South Carolina’s highest point will soon get an observation tower, the state Department of Natural Resources announced this week. DNR says a former North Carolina congressman has donated about 4.8 acres of land on Sassafras Mountain, which will allow the agency to build the tower at the mountain’s summit.
Sassafras Mountain is situated on the North Carolina border in northern Pickens County. For years, its privately-owned summit was only accessible by an old road or by hiking the Foothills Trail. Even then, the top was heavily forested and there was little in the way of clues that would alert hikers they were standing near South Carolina’s highest point.
“Almost every child that went to school in South Carolina learned about Sassafras Mountain being the highest point in the state, but not many have been there,” said DNR’s wildlife coordinator Tom Swaynham, “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”
Swaynham said South Carolina bought much of the land from Duke Energy in 2004. Six years later, former Congressman Charles Taylor agreed to sell land he owned on the North Carolina side, which includes the 4.8 acre tract on Sassafras’s slope. Taylor sold the parcel at a reduced rate to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, which then donated it to DNR through the Conservation Fund organization.
Swaynham said that acquisition, which is not yet finalized, would means DNR now has enough room to build a 60-foot tower at the summit. “Now we are able to do whatever we think best to create a nice place on top of the mountain.”
It’s the latest (and most ambitious) step in DNR’s plan to make the site more accessible. In 2010, DNR built a small observation deck looking towards South Carolina. Pickens County also paved the road which leads to the summit. The hiking organization High Pointers Club erected a small plaque at Sassafras’s highest point last week.
DNR is hoping to build the tower through donations. Early estimates are that it will cost roughly $500,000, Swaynham said. Officials hope to start work in the next two years.
Clemson University architectural professor Dan Harding drew early conceptual plans for the new site. Along with the tower, the plans include new restrooms, a picnic area, and additional observation decks.