Table of Contents
Why is the required hiking distance so low?
Can I drive to lookout towers that can be accessed by car?
Why are not all lookout towers in western North Carolina included in the LTC?
Why is it not a requirement to climb the towers?
Why does the Little Snowball Lookout require two components?
This challenge seems easy. Is it?
Why lookout towers for a challenge program?
What is happening to the lookout towers in North Carolina?
Many lookout towers can only be accessed by short trails or roads. The maximum roundtrip hiking distance for several towers, such as Joanna Bald, Cowee Bald, and Panther Top barely exceed 1.0 mile. Road walking additional distance to achieve more mileage was not deemed to be necessary nor desirable. Nevertheless, towers with short hikes are equally worth visiting for their views and history.
For those that can be driven, reaching a lookout tower by car will not qualify for the LTC. However, many towers which are accessible by car present the opportunity for hiking shuttles. An example is hiking from the bottom to the top and driving back to the bottom. Towers where shuttles like this are possible include Rich Mountain, Mt. Noble, Wayah Bald, Camp Creek Bald, and Rendezvous Mountain.
Many other towers are restricted due to disrepair and deterioration, vandalism, private property, and communications equipment. Towers in disrepair that are rehabilitated can be added to the LTC in the future. Likewise, towers on the LTC that become restricted or fall into disrepair can be removed from the LTC.
The Club cannot assume the risk of requiring a hiker to climb the towers in order to achieve this challenge. While hikers may climb a tower, if desired, they do so at their own risk. A few of the towers have certain sections that are closed due to conditions that are not considered safe.
The Little Snowball Lookout was saved from demolition and re-erected at another location. A private citizen purchased the tower in 1980 when it was earmarked for removal. After dismantling and removal from the mountain piece by piece over the course of a year, it remained in storage for over two decades. In 2004, it was re-erected and restored by the Big Ivy Historical Society on their campus. With the tower’s pristine preservation and extensive restoration, it is the most historically complete lookout tower in North Carolina. Its now stands as one of the most successful lookout tower restoration stories in the state and an example of the importance of saving lookout towers. In addition to visiting the tower, reached by car, the LTC also requires the hike to its former location near Little Snowball Mountain. This hike exhibits a removed lookout site – a common scene all over western North Carolina and one that will become more prevalent without intervention to preserve lookouts. Nevertheless, the CMC periodically maintains the summit clearing which offers great views.
The hiking distance requirement for this challenge is predetermined by the lack of long hiking options to several towers and therefore is short in duration. However, other hikes, such as Yellow Mountain and Mt. Cammerer, require significantly greater mileage (10+ miles) than the minimum requirement. Additionally, many hikes, regardless of distance, often require an ascent of many thousand feet. Just because a hike isn’t long will not mean that it is not difficult. Mt. Sterling and Shuckstack are examples. In addition, most towers cannot be coupled into the same day because of their spatial proximity; this is contrary to SB6K, P400, and 900M challenges. Therefore, most towers will require a separate hike on a separate day and result in a longer time commitment to complete the challenge. This factor benefits the hiker with exposure to multiple regions and mountain ranges in western North Carolina.
Lookout towers offer one of the best hiking destinations. There is no better reward than a stunning, 360 degree vista after the difficult physical expenditure of reaching the summit of a high mountain. Most mountain peaks in the southern Appalachians are shrouded in trees and offer limited or no views to reward a difficult ascent. Lookout towers promise the ability to elevate above the trees to enjoy the surrounding mountain scenery – some of the most beautiful in the country. Moreover, lookout towers are historic structures, just like historic cabins, barns, churches, and mills. For nearly half a century they were used as watch posts to quickly detect forest fires that threatened our valuable wild lands. Lookout tower challenges are popular in other parts of the country – including New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.
Though on public lands, lookouts are not actively maintained by government agencies. No longer used for fire detection, they receive no sustained funding for upkeep and maintenance and subsequently suffered from neglect. The towers have succumbed to vandalism, severe weather, and deterioration. As a result, handfuls of towers across the state have been removed forever; others have had their access restricted and face imminent dismantling. The remaining towers are valued hiking destination to outdoor enthusiasts as well as important landmarks of our cultural history. Funding and volunteer effort is absolutely necessary to save the towers from future deterioration and removal. Consider joining the Forest Fire Lookout Association and donating or volunteering to a restoration project to preserve North Carolina’s lookouts.