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TVA visitor centers open for season

  norris dam
Some of the locals at Norris Dam. Image by Knoxville Daily Sun staff

KNOXVILLE – The Tennessee Valley Authority opened its visitor centers on April 7, at its first dam, its tallest dam, its longest dam and several other facilities around the Tennessee Valley.

The public can visit centers at TVA’s tallest dam, Fontana, which towers 480 feet and forms part of the Appalachian Trail, near Bryson City, N.C.; Norris, TVA’s first dam that was completed in 1936 along with a planned community that became a national model, near Knoxville; and Kentucky Dam, TVA’s longest dam at more than 8,800 feet that forms the largest reservoir in the eastern United States, near Paducah, Kentucky.

In addition, informative display panels at Wilson and Guntersville dams in Alabama are accessible by the public year-round, as is the Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage facility visitor center near Chattanooga and visitor centers at both South Holston and Fort Patrick Henry dams in northeast Tennessee. Each offers information about TVA history, how it operates its electric system and how it manages the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

TVA retiree volunteers serve as guides at Raccoon Mountain, Fontana, Norris and Kentucky to answer questions about TVA, the history of the facilities and the surrounding areas.

Fontana Dam
Fontana Reservoir is situated deep in the Great Smoky Mountains. Fishing, boating and swimming are all popular at Fontana, but it is especially popular with wilderness hikers and campers.

The Appalachian Trail, which extends over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, crosses Fontana Dam. Hot showers are available at the trail shelter, maintained by TVA. Great Smoky Mountains National Park borders the reservoir to the north.

Fontana was built during World War II to provide electric power for the war effort. A new town, housing some 5,000 people who worked around the clock in three shifts, sprang up in the forest, and the project broke construction records. What was once the construction village is now a resort offering recreational activities such as boating, horseback riding and crafts making.

Fontana Dam is located off N.C. Highway 28 near the Tennessee border, is open 9:00 am to 7:00 pm daily through August and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm September and October.

Norris Dam
Norris Reservoir in east Tennessee extends 73 miles up the Clinch River and 56 miles up the Powell from Norris Dam. It was the first dam TVA built, and is named for Senator George Norris of Nebraska, author of the legislation that created TVA.

Norris is a popular tourist and recreation destination. In the 1930s, TVA established demonstration public parks at several locations on Norris Reservoir, including Cove Lake, Big Ridge and the area around Norris Dam. These parks later became the nucleus of Tennessee’s state park system.

Norris features numerous hiking trails. The River Bluff Trail is the longest at 3.1 miles and offers rich pockets of wildflowers. The Songbird Trail is, as the name suggests, a popular area for birding. The Loyston Point trail system is a must ride destination for mountain bikers.

Water sports at Norris include boating, water skiing, swimming and excellent fishing. The Tennessee state record brown trout was caught in the Clinch River below Norris Dam.

Norris Dam is located off Interstate 75, Exit 122 north of Knoxville. It is open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday-Saturday, and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm Sunday, April-November.

Raccoon Mountain/Laurel Point
is located off Raccoon Mountain Road near U.S. Highway 64/72 west of Chattanooga. It is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm through October and 10:00 am to 2:00 pm November-March.

Kentucky Dam
Kentucky Reservoir is home to many varieties of fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, bluegill, sauger and crappie. Numerous boat docks and launching ramps dot the coves of Kentucky’s shoreline. Water skiing, sailing and windsurfing are popular here, as well as bicycling, horseback riding, hunting and fishing.

Kentucky Dam is located off U.S. Highway 62 east coming from Paducah, Ky., or west from Clarksville, Tenn. It operates 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, from April-October.

Wilson Dam
Visitors enjoy camping, boating and fishing at Wilson Reservoir, which is known as the Smallmouth Capital of the World for the trophy smallmouth bass caught there. The dam reservation site features a network of hiking and walking paths, including Old First Quarters Small Wild Area, named after a complex that housed engineers during Wilson’s construction. Small feeder creeks run through the natural area, forming an ideal habitat for a variety of ferns, including the walking fern, a rarity in Alabama.

Wilson Dam, located off Reservation Road in Muscle Shoals, is accessible year-round.

Guntersville Dam
Guntersville is a mecca for those who love to fish. Crappie is the number one sport fish, usually accounting for more than half of the total catch. Bass and bluegill are also caught in large numbers. The area just below Guntersville Dam is known for its fine sauger fishing during autumn and winter, white bass in early spring and catfish during the summer.

The area below the dam offers unique opportunities for day hiking and caving. An easy one-mile loop trail leads by a cave used during the Civil War to mine saltpeter, a basic ingredient of gunpowder.

Guntersville Dam is located off Snow Point Rd. (CR-50) and is accessible year-around.

South Holston Dam
The South Fork Holston River is home to an annual spring migration of white bass. Locals say that when the serviceberry and dogwood bloom, the white bass run. It is also home to a world-class trout fishery in the river below the dam.

A footbridge from the parking lot below the dam leads to Osceola Island and its one-mile-loop wildlife trail.

South Holston Dam is located on South View Dam Drive, Bristol, Tenn. It is open 9:00 am to 7:00 pm April-October; and 10:00 am to 4:00 pm November-March.

Fort Patrick Henry
Fort Patrick Henry Reservoir is a popular site for fishing, particularly rainbow trout, bluegill, bass and crappie. Warrior’s Path State Park is located on the reservoir.

It is located off Interstate 81, Exit 59 and is open 9:00 am to 7:00 pm April-October; and 10:00 am to 4:00 pm November-March.

Melton Hill
The area around Melton Hill offers year-round camping plus sheltered picnic tables and pavilions. Two boat ramps—one below the dam and one above—give boaters access to Watts Bar Reservoir as well as Melton Hill Reservoir. Roads on both sides of the river are popular for walking, jogging or bike riding. Game fish in the reservoir include sauger, crappie and bass.

The dam is located off I-40, Exit 364 near Lenoir City, Tenn. and is accessible year-round.

Visitor centers close for major holidays and in times of severe weather.

Published April 11, 2018

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