Cumberland fire tower restorations underway

Tower was initially constructed in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

By Samantha Swindler / Managing Editor

The tower that helped protect the Cumberland Falls area from fire for decades is being renovated and restored, Cumberland Falls State Park Manager Lisa Davis said.

“In most of the national forests, the fire towers played a very critical role in preserving that national forest land,” Davis said. “Over the years they have, across the nation, been done away with, with more advanced technology.

“Our desire is to preserve this one as part of our history,” Davis said, “and for an added feature for our guests that will enhance their total experience.”

The Cumberland Falls tower is located just off Hwy. 90, and can be seen from the road in the winter when the trees are bare. Heading to Corbin, it’s located down the first dirt road on the right past the park. Though the road itself is closed, visitors can hike about a mile and view the tower.

Bret Smitley, coordinator for the project at Cumberland Falls, said steelwork renovated at the tower is complete. The renovations seek to restore the tower and its cabin as historically accurate as possible.

“The division of forestry used them for many years,” said Dwayne Whitlock, district ranger. “They had people sit up in the tower during fire hazard seasons, normally starting at 12 to 1 p.m. in the afternoon, and they would spot smoke from those towers.”

Whitlock said fire towers were still used by the state in the 1970s, when he began working in forestry. Most fire towers ranged from 60-100 feet in height.

“They had what was called an alidade, which would give you a degree reading, and they would estimate how far the smoke was,” he said.

Smitley said the Cumberland Falls fire tower was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s fitting, then, that restoration is taking place the same year that the falls is hosting the national CCC reunion Sept. 28-30.

President Franklin Roosevelt established the CCC work relief program in 1933 to combat poverty and unemployment. The young men who made up the CCC constructed buildings and trails at local, state and federal parks, worked on conservation and flood control projects, planted trees and fought forest fires.

Work on the tower won’t be finished in time for the reunion, though Davis said they hoped to be finished by the end of the year, barring any unforeseen delays. Davis said visitors will be allowed to tour the top of the cabin when work is complete.