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Virginia Kraft
July 07, 1958
For summer travelers in search of unexpected vacation adventure, Sports Illustrated explores the South's most impressive valley
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July 07, 1958

Discovery: The Tennessee Valley

For summer travelers in search of unexpected vacation adventure, Sports Illustrated explores the South's most impressive valley

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At Boone Lake, RAINBOW DOCK near Piney Flats and ROCKINGHAM DOCK outside Jonesboro have cabins, boats and motors for rent. MEREDITH'S BOAT DOCK AND GRILL, near Route 4, attracts large fleets of houseboats during the season because of its big launching ramps and fine restaurant. Wednesday is smorgasbord day at Meredith's. A southern smorgasbord, complete with fried catfish and barbecued pork, is a memorable experience.


South Holston Lake, 31 miles from Fort Patrick Henry and Boone lakes, is right in the middle of the rough, mountain country sometimes called "the cradle of the southwest." During the Civil War in this area of little or no slavery, alliances were sharply divided between North and South. Today the few farmers of the region struggle against rocky soil to harvest crops of tobacco and vegetables. Back in the hills, the occasional smoke of a still drifts above the trees, signaling a moonshiner at his illegal but never abandoned sport.

The only legitimate summer theater south of the Mason-Dixon line is at Abingdon, Va., eight miles north of Bristol (see map) in the shadow of White Top Mountain. Known as the State Theatre of Virginia, the BARTER THEATRE presents an excellent dramatic bill from June to September. Showing this week is The Mouse Trap.

Throughout this region, small mountain streams afford fine trout fishing well into the summer months. But most fishermen in the area go for the big black bass in South Holston Lake. Streamers, often used behind a small spinner or in front of a worm, are most popular. Although the lake was not completed until late in 1950, big fish are beginning to be taken regularly.

Friendship dock, a short drive from South Holston Dam over a twisting, blacktop road through the mountains, is the most popularly patronized of the seven small-boating centers on the lake. During the season its floating dock handles between 125 and 150 private craft in addition to 31 rental boats. Recently constructed redwood cabins, with or without cooking facilities, rent weekly for $50 to $60 a couple with no charge for children under 10. Friendship's small restaurant also has fish-freezing facilities and carries fishing tackle.


Watauga Dam is surrounded by a ring of mountains on a clear, blue lake 37 miles from South Holston. Its water reaches depths of 300 feet in some places. There are nine boat docks on the lake, comprising a half million dollars worth of water-based floats, piers, boat slips and recreational craft. Seven of the docks have overnight accommodations and most of them have campsites and picnic areas.

Watauga lakeshores on Highway 67 has a good restaurant, but here—as at the majority of restaurants in the valley—it is frequently difficult to get a rare steak even when you order it served raw. Watauga Lakeshores' terrace borders a new swimming pool perched high above the lake. Numerous hiking trails begin at the restaurant and wind their way up into the surrounding mountains, along fine trout streams and into great meadows of rhododendron. The altitude at Watauga is 2,000 feet; average summer temperature: 74°.

On the lake itself, fishing is good for large-and smallmouth bass, crappie and some really big pike. Bait and tackle are sold at all docks on the lake. Guides, and this is true of much of the Tennessee Valley area, are generally local fishing enthusiasts who gather at the larger docks. They are happy to take visitors out for a few dollars (average: $10 a full day) when they are not working elsewhere. During the best fishing months—April to October—this means there are lots of guides on the docks. Although they are not professionals in the Florida sense of the word, they invariably know the immediate waters as well as the fish.

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