Rural Studios building birding tower

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

MARION-Work is just about to begin on what might be the Auburn University Rural Studios’ most physically imposing landmark yet: a 100-foot tall tower to be erected in Marion’s Perry Lakes Park.

The tower will be open to the public and allow nature lovers to bird-watch from above the treetops. The view is, naturally, expected to be breathtaking.

“It’ll be for bird-watching, or any nature observation,” says Natalie Butts, one of the four Tower team members for whom the project will serve as a senior thesis. “You’ll be able to see anything above the canopy.”

The Rural Studios has already completed a number of projects in Perry Lakes project, including a walkway bridge, restrooms, and soon a picnic pavilion. But the birding tower promises to be most visually striking project to date.

“We have an old fire tower we’re going to use from Sumter County,” said Butts. “We’re working on getting it taken apart and moved to Perry Lakes Park. We’re going to do a full remodeling of the tower, and build a 300 foot boardwalk that runs along the edge of the water and up to the tower’s base.”

The remodeling will be done, in part, to make the tower sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing. But most importantly, the remodeling will also substantially improve the tower’s safety. Since a 100-foot open-to-the-public- tower on county property could create some liability issues, the Perry County Commission had recently expressed some concern about safety measures before granting the Tower team the go-ahead. Butts says that, barring some especially brainless behavior on the part of residents, safety shouldn’t be an issue with the tower.

“We are going to do a lot to make sure the tower is safe,” said Butts. “All the existing tower had were some low hand-rails…we’re going to move the hand-rails higher, and we’re going to use something [around the stairs] that’s sort of like a chain-link fence, but a little lighter, like netting. People won’t be able to fall out or anything.

“The only thing we’re really concerned about are people climbing out of the observation platform,” Butts added. “We’ll have signs posted about the inner ear risk…we’ve done some precedent research, and the safest way is to post signs and expect that people won’t behave inappropriately. There’ll be a door at the bottom that will be closed at night and opened in the morning. It’ll be a lot safer for the public than before.”

Although the remodeling will take a lot of hours and a lot of sweat, Butts says the tower should be ready for the public long before the weather turns too cold to use it.

“It’ll be sealed, refinished, and put back up in a few months,” she says. “We’re hoping to have the grand opening by the end of the summer.”

Butts also said she was glad for the attention the tower is receiving, since the tower is looking for sponsors to help the tower pay for itself.

“We’re using the tower as a fund-raising drive. We’re selling sponsorships of the steps and the platforms. We hope to get people involved,” she said, noting that each sponsor would have their name engraved on a plate along with their favorite bird. The plates would then be attached to the step or platform being sponsored.

Even with construction yet to being at Perry Lakes, the tower project already represents a lot of effort and thought on the part of the Rural Studios and the tower team members.

“They proposed to us in the fall that we could build a tower, a school, or a house. We had no idea how, but we wanted to build a birding tower,” Butts said. “We talked to people from Birmingham and across the state, figuring out the best way to go about this…They sort of set us up for it and it naturally came together.”

Other team members are Coley Mulcahy, Adrienne Brady, and Paul Howard.