Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect last Thursday on the top of Wayah Bald. Not a cloud in sight, and nothing but blue skies as far as the eye could see for the official ribbon cutting for the new roof at the Wayah Bald Fire Tower. Although the remnants of the November 2016 wildfires are still evident on the charcoaled ground surrounding the tower, the new roof on the Wayah Fire Tower stands tall as a symbol of resilience and community.
“The beauty and craftsmanship of the new roof is a real testament to the community’s resilience in terms of rebuilding after the Camp Branch Wildfires,” said Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins. “From the dozens of volunteers and countless hours of work that went into rebuilding the tower, the new roof will stand as a symbol of this community and what Wayah Bald means to Macon County.”
In the fall of 2016, the Camp Branch Fire consumed the roof on the Wayah Fire Tower, as well as the nearby historic Jones Cabin. The two structures were the only structures lost in the wildfires that wreaked havoc in Macon County for months. The Camp Branch fire grew to more than 3,000 acres before it was contained in late November.
The fire tower was first constructed in 1937, but the roof was later added by the U.S. Forest Service in 1983 during a remodel process. Jeff Johnson Timber Frames volunteered his time and talents to rebuild the fire tower’s roof and constructed a beautiful timber frame roof to replace what was lost in the fire.
Johnson said the week of Thanksgiving in 2016 he left Macon County on a trip to visit his in-laws for the holiday, and while he was away, news broke of the fires taking Wayah Tower. When he returned to work Monday morning, before he was aware the tower had burned, Johnson said his staff approached him and said they wanted to volunteer their time to rebuild the structure. Johnson then started the process to make the offer to the Forest Service and begin the process.
Johnson said that his company’s cost for the project was $46,219.50; of that, roughly $12,000 was timber cost which was paid for by Williams Construction and the U.S. Forest Service. Calling the culmination of the project a “collaboration” Johnson said that several businesses and organizations made the rebuild possible. In addition to his staff, the Ruffed Grouse Society paid for the stain that was used on the timber frames and the Nantahala Hiking Club members volunteered their time to actually stain the timber frames.
Fred Jones, whose family owns the Jones Cabin property was on hand for the ribbon cutting last week and said he appreciated all the work the Forest Service did to save both the Wayah Tower and his family’s cabin. Jones said that his family is in the process of rebuilding the cabin.
In addition to the fire tower, Wilkins said that nine interpretive signs that told the history of the tower and the views looking around Macon County were also lost in the fire. The new signs have been installed and were available for viewing after the ribbon cutting.