Work is now underway on a new observation post at South Carolina’s highest point.
Surveying work began Monday at Sassafras Mountain, according to state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Greg Lucas. He said crews have closed off access to the summit for now, but visitors can still go to an overlook deck just below the top. The agency hopes work on the $1.1 million tower will finish as soon as May, but Lucas said that requires the weather to cooperate.
“There are a lot of variables,” he said. “There can be a lot of interesting weather on the highest point in South Carolina.”
The 15-foot-tall platform will be handicapped accessible and offer a complete panorama view atop the mountainous border with North Carolina. It was funded partially by Duke Energy and private donations. However, DNR’s original $770,000 budget had to be increased after project manager Tom Swayngham said initial bids for the project came in much higher. The agency set aside additional funding through its Heritage Trust program, which comes from documentary stamp fees on real estate in South Carolina.
A construction superintendent will be staying on site at the top of Sassafras until the project is complete. Hikers on the Foothills Trail, which crosses the summit, will be detoured along another route during construction work.
Sassafras Mountain is located in a protected area along the North Carolina border just northeast of the Rocky Bottom community. It is remote by South Carolina standards, only accessible by a five-mile road which briefly crosses into North Carolina. The summit is about a 45-minute drive from the town of Pickens.
The site only recently became accessible to visitors. DNR bought much of the mountain from Duke Energy in 2004, but the actual highest point in South Carolina was nothing notable because trees blocked any potential view. Six years later, former North Carolina U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor donated nearly five acres on the summit where the tower will be built. DNR cleared trees from the mountaintop the next year, allowing visitors a view for the first time.