Big Walker Lookout

Big Walker Mountain


July 2014

Once upon a time there was a lookout tower, part 1.

Let me say this right now.  No, I did not climb the tower.  I started up but when I got to the third tier, it became time for me to come down.  “Dang!  This doesn’t get any easier, does it,” I thought to myself.  I was hoping that the more I went up to high places, the less my acrophobia would bother me.  Alas…

This lookout tower is our last stop on the way home from summiting Mount Rogers in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, one of the prettiest sections of the Appalachian Trail.  We also stopped to visit Dr Pepper’s grave, we toured Mystery Hole and moseyed around the New River Gorge and the bridge that spans it.  We are now climbing Big Walker Mountain, a long, skinny S-shape prominence running, as does almost everything with terrain around here, from northeast to southwest.  We’re climbing this mountain in our car.  Man, this is much faster and easier than on foot.  At roughly the middle of the ridge, the road we’re on, US-52, makes a sharp bend and presents a marvelous overview.  The terrain makes for a crowded raptor migration route.

In 1947, Stuart Kime and his wife built a gas station and a restaurant right here at the bend.  Soon enough, they expanded it into a general store and gift shop.  Then in 1953, they opened the bottom half of an observation tower.  Stuart began building this tower two years earlier.  His intention was to have this thing, once completed, stick up 100 feet.  Stuart’s son Ron reports that when his dad finished the first half of the tower, he said, “I’m up high enough,” and then hired workers to build the rest of it.  The dream was realized;  That sucker is now one hundred feet tall!  Welcome to Big Walker Lookout.

I generously wait on the ground while Lisa climbs to the top

The Kimes added to the gas station/restaurant and made many improvements over the years, building a chair lift, expanding the dining area, installing a rattlesnake pit.  Stuart died in 1992 and Ron and his wife took over.  Eleven years later, the whole damned thing, other than the tower, burned down.  The younger Kimes quickly rebuilt the store offering “crafts supplied by local artisans” and other “Virginia made products.”  On the warmer weekends, local musicians perform on the front porch, and there are historic demonstrations.  This is “an area rich in culture, Civil War history and Appalachian heritage.”

Here’s what it used to be.  Stuart Kime built the general store at the southern edge of the parking area.  The only sign on the outside of the building read “EAT.”  You would go into the store and pay your fee.  Around back of the store was a staircase that got you up to the swinging bridge which took you to the base of the lookout tower.  Then you would climb one hundred feet up to the top of the tower and “see five states,” according to the brochure.

Here’s what it is these days.  After the fire took out the store in 2003, a second store was built adjacent to the site of the first store.  You go into the current store and pay your fee, come out the front door and then climb the 14 steps at the base of the tower.  You could then walk across the swinging bridge, come to a barricade and walk back.  Then you climb one hundred feet up to the top of the tower.  You might be able to see five states but the haze and pollution will likely limit that view.  Now the Kimes say, “Where Only the Birds See More!”

They also say, “Beware of an overload of the senses:  the sound of songbirds, the sweet scent of honeysuckle, the feel of warm daytime sun and cool evening breezes and the sight of mountains that touch the sun, moon and stars.”  On the Big Walker Lookout sign, the dot on the “i” is a heart.

Once upon a time there was a lookout tower, part 2.

Lisa climbs the 20 flights of steps of the Tower.

Once upon a time there was a lookout tower, part 3.

Me and the Bridge.  I already told you I didn’t climb the tower.  Bullocks.

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