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Crow Wing County buys historic Pequot Lakes fire tower from DNR

Crow Wing County's purchase of the historic Pequot Lakes fire tower from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is final. "Not only is the fire tower an icon and a landmark in this community for many years ... it's been a part of everybody...

The Pequot Lakes fire tower rises above the pines on a cloudless day.
The Pequot Lakes fire tower, north of County Road 11 and east of Minnesota Highway 371, was built in 1934. The 100-foot-tall fire tower was added last year to the National Register of Historic Places and has been on the National Historic Lookout Register since 1993. Submitted photo
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Crow Wing County's purchase of the historic Pequot Lakes fire tower from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is final.

"Not only is the fire tower an icon and a landmark in this community for many years ... it's been a part of everybody's life that has lived here, including my daughter's, my wife," said Mark Jurchen, Pequot Lakes Economic Development Commission chairman.

"A lot of folks have climbed it, so from that standpoint, it's a piece of our history, and I think it's really important-from just that standpoint-that we preserve it."

The county board of commissioners approved at its Aug. 14 meeting to enter into a lease agreement with the DNR to repair the historic landmark before it was purchased by the county.

"Yesterday's reception of the documents that transfers title of the fire tower to the county is a huge step forward," Board Chairman Paul Thiede said in a Tuesday, Oct. 30, news release. "We can now begin to move toward a process, which will eventually see it open to the public."

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The fire tower, north of County Highway 11 and east of Highway 371, was built in 1934. It was initially closed last year due to vandalism and misuse. Windows have repeatedly been broken in the cab with equipment thrown from the top of the tower.

"I have climbed the tower, but I have not been up in the top ... and as somebody with a little bit of fear of heights, that was quite an accomplishment," said Jurchen, also a board member of the Pequot Lakes Historical Society. "It was on my bucket list, and I got it done."

The 100-foot-tall fire tower was added last year to the National Register of Historic Places and has been on the National Historic Lookout Register since 1993. The tower is on a 40-acre parcel of land, which was also included in the recent purchase of the tower for a dollar.

"From an economic standpoint, the fire tower draws a lot of folks into our community as part of Minnesota's history and how these fire towers were used prior to having drones and everything else ... so it can be a real tourism draw as well as an identity for our community," Jurchen said.

Improvements are planned with the support of local community organizations, donations and county park dollars. The Pequot Lakes Historical Society, the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association and many local units of government have shown support for the tower.

A team of architectural historians plan to produce a preservation manual that can be applied to all Minnesota's historic fire lookouts. The manual should be available in the spring and will provide recommendations to help the county preserve the historic integrity of the tower.

Thiede represents the area where the fire tower is located and suggested earlier the area around the fire tower could become a public park or the site of a fire suppression museum.

"If this thing develops into a park ... that acts as a draw for folks to come here-not only the bobber, Paul Bunyan, the lakes and everything else-and the tower was here to help protect our natural resources from the standpoint of looking out to see if there was a fire," Jurchen said.

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Thiede said, "This is going to be a project that will restore an icon of local history to a useable working monument to all who worked in the fire suppression field, and it will let the many who have enjoyed the view continue that enjoyment."

The county carries liability insurance, and the tower site will fall under the county's umbrella of coverage. The DNR has provided maintenance, repair and rehabilitation records for the property to help with safety improvements.

Mark Jurchen
Mark Jurchen

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