Region has plenty of attractions for tourists to see
Over the years, tourism has become a major industry for McMinn and Meigs counties, and the neighboring Tennessee Overhill area. After all: When you live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, you can expect both local residents and visitors to stop by and enjoy the view.
Not only do both counties offer museums, annual festivals and scenic drives, but there are also plenty of antique shops, quaint restaurants and great things to do and wonderful places to see and stay.
Tourism is Meigs County's second-largest industry, and many who visit are history buffs. The construction of Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, which is located on 30 acres adjacent to the Hiwassee River, saw a boost in early 2005 when a $1.3 million federal grant to complete work on the park, an ongoing project for the past 10 years.
The $1.3 million is to be used for the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park for the construction of an Interpretive Visitor Center at Blythe's Ferry. This site is significant to the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears because more than 9,000 Cherokee Indians camped and crossed the Tennessee River at Blythe's Ferry in 1838. In 1998, the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors granted Meigs County a 25-year recreational easement, giving public access to the 28.6 acres to be used as Cherokee Removal Memorial Park. The Interpretive Visitor Center construction project will include a memorial wall, an interpretive trail and overlook point above the Tennessee River. One of the park's main features is an interpretive trail which is registered as an official site on the National Trail of Tears.
To get to Cherokee Removal Memorial ark, take Highway 58 South from Decatur to Birchwood and follow the signs. The park is about 45 minutes from Athens.
In addition to its Cherokee heritage, Meigs County is sprinkled with several scenic waterways, as 225 miles of shoreline sweep the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers, and Chickamauga and Watts Bar Lakes.
Both Counties offer access to plenty of outdoor recreation attractions from hiking trails in the Cherokee National Forest to rafting or horseback riding along the Ocoee River, to enjoying some fishing or boating at Watts Bar Lake.
Helping the area to profit from every aspect of tourism is the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association, a heritage tourism project serving McMinn, Polk and Monroe counties. Based in Etowah, The Overhill is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Tourism Initiative, a program designed to assist communities in developing tourism plans based on cultural resources. It is also a great resource for bed and breakfasts, rustic cabins, routes for scenic drives and photo opportunities, and other information.
The program is striving to increase visitation to the region, promote historic preservation, and also serve as an educational tool and act as a catalyst for economic development.
This year has been the Overhill's busiest ever for reaching tourists, said executive director Linda Caldwell, largely due to its Web site, www.tennesseeoverhill.com, which is now the organization's largest source of contact with tourists, other than advertising campaigns.
For more information about this growing organization, call 263-7232 or visit its home page online.
If you're looking for something to do in McMinn and Meigs counties and the surrounding area, here's a list of what to see and do:
McMinn County Living Heritage Museum: This museum in Athens illustrates the life of early settlers in the area through more than 30 exhibit areas which display artifacts of the 19th and early 20th century. The museum is also home to one of the South's largest quilt shows, along with a brilliant glass collection and many annual and rotating exhibits, some of which come from the Smithsonian Institute. The museum recently expanded its exhibit on Cherokee culture, making it a premiere site for Cherokee history. For more information call 745-0329 or visit online at www.livingheritagemuseum.com
Louisville and Nashville Station and Museum: Also known locally as the L&N Depot, this two-story Victorian rail station was built in 1906 in Etowah.
The museum, Growing Up With the L&N Railroad, tells the story of this planned town built by the L&N Railroad and traces its working class history. There are also a picnic area, park with walking trail and working rail yard.
Home to the Etowah Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association's offices, there are also art exhibit rooms and historical exhibits by the Cherokee National Forest Park Service and the Etowah High School Alumni Association on the second floor of the depot.
The building and its grounds are also often used for local festivals, fairs and car shows as well as for private parties and receptions.
For more information, call 263-7840 or 263-7232.
Englewood Textile Museum: Englewood was built on textile manufacturing, the one Appalachian industry that employed large numbers of women in public work. This museum, located in downtown Englewood, focuses on the role of women in the development of this unique Southern textile town and includes a rotating exhibit program. A winner of a Tennessee Association of Museums' Award of Excellence, the museum also includes The Company Store antique gift shop. The museum's organizers are currently working to restore an adjoining historical building to serve as an expansion of the museum. After hours, visitors can still enjoy the museum's Memory Gardens next door, a pocket park flanked by a mural depicting the history of Englewood. For more information, call 887-5455.
