The story below is an excerpt from our Sept./Oct. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
High Knob Tower
High Knob Tower rises on a peak above Norton, Virginia with an elevation on the deck of about 4,233 feet above sea level.
Jorge Hersel marked his first steps on the new High Knob Tower on the last day of June. Smiling beneath the brim of his U.S. Forest Service cap, Hersel points to the pointy peaks beyond Big Stone Gap and nearby Norton. “On a clear day,” he says, “they claim you can see five states.”
Standing on this tower might have been a small step for Hersel. But it was a giant leap in his time since 2009 – the year he took the reins of the Clinch Ranger District in the Jefferson National Forest of southwest Virginia. Rebuilding this observation post for the thousands of visitors who come to High Knob – at an elevation of more than 4,200 feet – has been on Hersel’s to-do list since day one.
High Knob’s old wooden lookout tower burned to the ground in 2007: an act of arson. Since then, more than $500,000 has come from various sources, including restitution paid by the arsonists, to cast a new High Knob Tower in stone. That material – plus concrete and steel – fulfilled Hersel’s requirement for a structure that “could not burn.”
The octagonal tower has risen in time for autumn’s colorful leaf season. And it’s strong: The metal top, resembling an umbrella, can withstand winds of up to 180 mph. “It takes time to put something like this together and get it up properly,” Hersel says. “The last one lasted 30 years. We want this one to last as long or better.”
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