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