Refurbished fire tower's views dazzle residents

(Original publication: July 25, 2005)

KENT ­ Mike Arciola paused to catch his breath after climbing five of the eight flights up the newly refurbished Mount Nimham fire tower yesterday.

"Holy smokes!" the 63-year-old retired watch technician said. "I thought I was at the top already."

Arciola was among dozens of celebrants at an afternoon dedication ceremony that featured speeches, live music, homemade brownies and lemonade.

But the main attraction was the tower, whose 102 narrow steps lead to a sweeping, 360-degree view of the trees and lakes that stretch for miles around its steel skeleton.

"I think it's cool, really cool. Scary," said 11-year-old Samantha Kelly of New Milford, Conn. She ventured up with her uncle and three cousins, including 5-year-old Alexandra Pope of Mahopac, who poked out her head to peer down from the observation deck.

For decades, the Depression-era tower was used to spot forest fires, and a lookout's cabin once sat near its base. But by the 1970s, airplanes, satellites and suburban sprawl had rendered it obsolete, along with thousands of others across the country.

After that, the 83-foot-6-inch tower fell into disrepair, and a bonfire set by teenagers destroyed many of its original wooden steps.

As part of a five-year, $40,000 renovation effort, new steel steps were bolted in place and workers dangled from climbing harnesses to scrape the structure and coat it with battleship gray paint.

Funding included $10,000 from the PLAN Kent group, a $7,800 state grant and $100 contributions from donors whose names adorn the new steps, said George Baum, chairman of the Kent Conservation Advisory Committee.

During yesterday's ceremony, Gil Cryinghawk Tarbox of Kent led four members of the Nimham Mountain Singers in Algonquin-language chants and drumming. Tarbox, who wore a feathered headdress and beaded necklace, also invoked the spirit of Daniel Nimham, the 16th-century chief of the Wappinger tribe after whom the mountain was named.

"The people who are buried here, whether they were settlers or natives, their energy is here," he told the crowd. "Nimham is buried in the Bronx, but his energy is here."

Kent Councilwoman Kathy Doherty praised the project, saying it was "bringing back history."

"You can't beat the view if you go up there, but I'm afraid of heights," she said. "My son's been up there twice."

Also attending yesterday was local sculptor Michael Keropian, who handed out fliers in support of his proposed 12-foot bronze statue of Chief Nimham. Keropian hopes to raise about $300,000 to pay for the artwork, which would stand near the town library.


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Monday, July 25, 2005