Thru-Hiker Hopes to Save Shuckstack Fire Tower

The view from Shuckstack Tower in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can change your life, says Peter Barr. He was an inexperienced hiker when he and a friend lugged heavy packs up Shuckstack Mountain on their first backpacking trip several years ago.

“The hike up Shuckstack from Fontana Dam nearly killed us,” Barr says. “We had all the wrong gear and heavy packs. We didn’t know what we were doing. But as soon as I climbed to the top of that tower, I was hooked.”

Colorful Coordinates: The Shuckstack Fire Tower offers panoramic fall foliage vistas.

Today, Barr is an avid hiker as well as the director of the North Carolina chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association and author of Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers. And he’s made it his mission to save the view from the top of the Shuckstack Fire Tower that changed his life so many years ago.

Shuckstack, like many fire towers in the Southeast, has seen better days. The 60-foot tower was built for fire detection in 1934 and used actively until the late 1960s when detection from planes became more efficient. After decades of neglect, Shuckstack’s steel structure is rusting, its roof and floors have holes, the windows are broken, handrails are missing, and wooden steps have rotted.

“It’s in such bad shape that most people avoid climbing it for fear of their safety,” Barr says. “And every day it’s neglected, it deteriorates further.”

The National Park Service doesn’t have the funding or manpower to maintain the fire towers within its borders, and it has already removed seven of the 11 historical towers. If Shuckstack’s condition becomes a liability, the park will be forced to either restrict access or remove it altogether.

The tower sits at the top of 4,000-foot Shuckstack Mountain along the Appalachian Trail. From the deck, you can see the western portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala Mountains, the Cheoah Mountains, the Unicoi Mountains, as well as Lake Fontana and its dam.

Barr recently completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail to raise money and awareness for the tower. He raised $3,000 from his thru-hike, but ultimately needs $10,000 to begin Shuckstack’s renovation. The park service has pledged to match that donation in either funds or labor.

Check out Barr’s thru-hike journal at peterontheat.com and contribute to save Shuckstack Fire Tower.