Archived Story

Smith Mountain Fire Tower set to open

Published 10:53am Monday, June 11, 2012

A week from today, the Smith Mountain Fire Tower near Dadeville will open to the public.

It’s an exciting time for Jimmy K. Lanier, who’s headed this project, and the scores of people who have worked together to “bring back” one of the most beautiful landmarks in Tallapoosa County.

To mountain folks, Smith Mountain would be a “hill.”

But in the rolling hills of Tallapoosa County, Smith Mountain is definitely a “mountain.”  It rises about 780 feet from Lake Martin and the surrounding landscape in a sharp cone shape, the way a child would draw a mountain.

Just for the record, the shortest international definition of a mountain I could find is 300 meters, or about 984 feet. According to Wikipedia, there are other big hills that bear the “mountain” designation. Mount Scott near Lawton, Oklahoma is only 832 feet tall, for example.

The stones and dirt of Smith Mountain may be shorter  than Mount Scott, but when you add in the newly restored fire tower, that 80 extra feet will put climbers several stories higher than Mount Scott. It’s still about a 100 feet shy of real “mountain” status, but it’s certainly not the smallest mountain in the country.

As one who has spent lots of time on top of the Smith Mountain Fire Tower, I can tell you with no reservations that it feels 100 percent like you’re on top of a mountain when you reach the cab.

You’re way, way up in the air.

Boats traveling on Lake Martin are tiny. Skiers behind boats are hard to see at all until they make a turn and kick up some spray.

Most of the time when I climb the tower’s 97 steps, I have to keep my head down, watching my feet. If it look forward, I’ll reach a point about half way up when my knees get a little shaky and my stomach fets a bit queasy. About half the time I climb up, I’ll find myself resting a couple of landings from the top. The climb does take your breath away, but honestly, I’m resting my mind – getting used to the altitude and working on slowly releasing a white-knuckle grip on the railings – more than I’m resting my legs.

By the time I get to the top, the views are thrilling and the butterfly wings brushing the inside of my stomach just add to the excitement. So does the almost constant breeze.

Because of the fire tower’s location on Blue Creek, and beside the main channel of the Tallapoosa River in Lake Martin, water is visible in three of the four compass points. Jimmy Lanier corrected me when I wrote that visitors could see water out of three sides of the cab. In fact, water is visible from all four sides of the cab, but it only wraps about three-fourths around the compass.

It doesn’t make much difference – because the views are just spectacular.

Smith Mountain is one of the highest points in Tallapoosa County. I fact, I seem to remember it’s the second highest point after Hog Mountain. You can clearly see across the lake into Coosa County, and if you to the north, I think the high point way out in the distance is Cheaha mountain, which by the way, is 2,413 feet tall.

Sunrises and sunsets, especially on a cool day when there’s mist on the water, are literally breathtaking.

The Smith Mountain Fire Tower is going to be accessible by the public free of charge. It’s not going to be manned; people can go up when they please. Normally that would worry me, but Jimmy Lanier and the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association that will manage the new public park made a good decision to block the road to the top from motorized traffic. Instead, visitors will have a half-mile hike up, with a chest-pumping 780-foot gain in altitude ahead of them before they can continue up the 80-foot fire tower.

Personally, I think that will help solve a lot of problems while making the tower and surrounding land a wonderful public park for people who want to enjoy nature, get some exercise and see one of the most beautiful views in our area.

I’m looking forward to hiking up next weekend.

And I hope to see you up there.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.