April 27, 2019
Many fire towers were built as recovery efforts during the Great Depression. At a time of hunger and desperation, the government developed work relief programs, enabling unemployed men the ability to earn a living. The results were some of the 20th century’s greatest engineering feats.
Fire towers defy logic. Brut, manmade strength places steel structure in the middle of the woods, miles from any roads. It’s awe-inspiring to hike a mountain and then to literally rise into the sky.
Shuckstack Tower was built by the Public Works Administration in 1934. It was utilized by the National Park Service for fire detection until the 1960’s.
The hike to the tower starts at Fontana Lake and it is a steep climb. On this day, I encountered a lot of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. A jovial bunch, even though were getting winded at the 2,100 ft. climb over 3.5 miles. The change in vegetation is stark as you work your way up the first unnamed ridge. The tower is located via a short blue-blazed trail and it is over 60 feet tall. I was very nervous walking to the top, as railings are missing, there is no protective fencing and the cab is in very bad shape as the plywood is already deteriorating.
The views from the summit are jaw-dropping. To the south you can see the Yellow Creek Mountain area, Fontana Lake and Joyce Kilmer and to the north the spine of the Smoky’s looms above.
Total mileage is 7 miles.