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Historic tower’s outlook is good

October 31, 2018

Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower restoration project begins.

View from atop the historic Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower on Doe Mountain. The tower can be accessed via DMRA Trail 25. DMRA plans to construct new hiking and biking trails to access the tower in the coming months. Photo by Jill Penley

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

From atop the Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower located within Doe Mountain Recreation Area visitors can view not only miles of spectacular Tennessee mountains but even catch a glimpse of adjoining states. Unfortunately, due to disrepair caused mainly by age and elements, the historic 60-foot-tall tower has been deemed too dangerous to climb in recent months, but that is currently being remedied. Thanks to funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Doe Mountain Recreation Authority welcomed a team of experts this week to begin the rehabilitation process.

“We have been in Mountain City working all week to restore the historic Kettlefoot Fire Tower,” said David Vana, fire tower restoration expert and owner of Davana LLC, Fire Tower Restoration, of Bloomingdale, NY. “We are working to replace the roof, replace the floor, repair the window frames and restore the interior of the Observers Cabin.”

Vana explains the stair treads will also be replaced along with all safety screening on the stairs and landings. The project is expected to conclude with the painting of the entire tower.

“We are excited and looking forward to soon having a safe and refurbished tower for many future generations to visit,” said Tate Davis, DMRA Executive Director.

The tower, which dates back to 1936, was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the Tennessee Division of Forestry’s (TDF) statewide efforts to protect forestland in the state through its fire control program. While advances in technology have made towers less utilized for spotting and monitoring forest fires, the height of these massive steel structures can provide unparalleled panoramic views.

“Until the 1970s,” explained Davis, “the tower was reportedly used during the high-fire season for fire detection and was constantly manned.”

Fire Tower Restoration works to save, restore and preserve the old historic Fire Towers throughout the United States. “We also acquire Fire Towers before they are sold for scrap,” said Vana, who has worked in more than 17 states and has restored and saved more than 45 Fire Towers. “These we restore and find new homes for with public and private clients.”

Vana reports the Kettlefoot Fire Tower is in great condition overall. “The structural steel of the tower is in nearly new condition,” he said. “This is in part due to the several coats of paint and the pure air of East Tennessee’s mountains.” He explained the few parts being replaced are made to original specifications before being “hot-dipped in molten zinc” expected to extend their use 30 to 50 years.

Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower is currently accessible to OHV’s, or “off-highway vehicles, such as dirt bikes, ATVs, and UTVs on DMRA Trail 25. According to board directors, DMRA plans to construct new hiking and biking trails to access the tower in the coming months.