The Civilian Conservation Corps work relief program offered millions of jobs on environmental projects during the Great Depression and was among Roosevelt’s most successful New Deal programs. The CCC planted more than three billion trees and constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 parks nationwide and helped shape today’s national and state park systems.
One of two stone lookout towers built by the CCC in Alabama is on Flagg Mountain located in the Weogufka State Forest in Coosa County. The stair to the historic Flagg Mountain Tower is undergoing restoration and a near half-mile accessible approach trail to the tower designed by Macknally Land Design was recently constructed. An Alabama Trails Foundation project in partnership with the Alabama Forestry Commission.
Once the tower restoration is complete, visitors will again be able to climb the stairs to the cab, or top viewing enclosure, for panoramic views of the Talladega National Forest and Coosa River Valley. The tower area is closed until renovation is complete this year.
The intent of the approach trail design was to create a gentle trek from the trailhead to the tower, explains Lea Ann Macknally of Macknally Land Design. The layout of the trail was planned initially with available grades to determine length necessary to achieve accessibility compliance. Macknally worked closely with the contractor, Landscape Services, to field layout the trail to meet desired viewing areas and work around boulder outcroppings. Site fieldstone was used to armor turns and to create a ‘baffle’ edge to the trail to minimize visual impact of the paved surface from the tower. The trail was laid out to preserve existing trees and site vegetation such as native blueberry masses.
“Material for the accessible trail was highly vetted and integral color concrete with an Alabama ochre stain was determined to be the most suitable for the location and intent, considering consistent surfacing for accessibility, durability for minimal maintenance, and forest management activities, such as prescribed burns,” adds Macnally.
The trail head parking area was designed to work with the grade to minimize earthwork, she said, to preserve existing vegetation and create a low-impact amenity for visitors to the Pinhoti Trail and Flagg Mountain.
“We didn’t plant any vegetation along the trail, other than a native seed mix that Lea Ann prescribed for the disturbed areas,” explains Cindy Ragland, executive director of the Alabama Trails Foundation Inc. “The Foundation, along with the Alabama Forestry Commission, felt strongly that the trail should feature the native vegetation.”
The location of the tower is significant in that it is situated atop the southernmost peak at over 1,000 feet elevation in the Appalachian Mountains, observes Will McGarity, project architect of the tower stair restoration, a project he began while employed with ArchitectureWorks. Though he is now founder and principal of Stick Architecture, he remains in the role of project architect as a contract worker for ArchitectureWorks while the project is completed.
The tower is historically and architecturally significant. Materials for its construction, specifically the stone, seems to have come from or near the site of the tower, McGarity says. The stone for the tower is 4-feet thick at the base and steps up to 16-inch thick at the top.
“Though built mostly by hand, the tower remains roughly 1/16 inch out of square at its base,” notes McGarity. “Which is an impressive tolerance for this type of construction. This was built by a builder who knew how to build and build well.”
The scope includes removing the existing stick-built staircase and replacing it with glue-laminated timber stair, replacing and repairing windows and doors, and other interior and exterior work . Once complete, the tower will be the starting and southernmost point of the Pinhoti Trail.
McGarity says the trail to the tower meanders up the hillside to provide an accessible slope, but it also affords many vistas to the valleys beyond. It is a little over 1/3 of a mile walk from the parking area to the tower base.
“The tower is ‘unveiled’ slowly as you walk up the trail,” McGarity explains. “Catching glimpses of it along the walk and then unveiling itself fully as you crest the top of the hill. The path and parking lot provide a more organized approach to the tower. Vehicular traffic near the tower is limited to maintenance vehicles only.”
One of the state’s oldest longleaf pines is living near the tower, adds Ragland. The plan is to take the seeds and seedlings from that original genetic stock to reestablish longleaf in areas to use as parking barriers and along the trail.
Mountain Longleaf Pine is an important ecosystem. Longleaf pine once extended over a vast area in the Southeast, but only in Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia did forests extend beyond the Coastal Plain, through the Piedmont and into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The most damaging impact has been from the curtailment of fire. Without fire, longleaf pine seedlings fail to regenerate, hardwoods encroach on the forest, and the land is eventually transformed into an upland deciduous forest. A prescribed fire was recently executed in the Flagg Mountain area.
Vistas make the new trail particularly inviting, and Ragland notes that Flagg Mountain is between the Coosa and Tallapoosa valleys. “In particular, on the Tallapoosa side, the switchbacks of the trails are located so that you can see the last hills of the Appalachians as they roll into the floodplain,” she explains. “On clear days you can pick out some of the antennas on the buildings in Montgomery.”
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Macknally Land Design and Will McGarity