The job of public interpreter (or summit steward) is to assist the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation in educating, monitoring, and managing public recreational use of Forest Preserve and conservation easement lands so as to protect and preserve the area’s natural resources. Interpreters jobs include managing the access trail, fire tower and related facilities, and surrounding Forest Preserve lands. An interpreter also assists the tower friends committee in their stewardship mission.​

The official role of NYS fire towers as sites of active public education began nearly a century ago. In the wake of widespread, devastating forest fires in 1903 and 1908, the fifty or so towers that were hastily erected to form a network covering the Adirondack region, as well as the observers they employed, at first had only one primary, practical purpose: the accurate spotting and efficient suppression of fires. But the automobile soon brought a growing flood of recreational tourists for whom fire towers were attractive hiking destinations. By 1915 the Conservation Commission began replacing wood towers with prefabricated steel structures retrofitting with stairs to accommodate recreational visitors, and Commissioner George Pratt launched a statewide campaign of public education in fire prevention, in which the tower observers performed an essential role in conservation education. 
Many changes over the last forty years now call for an expanded, clarified definition of this original educational purpose. These include growing recreational pressures and attendant management needs on public lands; the problematic legal justification for retaining fire towers in the Adirondack Park; and perhaps most compelling, the justification for allocating NYS funding to support a renewed, expanded program of public education at fire towers.

In 2006 that as the DEC developed more coherent and consistent policies in its Comprehensive Fire Tower Plan, the department would not only strongly encourage active public education at fire towers, but it would adopt standards of some kind for education, particularly if its practitioners are employees who receive NYS funding. The only existing model was SUNY-Potsdam’s curriculum, developed over six years in cooperation with the DEC, to prepare its Environmental Studies students to serve as summit guides at fire towers. The aim was NOT to ensure that Potsdam College students would be the only eligible candidates for employment; rather, it was to provide an example of eligibility standards that would justify a provision in the Plan to allocate NYS funding to support employment for summit guides.

* Written by Michael Wilson
David Landers