Towers of Power

My second week in the Smokies took me places that I had read about in the weeks prior to my arrival at the park, the first was Clingmans Dome Tower and the second site was the Look Rock Tower. I also learned a bit more about the NRHP (National Register of Historic Places) nomination process and was introduced to a second project that will be keeping me busy.

Trail to Clingman's Dome

Trail to Clingman’s Dome

Clingmans Dome Tower is a significant site because it sits on the highest peak in the Smokies and it was built as part of the National Park’s Mission 66’ program; a 10 year initiative to improve visitor services in the parks as a result of the post war boom in park tourism. I was scoping out the site with a group that was tasked with planning a volunteer event that would happen on Father’s Day. Our site visit was lead by Imelda Wegworth, the park’s landscape architect, and Dianne Flaugh, the park’s cultural resources manager, who explained the significance of the site and the issues that the a restoration project is planning to remediate. Currently the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is campaigning for funds through the Vote Your Park competition put on by Partners In Preservation in order to make repairs on the Clingmans Dome Tower. For me it was especially interesting to see the observation tower that inspired the Look Rock Tower which is the historic structure for which I will be preparing an NRHP.
Appalachian Trail junction on the trail to Clingman's Dome

Appalachian Trail junction on the trail to Clingman’s Dome

That morning we left the sunny parking lot of the park headquarters around 8am and arrived an hour later to a cloudy parking lot at the bottom of the path that leads up to Clingman’s Dome. The tower sits at highest point in the Smokies (6,643 ft above sea level) on Clingman’s Dome Mountain which is known for having very unpredictable weather. We hiked half mile up an incline to the tower plaza and watched as clouds rolled in and blocked out our view. We didn’t let this deter us and we continued to the top of the tower, traversing the concrete ramp which makes a spiral ascent up to the circular observation deck of the tower. On a clear day from the observation deck you can glance out and get a 360 degrees view, high above the trees and see the many different ridges and valleys sometimes called Appalachian Coves that exist in the Smokies.   After lunch that day, Dianne and I had a meeting at the Historic Preservation Workshop with Randy Hattem the program manager for historic structures and preservation. I was asked to create elevation drawings of the historic park headquarters building, complete with a window schedule. The drawings are needed in anticipation of a window upgrade that will replace the existing storm windows with new historically appropriate windows that will provide greater insulation value. Randy laid out a set of copies made from old blueprints and asked me if I understood them. “Yes Sir” I said as I am a total nerd when it comes to looking at old plans! I love seeing drawings of old buildings, especially those drawn by hand before the days of computer assisted drafting. I did admit to Randy that I had limited experience in doing detail drawings but I felt confident that I could produce elevation drawings keyed with window locations and dimensions. To which he happily responded, “Great! We will finally be able to get this project started!”
Spiral Stairs at Look Rock Tower

Spiral Stairs at Look Rock Tower

The next day Dianne and I drove out on the foothills parkway to Look Rock Observation Tower and met up with Lindsay Lanois, the Historic Preservation & Housing Planner with the East Tennessee Development District. She offered us guidance on the N.R.H.P. nomination and had intimate knowledge of the process. Lindsay is a local to the area and she was happy to share her memories of going to Look Rock Observation Tower, including stories about going there as a child with her father to gaze over the Smokies and later in her formative years, going to Look Rock with her high school friends to escape and take in the fresh air. In addition to being a great vista point, the observation tower serves as a communication tower and air quality monitoring station for the local community. Like Clingman’s Dome Tower, it too is a Mission 66’ era project built in reinforced  concrete with aluminum detailing. Lindsay told us that on a clear day you can see the Knoxville Sunsphere in the distance. During our visit the view was mostly clear and we could definitely see the city of Maryville and parts of Knoxville to the north. In the south we saw the rising mountain ranges of the Smokies which stretched out as far as the eye could see.
Rocks at Look Rock

Rocks at Look Rock

Week 2 left me feeling excited about the challenge that the coming weeks will present, I have been tasked with completing two projects in a tight time frame (heading into week 3 of 9.5 week internship) and I am eager to get to work! The experience of seeing Smokies from the spectacular views of the two observation towers have left a lasting impression on me and I’m excited to be composing the NRHP nomination. I now understand why over the years park goers have come to love these iconic structures which were once controversial because of their modern aesthetic. I am also ecstatic to be making drawings of the historic Park Headquarters where I report to work each day. My hope is that I can contribute to keeping this building in working order for another century of park operations here in the Smokies.  

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