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DEC Announces 2024 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge

Dec 21, 2023

Annual Hiking Challenge Highlights Catskills Region and Provides Prizes to Participants

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced the 2024 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge to highlight the world-class tourism destinations and recreational opportunities in the Catskill Park. Launched in 2019, the Challenge draws participants from every region of New York, as well as 11 other states and countries, including Canada.

“To introduce more New Yorkers and visitors to this awe-inspiring experience, DEC is renewing the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge for 2024 to highlight the spectacular vistas found in this majestic park,” said Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Over the past five years, the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge has drawn thousands of outdoor enthusiasts to the unparalleled experience of viewing the natural wonders of the Catskill Mountains from one of the park's historic fire towers. The Fire Tower Challenge is introducing the next generation of environmental stewards to the Catskills, helping keep this tradition 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 Preserve, from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, to search for dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires. This Catskills Fire Tower Challenge highlights the park’s remaining public fire towers.

The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit the region’s remaining 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 the newest and sixth fire tower opened in fall 2019. The 80-foot-tall Upper Esopus Fire Tower is located at the Catskills Visitor Center in Mt. Tremper and provides an opportunity for visitors who may not otherwise be able to undertake more challenging hikes to experience a fire tower on the high peaks in the Catskills.  

Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Center, said, “The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge offers new visitors an ideal introduction to hiking and outdoor recreation within the Catskill Park. By providing a specific set of goals, simplifying the decision-making process, and fostering a built-in sense of accomplishment, new hikers are rewarded with more than just great views. The Challenge allows new hikers to build their skills and confidence across a variety of trails, while bringing them into contact with the Catskill Center's knowledgeable Catskills Stewards and Fire Tower Project volunteers, who are ready to share valuable information about the Park, the historic significance of the fire towers, and tips for recreating responsibly. The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge is an opportunity to break down barriers to the outdoors and invite new visitors to discover all that the Catskill Park has to offer.”

For more information about the Catskills and to experience the easiest to reach fire tower in the region, visit the Catskills Visitor Center on Route 28 in the heart of the Catskill Park. Grounds are open to the public every day during daylight hours. Situated on 60 acres of forest, fields and wetlands, the Catskills Visitor Center offers a visitor information center, gift shop, 1.5 miles of peaceful nature trails (including ADA-accessible trails), picnic areas, a covered pavilion, wildlife viewing, Esopus Creek access, and much more. Visitors can connect with staff and find valuable information, maps, and advice about all the activities available in the 700,000-acre forest preserve.

Ross D. Levi, Empire State Development Vice President and Executive Director of Tourism, said, "The Catskills Fire Tower Challenge offers a unique way to explore and experience the great outdoors in this picturesque region. Climbing up a fire tower for a bird's eye view is an unforgettable adventure, and I LOVE NY encourages residents and visitors alike to join the challenge and discover another reason it's so easy to love New York State."

To participate in the challenge, hikers must hike to all six DEC-owned fire towers in the Catskills between Jan. 1, 2024, and Dec. 31, 2024. Once completed, participants submit a log of their completed hikes along with a favorite photo to, or via mail. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 6, 2025. Full details can be found at the 2024 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge page.

All participants who complete the challenge will receive a letter and a commemorative Catskills Fire Tower Challenge patch designed with the 2024 completion year. The first 1,000 finishers will also receive a one-year subscription to DEC’s Conservationist magazine. Again this year, finishers who completed the challenge multiple times will receive an additional commemorative Catskills Fire Tower Challenge prize. Upon completion, finishers will be able to download a customizable certificate and will be eligible to win prizes after the challenge period is closed. Finishers will be entered into a grand prize drawing. To promote responsible recreation, DEC will offer a bonus prize entry to finishers who also submit a photo of themselves practicing Leave No TraceTM while participating in the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge (e.g., picking up litter, carrying out, planning and preparing for their hikes, staying on the trail).

The 2023 challenge, which continues through the end of the year, has drawn more than 450 finishers to date. With DEC giving participants a full year to complete the challenge, hikers can take their time. Hikers who would like to get a jump start on the Challenge for the new year can complete their first fire tower of the Challenge as part of a guided First Day Hike. The Catskill Center, in partnership with DEC, will host a guided fire tower hike on Jan. 1, 2024, at the Upper Esopus Fire Tower. Space is limited and preregistration is required for the hike. For additional details and to register, visit the First Day Hikes 2024page.

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

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 Adventure NY on DEC’s website.