A year or so ago, I saw the movie “Wild River” (released in 1960). As usual, the TV was on as background while I was doing other things, so I didn’t watch too closely, but I got the gist of the story. A government official shows up in rural Tennessee and must convince a stubborn old woman, Ella Garth, to leave her home and her beloved land to make way for progress.
The movie takes place in the 1930s when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began damming up the Tennessee River and many of its tributaries, submerging land that had been in some families for generations under brand new lakes. The purpose was to control rampant flooding and to provide power generation. On its face, a boring story line… unless you lived it. And the ending was pretty sad, no matter which side you were on. There was a romantic subplot, but it struck me as an afterthought–and not particularly engaging–compared to the struggle between Ella and the government man, the river and the land.
The picture at the top of this post is of the Cherokee Reservoir, formed when TVA dammed the Holston River in the early 1940s to help meet energy demands at the start of World War II. The islands in the picture used to be hilltops. Now they are islands available for intrepid boater-campers to use for a day or an evening of secluded fun. In the movie, Ella is buried in the old family plot on top of her island, the only piece of the Garth homestead to remain above water.
I took the shot from the Panther Creek State Park Overlook (I made it, Lynda!). Way in the distance on the right hand side you can see the Cumberland Gap, which Daniel Boone helped to clear in 1775, enabling easier passage across the Appalachians for settlers heading from Virginia into Kentucky and Tennessee, a critical peg in the progress of westward expansion. A few miles from the state park is Morristown, home to the Crockett Tavern Museum (housed in a replica building representing the tavern run by Davy Crockett’s parents near this location in the 1790s).
This rich mix of beauty, history, and storytelling (Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, hosts an annual Storytelling Festival early each October) is one of the things that attracts me so strongly to east Tennessee. That, and the people.
A couple who befriended me in the campground this summer has taken me on several long drives so that I can enjoy the sights from the passenger seat and not worry about traffic and mountainous, winding roads. They grew up in this area, and its hills and mountains, rivers and streams, roads and trails are mapped in their bones. They are not content to sit put, enjoying the view from a distance, but instead are always going out on long drives into the heart of the countryside which, ever-changing, never grows old. Fortunately for me, they are generous, friendly souls, willing and proud to share this piece of their earth, this piece of their heart.
Enough with the sentimentality! To wrap up, here are two lovely campgrounds near TVA constructs for interested readers:
- Watauga Dam Campground near Wilbur Dam outside of Elizabethton, TN (link: wataugadam.com). A TVA-run campground, it is very small (28 sites) and absolutely beautiful. You need to travel quite a few miles down a winding, narrow road along the Watauga River to get to it. The campground lies right on the riverside and has level, gravel sites with E/W hookups for $25-$27 per night. Thoroughly secluded and peaceful, it also looks to be very well maintained.
- Panther Creek State Park Campground on Cherokee Lake, Morristown, TN (link: tnstateparks.com/parks/campground/panther-creek). The campground is small (50 sites), with E/W hookups for $20/night. Some sites will only accommodate smaller rigs, but there are larger sites interspersed. When making reservations, you might want to call and talk to someone familiar with the campground before picking your spot. The campground isn’t on the lake but it is a short drive to the overlook, boat ramp, pool, playground, and many hiking, bicycling, and horse trails. At over 1,400 acres, the park itself is huge and has much to offer.
Happy camping, happy campers. May you ever be happily ensconced on the high ground, with loved ones and friends to share the view.
(Dedicated to Becky and Roger, Karen, and Jean, new friends and gracious travel-guides during my stay in their home, east Tennessee.)