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County inspection of Pequot Lakes fire tower cautious, positive

WSB Senior Project Manager Dean Smith examines the fire tower outside Pequot Lakes for structural weaknesses. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal1 / 4
To better assess the condition of the fire tower outside of Pequot Lakes, WSB Senior Project Manager Dean Smith measured bolts, documented rust and observed any damage to the structural parts of the tower. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal2 / 4
Wednesday, May 2 an engineer and others climbed the fire tower outside of Pequot Lakes to assess the structural integrity. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal3 / 4
To better assess the condition of the fire tower outside of Pequot Lakes, WSB Senior Project Manager Dean Smith measured bolts, documented rust and observed any damage to the structural parts of the tower. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal4 / 4

The Pequot Lakes fire tower may be on the road to restoration for public use; at least, there doesn't appear to be any structural issues that would prevent it.

Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Thiede, WSB & Associates Senior Project Manager Dean Smith and county Environmental Services Supervisor Ryan Simonson surveyed the Department of Natural Resources-owned structure Wednesday, May 2, to look for safety issues or structural damage that could make the tower a money pit if Crow Wing County was to own it.

"The biggest thing is looking for damage and corrosion," Smith said. "One of the things is holes drilled into structural members that might affect the integrity; the condition of the timber members that form the cab; then the steps and basically it is a condition assessment."

In spite of some timber damage, missing bolts and minor structural damage, the diagnosis was positive.

"It seems favorable based on what I am looking at," Smith said. "I'm not seeing substantial damage or substantial problems. There's certainly timber that needs to be replaced. There are certainly some minor structural things to repair. Overall the structure seems to be intact.."

Smith said repairs he could identify were inexpensive, as far as construction materials were concerned.

The fire tower off County State Aid Highway 11 closed in early 2017 because of continued vandalism. In January, the county board began discussing the possible purchase of the tower with the goal of reopening it to the public after some maintenance.

Following the positive survey of the tower, the county and DNR must decide if both entities are interested in going forward.

"Based on a superficial look, it seems like it is totally up to the executive council now if they want to sell it to us," said Thiede, who represents the area where the tower is located. "If they do, I see little barrier moving forward."

There has been broad support to repair and reopen the historical fire tower, of which very few remain in the state. The Pequot Lakes tower was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2017. Community partners including the Pequot Lakes Area Historical Society and Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association have been showing support for the tower since its future first came into question in 2017.

During the structural survey May 2, three locals stopped to see the tower, showing it can be a popular destination.

Shannon Watkins, of Pequot Lakes, replied, "Yes please," when she learned the county was considering reopening the tower.

"I think it would be a really cool learning experience for the kids in the area," Watkins said. "It's a cool place to see the city from a different angle."

The tower was initially closed due to vandalism and misuse. Windows have repeatedly been broken in the cab with equipment thrown from the top of the over 100-foot tower as well. Significant repairs were made in recent years, but did not last.

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