Outdoors by Rick Brockway: Predictably cold winters, unpredictably dubious hikes

I got an e-mail from an old friend last weekend, inviting me to go for a hike up Bramley Mountain. Now as you know, I normally hike in good weather and ski in the winter, but what the heck. I thought it would be something different.

Bramley Mountain is on the south side of the West Branch of the Delaware River, between Delhi and Bloomville. It isn’t one of those Catskill peaks that tower above 3,500 feet. It’s just a mere 2817 feet, but it has some history and significance.

Back in the early 1950s, the DEC constructed a fire tower on its summit. It seems that there was a vast amount of land that the other towers couldn’t see. Twenty years later, the tower was put up for sale for $50. It was bought by the Clarks, who have a farm in the area. They dismantled it and stored it in their barn with hopes to re-erect it. Well, that never happened.

In 2008, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection purchased Bramley Mountain. They gave the Catskill Mountain Club permission to build a hiking trail to its summit. Then, a group called The Friends of Bramley Mountain Fire Tower was formed. They, along with the Catskill Mountain Club, have been working with the city, and it looks like the tower will be reconstructed on its original location. The Clarks have donated the tower back to the mountain. That’s where I came in.

I met Laurie and Tom Rankin at the foot of Glen Burnie Road on Wednesday. Because of the ice and snow, we took my four-wheel drive vehicle up to the trailhead.

It was a beautiful day for a hike. The woods are so pretty on a snowy day. The trail is what I’d consider moderate. Sure, it has a few steeper sections, but you have that when you hike in the mountains. Deer tracks were everywhere as we hiked the two miles to the summit. Tom and Laurie used trail hiking snowshoes, but I just added Micro-spikes to my boots for traction. Along the way, we would have seen beautiful views of the Catskills, but with the falling snow, visibility was limited.

When we reached the top of the mountain, the snow cleared a little, patches of blue sky appeared and the sun actually came out. Standing on a large flat, snow-covered rock, we could faintly see the mountains to the south, but it was obvious that when the 80 feet tower stands again in its rightful place, the views from above the trees will be spectacular.

The Friends of Bramley Mountain Fire Tower group has been raising money for the reconstruction. They have a contractor who will rebuild it, but they need some help. When the snow is gone and you need to get out of the house after this long pandemic, go for a hike up Bramley Mountain. The loop is about 3.6 miles, but certainly is worth the effort.

We did the trail in a counter-clockwise direction. It’s easier that way. Once leaving the summit, the trail switchbacks down through some interesting rock formations. The snow started falling once more, but it didn’t matter. After all, it’s winter. We continued through an old rock quarry and had an easy walk along an old road back to my car.

So, you ask--why bother? Over 1900 people signed in and hiked the mountain this past year. Imagine how many visitors might come to the area if they knew they could climb two fire towers, Bramley Mountain and the one on Stamford’s Mt. Utsayantha. They could stay at the motels and eat in the restaurants. After all, these small towns depend on tourism.

Wait, there might be three? The Rock *Rift Fire Tower in the town of *Tompkins, between Delhi and Walton may be re-opened in the future.

Fire towers make great hikes, and the kids love them. For more information and how to donate, go to *bramleymountainfiretower.org 

*Edited at 11:26 a.m. Jan. 22, 2021, to correct errors.

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