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Sassafras Mountain Observation Tower Now Open

SCDNR’s Emily Cope dedicating the observation tower on Earth Day. Photo by Jeff Dennis

The highest point in South Carolina can be found in Pickens County, just north of Greenville. The peak at Sassafras Mountain is 3,553-feet above sea level, and offers a spectacular view of three states, but that viewing opportunity was limited to winter when the leaves were off the trees. Now a brand new observation tower sits atop that same peak offering year-round viewing, and the grand opening on April 22 (Earth Day) included conservationists, politicians and the public masses it will welcome in the future.
The weather during the 11 a.m. ceremony was nothing short of spectacular, and the event organizers gushed about the great viewing conditions. Rain in the area two days prior, kept the normal haze that hangs over the mountains to a minimum and the high temperature of 63-degrees kept the air crisp. Barns swallows circling overhead in the clear blue skies hint that the bird life found at this peak should be comprehensive and impressive. Watching hawks float by on updrafts reveal why this is a Hawk Watch Site for the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
The observation tower actually sits right along the border of South Carolina and North Carolina, with the only mountain access road located in Pickens County. Hiking access to this place is available via the 76-mile Foothills Trail, and now the S.C. Heritage Trail connects here too. Sassafras Mountain is a part of the Appalachian Mountains and when looking towards North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway summits are visible. Mountain peaks in Toccoa, Georgia are also visible, and when peering back into S.C. one can see Lake Jocassee, Lake Keowee and Lake Hartwell.
Architect Gil Stewart designed the observation tower, but it is God’s creation that is on display here. Locals in Pickens County have long cherished this summit as a special place to visit, and recount stories about their first visits here and the grand impressions it left on them. Now the observation tower will be listed as one of the premiere tourist attractions in South Carolina, and U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan remarked that Pickens County will welcome visitors from neighboring states and all those that appreciate unique mountain vistas.
Mike Leonard came from North Carolina representing The Conservation Fund, just one of the organizations that contributed funds towards this 1.1-million dollar project. “My first visit to Sassafras Mountain was in 1976 when I came to go camping,” said Leonard. “Securing the Foothills Trail in 1999 planted the seeds for this whole area being protected now. This is a high-point destination and people that travel seek out such places, and I have visited 37 high-points in my life. It’s just as important to build a place like this that allows auto access, as it is to preserve swaths of wilderness, because it allows the greater public to interact.”
Mark Hall is with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and is the Jocassee Gorges Project Manager, which includes Sassafras Mountain. “This project took more than a year to come together, and we had to change the original design plans for the tower,” said Hall. “We now have a handicap ramp accessible tower that includes a wide viewing area at the top that can accommodate large groups like we had here today. I can identify some peaks in the distance like Devil’s Courthouse in N.C by anyone can use a smartphone app called PeakFinder to identify them all.”
The Executive Director for the SCDNR, Alvin Taylor, was the keynote speaker, and he shares that what makes South Carolina a diverse state is the beauty that runs from the coastal plain on up to this tallest mountain peak. The Harry Hampton Fund is responsible for tracking those who donated to this observation tower and board chairman J.B. Squires spoke and gave a big thank you to everyone. Duke Energy originally owned the 2-acre site atop Sassafras Mountain but sold it to S.C. so that others could enjoy this special place.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (368 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com