State agencies working to restore lookout towers
The towers at state parks have become tourist attractions.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Fire lookout towers once dotted state-owned forests and parks, soaring above treetops and providing rangers with unimpeded views of the landscape.
Today most are long gone in Ohio -- made obsolete by telephones, aerial surveillance and satellite technology. Only eight state-owned towers are left -- seven in state forests -- with the others sold to private property owners or dismantled in the 1970s and turned into scrap metal.
Now the state Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Forest Fire Lookout Association are trying to preserve and restore the remaining structures.
"These are local landmarks, and we would have hated to see them all go down," said Bob Boyles, a district manager with the department's Division of Forestry. "We felt strongly that the towers are historic and are worth saving."
Three already have been restored: the 80-foot tower in the Mohican-Memorial State Forest in Ashland County and two in Ross County, the 73-foot Brush Ridge tower in Tar Hollow State Forest and the 60-foot tower in Scioto Trail State Forest.
The state forestry division also plans to refurbish the 60-foot Copperhead Tower at Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County, the state's oldest lookout tower; as well as towers in the Hocking, Zaleski and Blue Rock state forests in central and southeastern Ohio. The other state-owned structure is in the Muskingum Watershed in Tuscarawas County.
From 1924 to 1978, the state built and operated 45 towers. Rangers would climb the steps at least once a day to search for any sign of a fire. Planes replaced the towers and in turn were replaced by radios and cell phones.
"With cell phones and radios and modern communication, someone spots a fire pretty darn quickly and calls it in," Boyles said. "To try and do it the old way would be crazy."
Besides being an important link to history, the towers are tourist attractions, said Andy Penfield, a member of the state Lookout Association, which documents the tower sites and their history.