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Shawnee National Forest temporarily closes Trigg Lookout Tower in Simpson for repairs
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Shawnee National Forest temporarily closes Trigg Lookout Tower in Simpson for repairs

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SIMPSON — Trigg Lookout Tower near Simpson in rural Johnson County is an especially popular spot this time of year as the leaves turn shades of faded yellow, amber orange and burnt red. The decades-old metal fire outlook tower offers one of the highest points of panoramic views of the luscious fall woodlands.

The promise of a stunning sunset is what drew Andrew Dalton and Brianna Serrano to the top of the tower on the evening of Sept. 29. They had traveled to Southern Illinois from the Chicago suburbs to camp in the area, and asked around for the best place to watch the sun go down. 

But others planning a trek to the top will have to wait, as it’s closed for the time being.

The Shawnee National Forest, which owns the tower, temporarily closed it on Thursday afternoon after The Southern inquired about whether it planned to repair a large gaping hole in the fencing around the top platform.

Trigg Lookout Tower

The Shawnee National Forest has temporarily closed the Trigg Lookout Tower near Simpson to repair a hole in the fencing around the top platform. 

The closure is temporary. “We intend to patch it as soon as we can so we can reopen,” said SNF spokesman Richy Rosado. He said the forest service is not able to predict how quickly it will be repaired and reopened at this stage.

Trigg Lookout Tower

Shawnee National Forest Service personnel tape off the entrance to Trigg Lookout Tower near Simpson on Wednesday afternoon. It is closed temporarily for repairs. 

Employees visited the site and secured the entrance to the tower with yellow tape on Thursday.

People familiar with the area had taken note of the dangerous hole. On Sunday, a member of The Shawnee National Forest Facebook page, an unofficial group dedicated to the forest, asked other members: “Who would I contact about replacing the fence wire at the top of Trigg Tower. I know someone who is willing to donate the wire. It’s in terrible shape, and all it takes is one slip and someone may fall off.”

Rosado said forest service workers had only recently patched a different hole in the fencing. In fact, the forest service has made several efforts of late to improve and secure the area, including installing an attractive split-rail fence around it this summer.

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But while a popular tourist destination, the tower also draws its share of vandals.

It is covered in spray paint and other graffiti, much of it old, but some of it new. Vehicles had also recently damaged the ground around the tower. This season, the historic tower seems to have been treated even more harshly than in past years.

Trigg Tower

Trigg Tower is a popular tourist spot, but also draws its share of vandals. 

As far as the hole in the fence, Rosado said the U.S. Forest Service is “looking into alternatives that will be harder to damage and make a more lasting repair in the near future.”

The Trigg Lookout Tower is the last remaining fire tower in the Shawnee National Forest of the 16 that were built between 1934 and 1939. It has not served as an active fire lookout tower for decades, but has remained open as a tourist destination. It draws people from hundreds of miles to its remote location atop a rolling hill in the Southern Illinois Ozarks.

Trigg Ozark Tours

Trigg Tower, a fire watch station near Simpson in rural Johnson County, is named for Eldorado newspaper publisher Lindolph Oscar Trigg, as is the road it is located on, Trigg Tower Road. The original wooden structure stood 40 feet tall. It was later replaced with a 100-foot-tall steel structure that was shortened for tourists visiting the Shawnee National Forest. It is no longer used for fire watch. 

The first tower there was a 40-foot-tall wooden structure built in the early 1930s. It was later replaced by the steel structure that stands today. When originally constructed in the late 1930s, the steel structure stretched 100 feet into the air, though it was shortened for safety reasons some time after it was no longer in official use.

How an Eldorado newspaper publisher convinced officials to establish the Shawnee National Forest

The tower, and the road it sits on, are named for L.O. Trigg, an Eldorado newspaper publisher credited with convincing federal officials in Washington to establish a national forest in Southern Illinois in the 1930s.


Our favorite photos of the Shawnee National Forest

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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