KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Reigning high over the city of Kingsport, Bays Mountain is home to thousands of acres of forest, hundreds of species of animals and dozens of beautiful hiking trails that give visitors an unmatched view of the landscape.
One of those incredible views can be reached 80-feet off the top of the mountain at the Bays Mountain Fire Tower. To get to the fire tower, hikers are asked to start at the Nature Center, where they’ll prepare for a more than 2.5-mile hike up the mountain.
Up until the last 0.7 miles, Senior Naturalist Megan Krager says the hike can be relatively easy, but the last portion is where visitors struggle. Krager says she wants people to be aware that this hike can get extremely steep, so if you have bad knees or anything that might prevent you from hiking up steep angles, this hike is probably not for you.
While hiking up to the fire tower, visitors will notice that during the last 0.7 mile stretch, for a moment the trail merges with a mountain bike trail. It’s important for hikers to stay alert at this point but know that the hike up to the fire tower does permit bikes. So if you want to ride, you’ll have to ditch the bike for the final stretch. Krager says the terrain and the steepness of the trail is why they decided to make it hiking only.
While out on Bays Mountain you can see a variety of species of animals. One of the most sought after sights has to be the bears.
“If you come early enough and you’re quiet enough, you might see a bear,” explains Krager. “That is a possibility along this particular stretch.” She adds that, “early in the morning [Bays Mountain] is going to have a wide variety of our orb spiders stretching out their webs trying to get a nice tasty meal of insects. So, you may want to grab a stick with some branches on it to wave in front of you as you’re moving through to deter the spider webs from you.”
The fire tower, which was built in 1937, offers 360-degree views of the Bays Mountain Park. However, it’s important to note that because the fire tower is much older, the steps are very narrow and steep. So if you don’t like heights or steepness, Krager says this may not be for you.
According to Krager, the fire tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The State of Tennessee Forest Department hired the CCC to come in and construct this particular structure.
This structure is 80-feet tall and was built so that men could come into the area and stay in here for months at a time. They would look out at a 360-degree view around us, looking for smoke from the forest.
Once they found smoke, what they would triangulate against two other fire towers to get the coordinates of that particular location. Then they would bring that down to a ground crew. That crew would then be sent out in order to fight the forest fires. It’s how the forest fires were fought during that particular time frame and they used that technology up until roughly about the mid-1970s in some of the really rural areas in the state of Tennessee.”
When you’re up in the fire tower and looking out at the views, you’ll notice that one side is home to a big manufacturing plant. That plant is the Holston Army Ammunition Plant. They have property to the opposite side of the Bays Mountain property line. It is illegal take photos or video of the plant. Park officials try to honor that rule and encourage guests to only shoot into the park itself.