UNICOI — According to Unicoi Alderman Mark Ramsey, when late Unicoi resident Jack Snider donated a little more than nine acres of property located off Exit 32 to the town of Unicoi, he did so without stipulation and with the knowledge that the town would put the land to good use.
“He was right,” Ramsey said. “We scratched our head and tried to figure out what we could do with it. Things just fell in place.”
Local and state officials gathered at what is known as Snider Park at the base of Buffalo Mountain on Friday morning for a dedication and grand-opening ceremony to celebrate the opening of one of the property’s uses — the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail.
“We have a new place to enjoy our National Forest and all the beautiful things we have out here,” Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said.
The nearly 5-mile hiking/biking trail, which was completed earlier this year, winds up Buffalo Mountain and leads to the recently renovated Pinnacle Fire Tower. The tower, which once served as a fire lookout for the Cherokee National Forest, was decommissioned several years ago. With renovations now complete, the tower is now open to the public, offering visitors a 360-degree view of the surrounding areas.
All of the officials who spoke at the ceremony lauded the partnership between the town of Unicoi and the U.S. Forest Service that made the trail’s completion possible. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the town has been proactive in bringing in infrastructure for recreational tourism.
“The partnership is the key word there,” Greg Lynch said. “That’s where this infrastructure is coming from. We do appreciate what Unicoi has done and also, of course, Erwin has done quite a bit as well, and the county, we’re trying to do our part. We do think eventually we’re going to have probably a blue chip recreational venue for Unicoi County. It’s just going to take some time, and this is one of the steps.”
State Rep. David Hawk said the state is working on bringing more recreational opportunities and the possibility of lodging opportunities to Unicoi County. He also praised the efforts of those involved with the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail project.
“We know how passionate the town of Unicoi is about bringing folks into our community, and this is another reason for folks to come,” Hawk said.
The trailhead of the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail is located adjacent to the planned location of the Tanasi Heritage and Arts Center. Town of Unicoi Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee said other enhancements are in store for the property and trail. He said the town is pursuing grant funding for the construction of a pavilion/picnic area near the trail and interpretive signage to be placed along the trail displaying native plants and animals.
Barbee said distance markers, including information such as calories burned, could be placed along the trail. The town, in partnership with the Unicoi Ruritan Club, will also be starting a shuttle service to take the elderly and those unable to make the hike up to the Pinnacle Fire Tower to the tower.
Terry Bowerman, district ranger of the Cherokee’s Nolichucky/Unaka District, said the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail and renovation of the tower itself serve as examples of the Forest Service’s partnerships with the town of Unicoi and Unicoi County in trying to enhance recreational opportunities in the county.
“This is a really exciting day for me because we’ve been working on this Pinnacle system for years, and this has been the first step of the completion of that,” Bowerman said.