JACKSON’S GAP, Ala. (WSFA) - Before the creation of the Lake Martin Dam, much of the forest surrounding the lake was cleared away due to poor agricultural efforts. That left the land a victim of erosion. Step in the Alabama Power Company, who made great strides in saving the shoreline by building the Smith Mountain Fire Tower.
“[The tower] was built in 1939 by Alabama Power Company," said Jimmy Lanier, who is the founder of the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail system. "They planted millions of trees around the lake, and they didn’t want them to burn, so they had a strict fire program to protect all the trees that would protect the lake from erosion.”
At the time, the Smith Mountain tower was just one of the many towers tasked with keeping Lake Martin fire-free.
“I think this was one of four towers in the county," said Lanier. "They manned these towers until 1980, and then they started doing aerial surveillance with airplanes, and this just fell into disrepair. They just left it like it was.”
After sitting for a few decades, Jimmy decided it was too good to let crumble. The tower was handed over to the Department of Forestry in 2010.
“Alabama Power Company deeded it to our trail association, and we restored it. It’s ten times safer than it ever was when it was used," said Lanier.
Every metal railing, flight of stairs, and observation platform was replaced, and visitors can tell. Once you make it up all 111 steps, the views are truly breath-taking.
“You actually have lake views on all four sides," said Lanier. "Smith Mountain is the highest elevation on Lake Martin. There’s just not any other mountain this far south in central Alabama that’s quite like this.”
Now, before you make the trip to the top of the tower, you do have to hike, and it’s no walk in the park. But, the lush foliage and jagged mountainside attract hikers of all sorts ready to check out those sweeping views.
“We do have people who are rock-climbers. We also have trails that go out along the lake shore and we have the Island Hop Trail.”
These are just a few of the many things you can do while exploring Smith Mountain, which is only one of trails in the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail system.
We’ll learn more about CRATA next week on Hiking with Hailey.