Perhaps it’s because I am short in stature, but being able to peer over a vast area from a high perch is always an experience I relish. So when we passed the Rich Mountain Fire Tower on our way to Queen Wilhelmina State Park a few weeks ago, I got a little giddy.
On our way back, Kurt asked, “You don’t mind if we stop at the fire tower, do you?”
“Of course not! Let’s check it out!”
Located just off Highway 88, also known as the Talimena Scenic Drive, the Rich Mountain Fire Tower is open for visitors on weekends from Memorial Day to Veterans Day, weather permitting.
It was very cloudy the day we visited and a storm was headed out way, but the attendant allowed entry because there had been no sign of lightning.
So up the sixty five foot tower we trekked. It seemed fairly sturdy, in spite of the fact that it was built more than sixty years ago, when a fire tower was the primary means of locating forest fires throughout the United States.
In the 1940’s a lookout ranger was hired to stay in this perch, scoping the area for fires. Since his job kept him tied to the tower practically twenty four hours a day, his family would live in whatever dwelling was provided on site. When the ranger spotted a fire, he would immediately go help extinguish it, while his wife took over the lookout duties. It was a two for one deal for the U.S. Forest Service!
The lookout office was locked, preventing visitors from entry.
I guess they didn’t appreciate the hopscotch graffiti.
I was a little leery of the railing, but Kurt put it to the test by confidently rested his weight on it for the pic. I’m glad it passed!
On a clear day the view at 2,681 feet, is one of the most spectacular in the Ouachita National Forest! In spite of the clouds, we still stood there in awe for several moments.
The lookout tower was definitely showing its age, but it was proudly standing tall, one of three remaining fire towers in the area. By the 1980’s, aerial fire detection was much more efficient. This led to the decommission of the more than 4,000 fire towers that were built around the nation. Due to lack of upkeep, most of them have been disassembled. I’d say that Arkansas is pretty fortunate to have this historical relic to explore….for Free!
Making it down safely, we thanked the attendant, a volunteer, for his time. This rusty, worn structure had been an interesting detour. It would be a great place to revisit in the fall, when the trees of the Ouachitas come to life with vivid colors! I might just have to mark that on the calendar!