Ohio is home to restored wildfire watchtowers
I am again spending a few weeks in Nevada and recently spotted an article in the local newspaper about the last manned wildfire watchtower in the state.
It is located on federal land about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas and offers a mountain-top view of 1 million acres of forests in Utah and Nevada. On a clear day, even California is in sight.
John Dubovick, 68, calls the Ella Mountain tower home most days between May and September. He eats and sleeps there for a wage of $15 per hour. Duty hours are sunrise to sunset.
Dubovick runs a low-tech operation. He uses binoculars and a primitive mapping device called an Osborne Fire Finder to pinpoint distant plumes of smoke. He then radios their locations to dispatchers in Ely, Nevada – about 150 miles away. In an average season, he reports 50 to 100 wildfires.
The federal Bureau of Land Management has no plans to replace the manned operation on Ella Mountain with remote-controlled surveillance cameras. The agency said human observation is more reliable in spotting blazes.
Ohio once staffed 39 similar wildfire watchtowers in state forests and elsewhere. The Copperhead Tower in Shawnee State Forest, built in 1924, was the first to go up.
Most towers were constructed in the 1920s and 30s and played an essential role in the state's reforestation efforts. But modern communications made human sentinels obsolete. The towers became too costly to operate and the state discontinued their use in 1978. All eventually fell into disrepair or were demolished.
State forester Bob Boyles was instrumental in bringing seven aging towers back to life in recent years.
Visitors can now admire their significance to Ohio's conservation history from the ground. Or, folks may climb the stairs of these restored structures for spectacular views of surrounding woodlands.
"People love them," Boyles said.
The upcoming fall "leaf peeping" season would be a good time to visit. Restored wildfire watchtowers can be found in the following Ohio state forests:
* Zaleski, built in 1929 – 60 feet high
* Blue Rock, built 1937 – 100 feet high
* Hocking, built in 1934 – 80 feet high
* Scioto Trail, built in 1925 – 60 feet high
* Shawnee, built in 1924 – unknown height
* Mohican, built in 1934 – 80 feet high
* Tar Hollow, built in 1933 – 73 feet high
Note: watchtower cabs are generally locked and off limits to the public.