Blount County hopes to take tourism to new heights

A view of the tower from the bottom

When you climb the 133 steps of the Sand Mountain Lookout Fire Tower inside Palisades Park, you will be able to see majority of Blount County and parts of St. Clair, Etowah, Cullman and Jefferson Counties. The cab that sits over 100 feet off the ground is the same one used by workers who watched for forest fires and wildfires in Blount County from 1949-1985.

When technology advanced and population increased, having a person inside the cab was not necessary. As a result, the tower sat empty.

However, Blount County saw the tower as a landmark and part of their history that they wanted to preserve. Back in 2016, restoration work began, and with help from several grants, local businesses, and other people, the work was finished in early 2018.

Starting Saturday, people can climb the tower at no cost and get a bird's eye view of the tremendous scenery. The county hopes the tower will boost tourism, as well as increase attendance at Palisades Park. Listed on the National Lookout Historic Register, the tower is the third fire tower restored in the state and second opened to the public, park officials said.

"It is fantastic," Chairman for Palisades Park's Board of Directors Jerry Jones said. "It is hard to describe your feeling when you come up the road here and you look up and see the cab above the trees. It is really exciting."

"We have had several studies done, and those studies have highlighted tourism as one of our primary industries that has been untapped," County Administrator John Bullard said. "Because of our natural resources, we really work to enhance those tourism dollars coming into our county. We see Blount County as a good mix of old and new. We want to preserve our history, while being progressive and moving forward with technology, nice restaurants and the modern amenities that we are all used to."

Bullard said the Alabama Forestry Commission is able to use the tower anytime needed as well as in the event of a large forest fire.

The grand opening is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday at Palisades Park. There is no cost to climb the tower.

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