Sassafras Mountain to get observation tower

By Nicole Daughhetee
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — With an elevation of 3,553 feet (according to a recent South Carolina Geological Survey assessment), Pickens County’s Sassafras Mountain claims the highest point in the state of South Carolina, and thanks to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the summit is about to gain even more height in the form of an observation tower.

In addition to being the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain is located on the Continental Divide, part of the state line between the Carolinas and the pivotal point separating three different watersheds. Depending on which way it rolls, any given raindrop falling on Sassafras Mountain may end up in the Atlantic Ocean at Charleston Harbor, the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah Harbor, or the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.

Despite last week’s rainy weather, the SC DNR unveiled plans for Sassafras Mountain worthy of celebration: improvement projects that include a 40-60 foot observation tower atop the mountain in northern Pickens County.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham participated as the special guest speaker at the event. Also present to speak at the event were Mike Leonard, vice chairman of The Conservation Fund; Jennifer Willis, Pickens County Council chairwoman; Kate Schwennsen, chair of Clemson University Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; Dan Harding, associate professor of architecture at Clemson University; Emily Cope, DNR deputy director for wildlife and freshwater fisheries; and Alvin Taylor, DNR director.

Leonard, Vice-Chairman of the Conservation Fund, announced the donation of 4.8 acres at the top of Sassafras, on the North Carolina side, to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to assist in the improvements project. The Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund is funded by off-shore oil leases, not taxpayer dollars, to aid in the purchase of important parcels of land all over the country.

Harding, an associate professor of architecture at Clemson University with extensive experience in designing structures in natural areas, has completed a conceptual plan for Sassafras Mountain that offers an unobstructed 360-degree view from the mountain.

The DNR purchased the South Carolina side of Sassafras Mountain from Duke Energy in 2004. The mountain had been neglected as any kind of recreational destination until 2010 when the DNR cleared the area of trees and constructed a simple observation deck allowing people a clear view of the mountains and valleys in a southwesterly direction.

The observation tower is not the only feature coming to Sassafras Mountain. The improvement project will include other amenities such as new trails, including a barrier-free section, and other public-use facilities such as restrooms.

Partners in the Sassafras Mountain effort include the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Pickens County, Clemson University, The Conservation Fund, The Highpointers Club, Duke Energy, the Foothills Trail Conference and the Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund.

The partners are beginning the funding phase of the project, and the DNR is seeking private donations for the tower project. To donate to this project, contact Tom Swayngham, DNR regional wildlife coordinator, at (864) 654-1671, Extension 21 or at All donations are tax deductible.