground level by a supporting crew of additional volunteers. Total cost: $786.66!

Since this first project, the CAC has asked the KCF to take on additional projects, some big and some smaller. (I’ll post stories about some of them in the coming weeks.) But big or small, the KCF has clearly demonstrated it provides a much needed mechanism for our community to fund and carry out projects that help preserve the treasures in Kent’s great outdoors!

Direct action by people who care is what makes things happen. We hope you agree, and will decide to join us — as a member, as a donor, as a volunteer or all three. We really look forward to hearing from you.

David Ehnebuske
KCF President

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