Located in neighboring Perry County is Perry Lakes Park, where the Rural Studio has completed four projects since 2001. The latest addition is a 100-foot-tall birding tower that offers an unparalleled view of the park's bird habitat.

Four thesis students worked with the Alabama Forestry Commission to select a decommissioned fire tower, then purchased it from the state for $25. “The catch was,” says team member Natalie Butts, “we had to remove it.” Before work could begin, the students were trained and certified in tower construction. Dismantling the 18,000 pounds of steel took them only 15 days—no cranes involved.

Following the advice of structural consultants Joe Farruggia and Anderson Inge, the students decided to place the tower on helical anchors because of limited access to the wooded site. They also designed and built a 270-foot-long boardwalk that approaches the tower along the edge of a cypress swamp. The boardwalk ate up much of their budget, requiring them to raise another $20,000.

“Our hope for the tower is to allow people to experience nature at many different levels,” says Butts. Despite liability concerns, Perry County was willing to go along with the unorthodox project because it should benefit local businesses.

PROJECT TEAM (FALL '04–SPRING '06): Adrienne Brady, Natalie Butts, Paul Howard, Coley Mulcahy