Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — UT architecture students, along with professors Robert French, Tricia Stuth and Ted Shelton, spent much of the past three semesters designing and constructing an interpretive overlook observation deck for Panther Creek State Park in Morristown, Tenn.

The history of the Panther Creek State Park site has evolved over the years from Cherokee hunting grounds to mill town to state park. Friends of Panther Creek State Park, a nonprofit organization established to protect and preserve the park, wanted a scenic overlook. The faculty and students designed not only a functional platform but also an artistic interpretation of the park’s evolution.

Architecture students taking the construction explorations course taught by French have been directly involved in constructing the overlook’s prefabricated panels, the wooden sections that make up the platform. Weekly travel to the park site in Morristown for construction was not feasible for students, so the platform was built in sections in the atrium of the Art + Architecture Building.

These sections will be moved to the park site at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, April 24. Beginning the morning of Saturday, May 3, students, faculty and the Friends group will begin the daunting task of re-assembling the prefabricated sections of the platform. Full completion is expected by mid-summer.

Named the Bill Catron Observation Deck after a member of the Friends who passed away, the 687-square-foot platform will give visitors to the park a scenic view of Cherokee Lake and the surrounding mountains.

The design incorporates educational panels that interpret the area’s cultural, physical and temporal landscape. UT graphic design professor Sarah Lowe is leading the design of the panels in collaboration with park administrators and UT sculpture student Ronda Wright is leading the metalwork.

The platform has been designed for installation below road level so that it will not impede views of the lake and mountains for those approaching by car or on foot. Its three-tiered configuration staggers down the bluff, allowing clear views when seated or standing and providing an accessible route for park visitors.

In a similar project, French, Stuth and Shelton will undertake the renovation of and addition to the Panther Creek State Park Visitors’ Center, beginning this summer with preliminary design work, building permits and grant applications.

Shelton will teach a green design seminar this fall using the visitor center project as a test case. French and Stuth will teach a design studio in spring 2009 to undertake the construction of the renovation with students, similar to how students worked on the observation deck project.

The design and construction of the Panther Creek State Park Bill Catron Observation Deck is a collaborative research and outreach project that involves Panther Creek State Park, the UT College of Architecture and Design and the UT College of Arts and Sciences.

Friends of Panther Creek State Park obtained a grant of $25,000 to fund the purchase of materials for the project, with the university supplying the labor in kind. Additional support was provided by a UT Professional Development Award in the amount of $3,100 and services by Towe Ironworks, Cherokee Porcelain and Mallia Engineering.

For more information on the Bill Catron Observation Deck, visit

Tricia Stuth, architecture professor, (215) 266-2631,

Kristi Hintz, UT media relations, (865) 974-3993,