A quarter of a century ago the Tennessee River, which flows across the heart of America's South, was wayward and rampageous, suited neither to navigation nor recreation. In spring, great floods poured ruin over its banks. In autumn, rocky shoals jutted from its limestone bed. White water rushed over treacherous rapids and idled in mosquito-infested pools.
Today this is all changed. A tame and temperate river, the broad Tennessee flows peacefully to the Ohio and the Mississippi. When the Tennessee Valley Authority, which thus transformed the river, was created 25 years ago, the initials TVA were heralded (and defended) as a brand mark of human progress. But no one in the embattled days of its origin was rash enough to guess its true potential. Originally, TVA's objective was threefold: power, navigation and flood control. Today it generates electrical power for 1½ million customers; more than 12 million tons of freight move through its channels each year; and floods no longer threaten its valley.
But this is only part of the story. The most spectacular outgrowth of TVA is something even its originators did not predict—indeed, did not dare predict for fear of being thought frivolous. For the taming of the Tennessee created a man-made recreational paradise unrivaled anywhere in the world. This vast playground, lying within 500 miles of half the population of the nation, stretches across 26 million acres. Its lakes, with over 10,000 miles of shore line, yield 23 major species of fish.
Everything is geared to the vacationer, and particularly the vacationing family. For auto tourists, the eastern and central lakes are so located that all can be visited at leisure on a two- or three-week vacation. For boating enthusiasts, the cruise from Knoxville, Tenn. to Paducah, Ky. is an unforgettable adventure. A tour of the Tennessee Valley is in some ways as surprising and awe-inspiring as an African safari (SI, March 10). It is with a sense of real discovery that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED explores this totally new American phenomenon.
TOURING THE TENNESSEE VALLEY
Knoxville, less than a day's drive from the major TVA lakes in the eastern and central valley, is the best place to begin an auto tour. NORRIS, CHEROKEE, FORT PATRICK HENRY, BOONE, SOUTH HOLSTON, WATAUGA, DOUGLAS, FONTANA and HIWASSEE lakes can all be visited at leisure in from two to three weeks. This involves about 630 miles of straight driving. Add another 500-plus miles for sightseeing.
Norris Lake, with its more than 800 miles of wild, tree-covered shore line, is only 26 miles north of Knoxville. Near Norris Dam, the first of 20 great dams built by TVA, broad, grassy meadows slope upward and young deer sneak out from the woods on summer evenings to graze along the lake shore. An ancient gristmill stands in the shadow of the 265 feet of concrete which is Norris Dam, its weathered water wheel still grinding corn into meal.
Overlooking the dam is NORRIS DAM STATE PARK, a rambling woodland laced with bridle paths and hiking trails. Completely equipped cottages, rented by the day ($7 up) or week ($45 up), as well as a lodge, restaurant and several camping areas, are part of the park operation. Right at the dam, the new NORRIS LAKE MOTEL looks out across the lake and, at night, upon a string of lights bobbing from houseboats moored off NORRIS DOCK. The dock itself, one of 14 on Norris, has a snack bar and an excellent clothing and sports shop. A broad macadam launching ramp (fee: $1 per boat) can handle practically any boat up to the size of a battleship, but the trend on Norris is small outboard runabouts.
"On a lake like this, a small, fast boat gets you anywhere you want to go," says Troy Dykes, who operates Norris Dock. "You can also use it for water skiing, and that's a sport that's really becoming popular here." Many of the docks have skis for rent (average: $10), as well as snack bars, boat and motor rentals ($3.50 and up) and overnight cabins.