Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Sky High Wonders

Posted April 21, 2008

What was your favorite lookout as a child? Maybe it was a tree house or a window in the attic? Maybe it was a secret spot on the roof of a barn. Please discuss.

It’s a young boy’s dream: climbing a mountain and then climbing a tower on that mountain to get the best view of all! As a Burke County native I can certainly identify with the passion of Peter J. Barr. The UNC graduate has written a fascinating book on lookout towers vanishing across the mountain landscape.

In his book "Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers" Peter explains that fire lookout towers are “a dying breed.” Many have been abandoned and others “have fallen victim to vandalism and neglect.” These towers were once used by the US Forest Service to spot fires but aerial surveillance has made them obsolete. Peter Barr chronicles 26 of what he calls “scenic treasures” in his book. But this is as much a rescue mission as a historical project.

Peter Barr is spearheading a drive to save aging lookout towers. He serves as director of the North Carolina chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association. The group is raising funds to save and restore the deteriorating structures. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.

Peter says the “single best reason to hike a lookout tower is to marvel at its breathtaking 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding mountain landscape.” It’s hard to argue with that.


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  • prmoose Apr 22, 2008

    Burke Buddy, .... I'm old school when it comes to lookout towers. Yes, I, like you, have climbed the observation tower at Mt. Mitchell, you know the old rock tower before they put concrete supports around it. Although Table Rock provided a great view and rank high on my list, head toward Mitchell on the BRP and see if Green Knob Tower, perched under Mt. Mitchell, doesn't inspire you too.

  • teacher_96 Apr 21, 2008

    When I was little, I used to go to the creek that ran behind our neighborhood and climb up on a HUGE boulder that jutted out into the creek. It was beautiful and quite peaceful there. Funny back then I never worried about snakes or spiders. Now, I'd be scared of biting things out there!

  • bleslie Apr 21, 2008

    Clingmans Dome is a wonderful spot with a great observation tower! Elevation: 6,643!

  • Gerbil Herder Apr 21, 2008

    I think Clingman's Dome...anyone ever been there?

  • no more - no less Apr 21, 2008

    When I was growing up I would climb the wax myrtle trees in our yard and watch the mama bird and the baby birds in their nests in the branches.

  • bleslie Apr 21, 2008

    Thanks, Legs, for the compliment on my tie! I'll try to be sunny this week!

  • 2thebeach Apr 21, 2008

    Cape Hatteras lighthouse. We lived at Morehead during the summer when I was growing up and there was always folks coming down wanting to see the outerbanks and the lighthouses. I climbed that lighthouse too many times to count during those youthful summers. Nowadays though, when I climb up all those steps, I'm not sure if it is the beautiful view or the climb that takes my breath away!

  • thefensk Apr 21, 2008

    My next door neighbor in Houston had a tall cottonwood tree in his backyard. As ten year olds we would fearlessly climb to very high sections of that tree and look all around. Even just a couple of years later I would look up at that tree and wonder, how the heck did I climb up there?

  • blytle Apr 21, 2008

    When I was a little girl growing up in Raleigh, there was a man, Mr. Tillman, who lived one house over who was a Forest Service Fire Ranger (for lack of a better term). There was a fire tower in Wake County named after him: Tillman Tower.

  • Legswilson Apr 21, 2008

    Good morning Bill! I loved your "sunny" tie today... very sharp! The only lookout "perch" I remember as a child was the upper part of my grandfather's barn. They used the lower level to store sheets of dry tobacco. Actually, I think they called it a "pack house" and not a barn. Anyway, the upper loft area had hay (and meeces)and I loved to look out over the farm from that vantage point. Also, I was a tomboy and would challenge any tall tree with suitable limbs for climbing.

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