PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. (WCCO) — Just outside of Pequot Lakes and through a smattering of fall colors you’ll find one of the last remaining fire towers in the state. It’s 100 feet to the top, or 135 short steps. On a clear day, you can see for 20 miles or so.

The first version of the tower was built out of wood in the 1920s. The second version, made out of metal, was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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“We average about 90 fires a year in this general vicinity. And this year we were well over double that,” said Craig Schultz, a fire program forester with the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources, and a bit of a fire tower historian.

“At the peak there were approximately just over 100 of them used across the state,” Schultz said. “A lot of them have been decommissioned and are no longer in use.”

In its prime this tower worked closely with others in the area. A spotter would sit high above the tree-tops and when smoke was spotted, they’d use a hand-held radio to call other towers to determine where the fire might be. Then, firefighters or air tanker planes would go to work.

“Obviously we are up to the use of cell phones now. These fire towers became less and less of a need due to the advent of cell phones and GPS and things like that,” Schultz said.

But in 2018 a new idea ignited. And the tower found a new purpose.

(credit: CBS)

“It was in great shape so all we had to do was fix up the main cab that we are standing in today for the most part,” said Ryan Simonson, a environmental services supervisor for Crow Wing County.

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Former county commissioner Paul Thiede came up with a plan to get the tower and the land transferred to Crow Wing County. Once done, the county put in a new floor, along with new windows and paint. Structurally secure, the tower now open to anyone whose up for a little workout.

“It’s beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous,” said visitor Tammy Devine of Coon Rapids.

“You can see a long ways. It doesn’t seem that high until you get up there,” said Dave Jensen, also of Coon Rapids.

From spotting fires to spotting fall colors. The hope is that this tower stands its ground for another century, or more.

“People can come out and stand in a fire tower that’s almost 100 years old. That’s pretty cool. And it looks like it was built 20 or 30 years ago. It’s in really good shape,” Simonson said.

The DNR Fire Tower is open to the public during the warm weather months, but closed in the winter because the steps get icy.

Next summer they plan to expand the park and add even more hiking trails on the land around the tower.

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John Lauritsen