Wild River, Beloved Land

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).

fullsizerender-1585This 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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.)


  1. Been blessed to be able to show you some of the special places our home, East Tennessee. Glad you have learned to love the area because that may mean you will be back! We will be happy to be your ‘runnin’ buddies’ anytime.

    • Yup, I’m looking forward to coming back for sure and will keep you posted. Definitely will want to do more thriftin’! By the way, I finished “By a Spider’s Thread.” It was good. Thanks!

  2. Connie wood says:

    Sounds like your adventures are much to your liking. Look forward to seeing you this winter.

  3. Ann Williscroft says:

    Thanks Carol for the fascinating history of such a beautiful place. I’m so glad you have enjoyed it. You earned it for sure. Much more happy camping to you.

    • Thanks, Ann, I’m glad you enjoyed that. Next step is two more books on my reading list: William Bradford Huie’s “Mud on the Stars” and Borden Deal’s “Dunbar’s Cove,” both of which formed much of the basis for the movie “Wild River.” If you happen to get to them before I do, let me know what you think!

  4. Roger and Becky Brown says:

    We have been blessed to have known and befriended you in the short time we have both camped together. We could stand to have many more friends such as yourself and we always love to share the history and heritage of a strong mountain people such as the Scotch-Irish immigrants who were the main settlers of this area of our great country. We look forward to seeing you again, or, at the very least, to read more of your travel adventures in your blog. Thanks for being a friend; Roger and Becky.

    • I feel pretty sure our paths will cross again, especially since you both like to travel so much. Thanks for everything, and see you down the merry road!

  5. Roger and Becky Brown says:

    I think this poem by Robert Frost (which has been my favorite since childhood) has a ring of truth to it on this day of our parting:

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.
    Robert Frost

    • Well, I almost made it without crying, but that did it.
      What a blessing you two have been to me. What a blessing you are to each other. We will keep in touch and our roads, after all, will not be all that far apart.

  6. Roger and Becky Brown says:

    A merry belated Christmas and an early happiest of new years to both you and Dawny and all those whom you are presently in the company of. Hope to see you again soon.

    • Oh how lovely to hear from ya’ll! Happiest of the holiday season to the two of you, too. I hope all is well and that you are enjoying your new home, good health, and great happiness. I’ll let ya know next time I am passing through your way! 🙂

  7. Roger and Becky Brown says:

    Well, Carol, we haven’t heard from you since around Christmas. What are you up to and where are you RVing this summer? Love to hear from you!

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