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View from Flagg Mountain’s historic fire tower. Photo by Jodi McDade
Photos by Jim Plott
Kimm Wright enjoys the view from the historic tower. Bud Roberts ascends the renovated steps as he climbs into the top of the fire tower. Jodi McDade looks over the Flagg Mountain Accessible Trailhead sign.
Photos by Hal Yeager with the Governor’s Office
Photos by Kimm Wright
Photos courtesy of the Alabama Trails Foundation
Submitted by Jodi McDade
Last week was a historic time for Flagg Mountain, Coosa County and the State of Alabama as more than 200 people gathered for activities to reopen the Flagg Mountain Tower that had been closed to the public for 20-plus years.
For the last four years a collective group comprised of individuals with the Alabama Forestry Commission, the Alabama Trails Foundation, the Alabama Hiking Trail Society, Forever Wild, and the Conservation Fund, to name a few, had been working to make this dream a reality, and the day finally arrived on June 15.
This event has been more than four years in the making. Flagg Mountain, located in the Weogufka State Forest, is owned by the Alabama Forestry Commission.
The AFC granted a lease to the Alabama Hiking Trail Society to work on the hiking trails – especially the southern terminus of the Pinhoti National Recreational Trail that is located in the Wildlife Management area on Forever Wild property.
Thankfully the previous leaseholders, the Coosa County Cooperators, had replaced the roofs on the tower and five of the rustic cabins on the mountain that had been built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. If not for that, there likely would only have been old memories left instead creating new memories of reopening the tower.
At the same time a world-renowned hiker by the name of MJ “Sunny” Eberhart, also known as Nimblewill Nomad, decided to get off the trails he had been walking for 20 years and become the full-time caretaker of the mountain.
AHTS started hosting events on the mountain and inviting the public from the surrounding areas to come for monthly potluck dinners, called First Fridays on Flagg. The public answered the invitations in record numbers and came to visit a place that had been so important to them growing up in the Weogufka area.
These people brought their children and grandchildren. People reunited with people they went to grade school with, and people who had never heard of Flagg Mountain came and found the magic and energy that is so evident there.
Numerous people must be called out for realizing the potential of Flagg Mountain and starting the renovations and promotions. Callie Thornton, former president of Alabama Hiking Trail Society; her husband, Craig Thornton; Joe Jones; Barbara Murchison; Emily and Marion Campbell; and others were instrumental in getting the support of the citizens of Coosa County and the surrounding areas to become involved and start to tell the story of the history of Flagg Mountain and the CCC.
Also, Bob Pasquill Jr.; a former National Park Service employee who wrote a book titled “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama, 1933-1942: A Great and Lasting Good;” was known for his research and knowledge of that most important part of our history.
A plaque at Flagg Mountain further recognizes organizations and individuals who have helped support Flagg Mountain and its facilities over the years.
The plaque reads, “Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s after most of Weogufka State Forest was acquired from Kaul Lumber Company, this 53-foot-high stone observation tower was restored in 2021 and 2022, and this plaque was placed in honor of John Kaul Greene and the Greene family and in honor of Raymond Shaw and Sarah Shaw.”
The plaque goes on to recognize “supporters of the efforts to restore this tower and other CCC facilities at this site and to make Flagg Mountain the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail.”
Those include Alabama Forestry Commission, Alabama Forever Wild, Alabama Hiking Trail Society, Alabama Historical Commission, Alabama Pinhoti Trail Association, Alabama State Legislature, Alabama Trails Commission, Alabama Trails Foundation, The Conservation Fund, Coosa County Commission, Coosa County Conservation Inc., Dai Ichi, Friends of Flagg Mountain, The Hugh Kaul Foundation, The Estate of John Kaul Greene, The Protective Life Foundation, Robert and Elizabeth Shaw, Fred and Alice Stanback, Family of Eric and Barrie Stokes, Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust, and the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development and Office of Archaeological Research.
These are just a few of the hundreds of people who have contributed to keeping Flagg Mountain as part of Alabama’s landscape.
As so often happens, it just took a few small steps for the avalanche of activities to start a fast ball rolling. The Alabama Trails Foundation was at the same time working on an overall plan for the Pinhoti Trail, and the foundation became a major fundraiser for improvements to Flagg Mountain.
The ATF, in coordination with the AFC, hired architects, landscape designers and engineers to put together a vision for the future of Flagg Mountain and the Flagg Mountain Tower. As they say, the rest is now history.
All of this fell into place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but work continued behind the scenes, and now the first phase of the upgrades that are planned is completed.
Some of the next improvements were announced by State Forester Rick Oates at the Reopening Ceremony of the tower.
Plans are in the works to bring public water to the mountain by working with the Stewartville Water Authority, and some of that funding has already been appropriated by the Alabama Legislature and the governor’s office. Funding and plans for a bathhouse in the cabin area has already been secured, and it just needs the water in place.
Oates also announced that a Forestry Commission office and Welcome Center are in the planning stages for Flagg Mountain.
During her address at the Reopening Ceremony, Gov. Kay Ivey challenged all of the groups involved with the Pinhoti Trail to put together a “wish list” of things that will make the trail the “premier” hiking trail in Alabama. She acknowledged the national recognition that the trail and Flagg Mountain have brought to Coosa County and to the State of Alabama, and she expressed that she wants that recognition to continue to grow.
Last year Eberhart left the mountain he called home to make his “Last Last Hike” to become the oldest person to through hike not only the Appalachian Trail, but also the Appalachian mountain range from the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail to the Benton MacKaye Trail to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
He completed the journey at the Flagg Mountain Tower at the age of 83. The enormous publicity this hike gave the Pinhoti – and Coosa County itself – has brought more and more hikers and visitors to Flagg Mountain.
Not only is Flagg Mountain known for the Pinhoti Trail, but it is also part of the Alabama Birding Trail and the connection with the Florida Trail to the Eastern Continental Trail. It is also part of the Alabama Skyway, which is included in a national group of bike-packing trails across the country.
Members of the Ham Radio communities have discovered that Flagg Mountain also offers clear connections to reach around the world.
Its place in the history of the CCC during the Great Depression is well established. The tower itself is already known as Tower #250 in the national list of historic fire towers.
Sponsors for the Flagg Mountain tower grand reopening, recognized on a banner at the event, were the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, University of Alabama Office of Archaeological Research, Alabama Trails Foundation, Alabama Trails Commission, Alabama Hiking Trail Society, Jacksonville State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research, Stick Architecture, Architecture Works, The Conservation Fund, Coca-Cola, Alabama Power, Macknally Land Design, Coosa County Sheriff’s Office, Coosa County Commission, Friends of Flagg Mountain, and Alabama Forestry Commission.
For more information on the many contributors for this tower reopening event visit the Alabama Trails Foundation and the Alabama Forestry Commission websites.
For a first-hand introduction to Flagg Mountain, plan to attend a First Friday on Flagg event held on the first Friday of every month. Bring a dish to share at the potluck dinner that starts at 6 p.m., enjoy the fellowship and entertainment, and then marvel at a sunset in the western sky.
More information on the FFF and other events is available on the Friends of Flagg Facebook page.
Senior Staff Writer Christa Jennings contributed to this report.