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Okefenokee Swamp Park tower rises again

POSTED: March 22, 2010 10:06 a.m.
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Mr. and Mrs. Don Brockman from Geneva, Wisc., were the first to visit the newly restored tower.

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The Okefenokee Swamp Park recently finished renovating its famous observation tower, which is once again open to the public. The tower stands 90 feet tall and is the highest viewing point over "The Land of the Trembling Earth," which is what the Creek and Seminole Indians once called the swamp.

This is the park’s fourth tower. The first three were wooden and successively taller. Built in the current location, the park’s third tower was only 60 feet tall. In 1964, that wooden structure was replaced with a taller tower made of steel.

During the solar eclipse on March 7, 1970, a number of scientists and astronomers from around the country came to Waycross to view the eclipse from the swamp observation tower.

By the 1990s, the tannic acid conditions in the Okefenokee Swamp caused a corrosive chemical reaction with the exposed steel, which resulted in frequent and costly maintenance to the structure. In 1999, that tower was closed to the public.

In 2007, when Waycross was charred by a fast-moving forest fire, dubbed "The Monster Fire," the tower was used by local and state firefighters daily to develop a plan to steer the fire around the park. The tower helped firefighters literally save the swamp; however, more than 1,200 feet of boardwalk leading to the tower was lost during the fire.

In 2009, the board of directors contracted with Structural Contractors Inc. to evaluate the tower for possible renovation. It was found to be structurally sound and the restoration process began. The exposed steel was completely stripped, fortified and is now protected by three coats of special primer and paint. All the steps and stringers have been replaced. The famed tower is open again and ready for guests to safely view the park’s enchanted wilderness from the top.

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