Towering new tourist attractionPublished 11:41am Friday, November 9, 2012
Two hundred people who donated money or materials or sweat to restore the Smith Mountain Fire Tower on Lake Martin gathered around the base of the tower Thursday for a re-dedication ceremony.
The shining restored tower, mat-galvanized silver with wooden steps and landings, sported a new flagpole mounted to a corner of the cab and the Stars and Stripes fluttered in the breeze during the ceremony on a picture-perfect fall day.
Attendance was by invitation only for those who contributed to the restoration. The Dadeville Kiwanis Club, which provided lunch when the original tower was dedicated in 1939, repeated the favor in 2012. Members of the Dadeville Methodist Men group cooked a lunch of fried catfish, hushpuppies, fries and slaw on the top of the mountain. People enjoyed their lunch standing or sitting on the numerous rocks that jut from the summit.
Jerry Bynum, who was the host of the ceremony and addressed the crowd from the first landing of the tower, wore three shirts representing some of the volunteers who helped with the tower project – Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association, Lake Martin Resource Association, the Dadeville Methodist Men – and stripped them off one at a time to call attention to each group.
Bynum said the effort to restore the Smith Mountain Fire Tower started with a comment from Rep. Mark Tuggle.
“This tower was a ruin,” Bynum said. “He had a vision.”
Tuggle, who worked as a timber manager for Alabama Power Company before he was elected, mentioned to CRATA founder Jimmy K. Lanier that he ought to think about putting in hiking trails in the Smith Mountain area and ask about the power company’s plans for the old decommissioned fire tower.
“Within a week, he had a deal on the tower,” Tuggle told the crowd.
Lanier spearheaded the plan to restore the tower and turn the property into a public attraction managed by CRATA. Alabama Power deeded the tower and land surrounding it to CRATA in early 2011, and about 50 people worked on the project. Roughly 325 people donated around $51,000 to restore the Smith Mountain Fire Tower, which took more than a year.
The restored tower was opened to the public on June 16. Although some contributors got a special ride to the top Thursday, visitors must hike up the half-mile trail from the parking area to the tower before they can climb up the 111 tower steps to the cab. The view from the cab, 80 feet above the top of Smith Mountain, is nothing short of spectacular and offers views of Lake Martin on three sides.
Thomas St. John and Billy Edge from Alabama Power Company both spoke at the ceremony, saying that the Power Company appreciates its relationship with the people who live and work around Lake Martin.
“I’ve got to tell you it’s beautiful to see the view,” St. John said, applauding the fact that the tower has been preserved so that future generations will be able to enjoy it now.
Kenneth Boone, president of Tallapoosa Publishers, said Smith Mountain has a special place in the hearts of many residents.
“Many people got their first kiss up here,” Boone said.
He said the restored tower will bring new dollars and new visitors to the Lake Martin area, and after they climb the tower and see the view, they will have a warm place in their hearts for Smith Mountain, too.
Lanier said told the crowd that it was a pleasure to work on the restoration project and with the people who made it possible.
“I can’t think of a better place to be than Smith Mountain,” Lanier said. “It’s so beautiful here. It’s a wonderful place to be.”
He mentioned that Mike Wilson, a volunteer who worked “almost every day,” was scared of heights before the restoration project began, but the effort cured him as he help rebuild the tower.
Bill Brown presented Lanier with a photo of the Smith Mountain Fire Tower as a tribute to his efforts to create the new park.
Metal plaques bearing the names of all who contributed to the tower restoration have been installed at the base of the fire tower.
The tower, which is surrounded by a beautiful native longleaf pine forest, is open to the public sunrise to sunset seven days a week. CRATA is now working on developing new hiking trails around Smith Mountain and hopes to construct a museum on the site in the future.