Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sassafras Mountain Gets a Haircut

Here in South Carolina, we have some mountains.  Not  MOUNT^INS  like there are in the west, but we like them.  And where there are mountains, there must be one that is the highest.  For us, that highest is Sassafras Mountain, located up US-178 near the metropolis called Rocky Bottom.  Not all of Sassafras is contained in South Carolina, however.  About half of it is in North Carolina, but the highest point itself, we can claim, at 3,560 feet (1,085 meters) above sea level.  (Pinnacle Mountain, at 3,415 feet (1,041 meters), in Table Rock State Park, is the highest peak entirely within South Carolina.) 

US-178 is a good road in several ways.  The first is that it is twisty.  The second is that it is in reasonably good condition.  You can go all the way from Pickens South Carolina to Rosman North Carolina on it, then jog over a little and take NC-215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and beyond.
A = Pickens, SC
B = Rosman, NC
C = Blue Ridge Parkway entrance
D = junction with US-276 near Waynesville, NC
Click here for interactive map.
A Rocky Bottom, you turn to the east onto F. Van Clayton Memorial Highway, right after the Rocky Bottom Retreat and Conference Center of the Blind sign.    You wind on up the narrow, but nicely paved road (watch for the one very tight left-hand switchback), and keep to the right where Glady Fork Road comes in on the left.  Go all the way to the end, which is the parking area for the mountaintop.
A = Pickens, SC
B = Rocky Bottom, SC
C = intersection with Glady Fork Road
D = Sassafras Mountain parking
Click here for interactive map.

You may recall that not so long ago, in 2010, there was no way to see into the distance from the mountaintop.  The trees hid the view all around.  Then, they put up a rustic and quite functional viewing platform so you could see off in the southerly direction.  This was a nice, quiet place to contemplate God's creation. 

The engineering grad students at Clemson apparently thought they could build a better platform, so they tore out the simple one and erected a new one.  It turned out to be an eyesore to my eyes, that was poorly built and is deteriorating. 
Poorly engineered and failing support beneath
the Clemson-designed platform.
Then, somebody got the bright idea that there should be a $1,000,000 observation tower on the mountain so you could see in every direction.  I think that is a very poor idea.  It is likely to turn our peaceful mountaintop into a bustling tourist attraction.  (And Duke Power pledged half of the million dollars, so my power bills could be lower if they didn't spend money on that tower.) 

Meanwhile, work has continued on the mountaintop, and I thought I heard that instead of building the tower, they are going to clear cut the trees on the mountaintop instead.  The tower would have to have en elevator for handicapped people, and that would cost a bunch more.  The vandals would have a field day with the tower, too. 

That clear cutting is a better idea, and a lot cheaper. 

I had to go and see what they have done. 

I ride up US-178 at a spirited pace, and am enjoying the alternating curves, especially between SC-11 and Rocky Bottom.  I turn off onto Van Clayton Road and climb to the top of the mountain.  There is mud in a few spots, so I am a little careful.

Sure enough, as I approach the parking area, I can see that the trees are gone on the top of the mountain.

It used to look like his:
Taken on one of the rare times when the gate was open to the top. 
Now it looks like this:

You have to walk up the grade a little further to the very top, so I squeezed around the gate (on foot) and started climbing. 

The last time I was here, a few weeks ago, they had uprooted the marker and bench that were placed at the high point itself. 
I was concerned that they would be relegated to the scrap pile.

Happily, they have been reset now that the trees are down.

They have scattered some grass and clover seed to keep the erosion down.  The remaining trees are still a little too high for an unobstructed view, however.  When the leaves fall, the big picture will really be available.  

Here is a panorama from the top. 

The views all around are promising.  Certainly I have never seen anything from here in the distance except to the south where the older viewing platform is located.

On the way down, I notice this sign.  It says this is just the beginning, and the tower is still to be built.


I am really surprised by something, though.  Where are the tree-hugging, liberal, bleeding hearts?  I expected that there would be an outcry from that crowd decrying the loss of the mostly second growth woods at the top here.

But there is nary a sign of them. 

That's OK with me.  I think the clearing operation allows a pretty good view of the surrounding territory.

Just don't build that ugly tower. 

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