New Design for Mount Mitchell Tower

North Carolina has unveiled the design for the Mount Mitchell Sumit Tower.

Below is the press release:

A new, low-profile, fully accessible observation platform will soon replace an aging concrete tower at the summit of Mount Mitchell, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

The circular platform, presenting a 360-degree view of the surrounding Black Mountains, will become the sixth structure to crown the 6,684-foot peak. And, it will become a new focal point for Mount Mitchell State Park, the oldest state park in the Southeast.

The existing 30-foot-high tower was built in 1959. Although it is open to visitors, engineers have determined that its structural concrete is failing due to age and exposure to the extreme climate on the peak.

The $700,000 project will also include extensive renovation to the 850-foot walking trail to the summit from the park’s main parking area. The trail will be realigned slightly and paved and will have intermittent “rest areas” with benches along the route.
“The construction of various observation structures on the peak has been part of Mount Mitchell’s history,” said Lewis Ledford, division director. “To replace the existing structure, we sought a design that is in harmony with the area’s beauty, which fits comfortably in the natural contours of the mountain, which is accessible to all visitors and will allow for scenic vistas from the highest peak in eastern America.”

The division explored the possibility of repairing the existing structure, but determined it would be cost prohibitive since it would have involved installing an elevator to make the tower accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Ledford said.

Vaughn and Melton Engineers of Asheville created the design for the new observation platform. The structure will be 10 feet tall and 36.5 feet in diameter, with a curved and gently sloping ramp for access. The 135-foot ramp, supported by circular columns will make the platform fully accessible. A stonework facade will serve as a connection to the heritage and history of the existing tower.

A special feature will be a map of North Carolina set into the walking surface of the central observation area. A geodetic survey monument at the appropriate location on that map will mark the significance of the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The central observation area will also offer benches and interpretive displays.

Funding for the observation platform, trail improvements and demolition of the existing tower was allocated from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the primary funding source for state park capital improvements and land acquisition. The trust fund is supported by a portion of the state’s tax on real estate deed transfers.

Bids for the project will be sought this fall, and division officials are hopeful that the existing tower can be demolished late this year to ready the site for new construction in the spring of 2006.

Since the late 1800s, when logging on the mountain began to give way to tourism, there has been some type of structure on Mount Mitchell’s summit. In 1888, a 12-foot-high bronze monument marked the grave of Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a UNC geology professor who died in 1857 while trying to verify the mountain’s elevation. By 1915, a ladder about 15 feet high stood mounted on three poles that formed a pyramid-shaped base. In 1916, at the time Mount Mitchell State Park was created, the state built a covered wooden platform about 15 feet high. That was replaced in 1926 with a stone tower in a medieval design motif.

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