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September 01, 2012   Email to Friend 

A Towering View Of Lake Martin
Mary Johnson

From left: William Clark and Thomas Shepard of Havana, Fla.,, visit with CRATA’s Jimmy K. Lanier and Mike Wilson in the cabin of the Smith Mountain Fire Tower. Clark and Shepard vacation at Lake Martin each year and brought their families on “a hiking adventure” to visit the tower.
Ninety-seven winding and turning steps climb 80 feet up toward the cabin of the Smith Mountain Fire Tower. Those brave enough to endure the climb are rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Martin and its surrounding forests and rocky cliffs.

“I told the kids we’re going on an adventure today, so get out of bed and let’s go,” Leigh Clark said on a recent visit to the newly renovated tower. Clark, along with her husband, William, and their daughter, travel from Havana, Fla., to vacation at the lake each year with their friends Thomas and Wendy Shepard and their three children.

The fire tower and the associated one-mile hiking trail are the newest additions to the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association (CRATA) and are open to the public. For the past three years, CRATA worked to acquire and restore this piece of Alabama history.

Originally built in 1939, the tower was part of Alabama’s fire management system. The Alabama Forestry Commission purchased the property from Alabama Power Co. for $5 that year. Forest rangers kept watch from the tower, spotting smoke and potential forest fires, until it was decommissioned in 1980.

Since then, the tower sat empty. The lowest three levels of stairs were removed to keep trespassers away.

In 2006, the Alabama Power Co. bought back the land for $10, and the following year, the tower was damaged by a forest fire. The integrity of the structure remained intact, but the lowest levels of the tower were discolored with a few bowed metal pieces.

The idea to restore the tower came from CRATA Treasurer and former President Jimmy K. Lanier of Eclectic. He headed up the effort to obtain the land for the cost of $1. (The Alabama Power Co. later returned the dollar.)

After more than 18 months of collecting donations, replacing steps, reinforcing braces and ensuring the overall safety of the structure, the Smith Mountain Fire Tower opened for visitors in June.

With volunteers from CRATA and the Dadeville Methodist Men’s Group, in-kind donations and reusing pieces of the tower, the renovation came in under budget. CRATA volunteer Mike Wilson of Tallassee overcame a fear of heights while working on the tower as he and Lanier replaced the roof and floor of the cabin.

“I enjoyed (volunteering) because I can see my accomplishments, and that really brings me satisfaction,” Wilson said.

Lanier and volunteers will stay busy atop Smith Mountain as CRATA also plans to rebuild the original forestry office, which was dismantled when the site was decommissioned. The goal is to turn the office into a museum, housing items from the tower that include a piece of burnt metal from the Smith Mountain fire and the $1 returned by the power company.

The property may have never fetched a large price on the real estate market, but the hiking and viewing experiences afforded by the Smith Mountain Fire Tower are priceless.

The trailhead for the Smith Mountain hiking trail is accessible from Tower Road off Smith Mountain Drive near Dadeville.


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