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Kabekona fire tower will be demolished

The remaining days of the historic Kabekona fire tower seem numbered.

Perched high above a ridge off Highway 200, it is scheduled to be demolished in the future to make way for a high tech radio tower.

And that pending demolition is making some local residents nostalgic. The tower sits atop one of the highest ridges in Hubbard County.

"When I was a kid growing up all the kids used to go up there and party and that's when it was still used as a fire tower," said Hubbard County commissioner and former deputy sheriff Cal Johannsen.

Like most fire towers throughout Minnesota, the Kabekona tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934, according to historic accounts.

It was the era of FDR's "National Recovery Act" of the 1930s. Thousands of young men built public projects across the country.

According to the DNR, at its zenith, the northern part of the state had one tower for every eight square miles. After the CCC built them, they were mostly turned over to the DNR Forestry divisions to operate.

"According to my records I have a day of acquisition of June 1, 1935," said DNR Forestry assistant area supervisor Greg Vollhaber.

The tower was "decommissioned in either 1975 or 1976," he said.

Johannsen said after that the tower became even more popular for late night parties.

"They continued on even after it wasn't used as a fire tower any more," he recalled. "Then it got to be more of a party spot because there was never anyone back in there. Ours has a lot of history."

But eventually it became so rickety it was gated off to prevent entrance to the site. It was deemed a safety hazard.

"You don't want to crawl to the top any more," said Hubbard County engineer Dave Olsonawski.

Eventually the DNR turned the tower over to the Department of Transportation for use as a radio tower. DOT operates radio systems for the State Patrol and other state agencies.

As the state converts to an 800 MHz narrowband system, the Kabekona site will hold a tower for that communication system.

"It's a necessary evil for communications," commissioner Lyle Robinson said during a commission discussion last week on the proposed demolition.

The board signed a letter of intent for DOT to proceed.

The tower has 80 steps and a rather cramped spot for observation of forest fires.

During WWII many were used as aircraft observation towers. The tapered design, according to the DNR, made the towers very strong and wind resistant.

They became obsolete and too expensive to maintain, so the DNR eventually closed most of them down decades ago.