A mountain-top viewing area and pavilion may soon go at the site of the former Barker House on Sawnee Mountain.
Master plans for Phase 4 of the Sawnee Mountain Preserve were discussed and approved on Wednesday, Oct. 5, at a meeting of the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Board after a presentation by Andrea Greco of architecture and engineering company Pond & Company.
The plans were broken down into two parts: future improvements around the Sawnee Mountain Preserve Visitor Center on Spot Road and an outdoor use for where the former Barker House once stood, which the board also approved at the meeting as being called the Barker Overlook going forward.
Plans for the Barker Overlook include access to the site from a new 5-foot pervious rubber trail walkway along Tower Road and Cunningham Point to the site, a mountaintop overlook, a gate, a restroom facility, a pavilion area with tables and an open space.
The site was formerly the location of a home designed by late architect Jim Barker as his home, which sported a flying-saucer-shaped structure on top connected to a basement through a staircase and elevator. The unique layout of the house has led to a common refrain that the house was “Jetsons on top, Flintstones on bottom.”
Since there are other residential homes around the property, there will not be parking at the top of the mountain, and instead, the trail extension will take visitors to the site.
“One of the big problems over the years, as you probably know, is people going up there and causing problems,” Greco said. “It was worse when the house was there … so we want to make sure, for the respect of the property owners, that we reduce the troubles and financial woes on Forsyth County police, fire, etc., so the plan is to have no parking at the top. There would be minor access for maintenance vehicles and county parking.”
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The project is expected to cost $1.55 million: $979,743 for the overlook and $570,840 for work along Tower Road, the gate and a proposed turnaround.
In response to a survey previously open to the public, the overlook will also include signs pointing out other landmarks and the history of the house.
The planned pavilion will also have a spaceship-esque shape as a nod to the Barker House.
According to a Forsyth County News article from 2003, the house and about 13 acres around it were purchased for $1.8 million to be used to preserve the mountain, though the article stated “how the house might be used in that context has not yet been decided.”
Between 2003 and 2010, five studies were done to find uses for the house, all of which found extreme damage.
The house had fallen into disrepair since the county’s purchase and had been the site of illicit activities such as vandalism and trespassing.
From the beginning of 2015 to August 2016, local emergency personnel responded to 83 emergency and non-emergency calls at the property.
In September 2016, Forsyth County Commissioners voted to bring the structure down but decided the week after to postpone the decision to give Barker’s family six months to find an alternative.
At the visitors’ center, improvements will include a new open play field, additional parking and new buildings, such as a park storage building, a climbing wall shed and a pavilion.
“We’re looking at prefabricated but customized storage buildings for this area made out of metal, very durable over time, low maintenance and pretty simple, but still keeping with some of the character of the site as well,” Greco said.
The project is expected to cost about $2 million.