Etowah's Gem Theater: Located on Tennessee Avenue in Etowah, this historic theater hosts various cultural and entertainment activities, including plays, concerts and the annual Cousin Jake Memorial Bluegrass Festival. The Gem Players were recently named as Etowah's resident theater group. The theater also hosts the Etowah Arts Commission offices and a new art gallery. For more information, call 263-7608.
Midway Drive-In Theater: One of Tennessee's 15 remaining drive-in theaters, this historical entertainment resource features a large solo screen lit with double features. Annual dusk-till-dawn screenings are presented in conjunction with the July 4th & Labor Day weekends. The theater is also the site of various events throughout the year including flea markets, farmers markets, yard sales and bake sales. Call 263-2632.
Mayfield Dairy Farms Visitor Center: Birthplace of the renowned Mayfield Dairy brand, this thriving dairy factory in Athens offers free plant tours along with an enticing ice cream parlor and an exhibit on dairy farming history. Call 744-9509 or visit online at www.mayfielddairy.com
Swift Aircraft Museum: A fascinating resource for flight enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, this museum at the McMinn County Airport offers year-round exhibits of vintage Swift aircraft and historical information. The museum is also the site of the annual Swift fly-in, a three-day festival featuring vintage aircraft from across the country. Call 745-9547.
Striker's Premium Winery: This Athens winery on County Road 172 offers complimentary tasting of its wines before buying. Open daily. Call 507-8816.
Watts Bar Dam and Lake: Located in Meigs County, the lake offers spectacular fishing, boating, water skiing, camping and hiking.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's hydroelectric dam offers a visitor's center and the nuclear plant is open to tour groups by prior arrangement. For more information, call the agency at (423) 365-8100.
A number of resorts, campgrounds and marina facilities are located on the lake, and it is not difficult to rent boats, canoes, fishing equipment or lodging. Call Meigs County Tourism at 334-5850 to obtain a brochure on campground, marina, and rental listings.
Meigs County Museum: The recently constructed new building is home to a collection of historical artifacts from Meigs County, as well as the Meigs County Archives. Call 334-4424 for more information.
Meigs County Courthouse: The 1902 courthouse in Decatur is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is currently undergoing renovations to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Jolly's Island: Also known as Hiwassee Island, Sam Houston once lived with the Cherokees in this District 1 wildlife preserve.
Scenic drives in Meigs County: Three great photo opportunities of an 1857 mill and home site off Clearwater Road and an 1885 iron truss bridge on County Road 403 are available in District 4, the Fairview community. There is also a community market off County Road 400.
Hiwassee River: Canoeing, kayaking, rafting and tubing are popular in Polk County. Known for its excellent fishing, the Hiwassee is regularly stocked with trout. A list of commercial outfitters and fishing guides is available by contacting the Tennessee Overhill, the Hiwassee Ranger station at 263-5486 or the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation at (423) 338-4133.
Ocoee River: An international favorite for whitewater enthusiasts with several commercial river outfitters and expert guides to help capture the excitement of Class IV rapids. For a list of whitewater outfitters, call the Ocoee Ranger station at (423) 338-5201 or the Tennessee Department of Conservation at (423) 338-4133.
Ducktown Basin Museum: Located in Polk County on the grounds of the Historic Burra Burra Copper Mine, the museum exhibits help visitors understand the environmental and cultural history of Tennessee's only copper district. Listed with the National Register of Historic Places, the museum also offers great photo opportunities from its overlook. Nearby worker villages and historic mine structures can be found in other parts of Ducktown and in the neighboring towns of Copperhill and Isabella. Call (423) 496-5778.
Ducktown Green-Gold Conservatory: Features one of the southernmost native cranberry bogs in the United States. It is owned by the adjoining Ducktown grammar school, a former college featuring ornate architecture also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Copperhill: This historic Polk County town in the heart of the Copper Basin is home to the head waters of the Ocoee River which runs across the state line into McCaysville, Ga., where it is called the Toccoa.
The town's worker villages from the golden years of copper mining are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and after slalom gates were placed across this stretch of river for the whitewater competitions of the 1996 Summer Olympics, it has become a favorite place for impromptu practice sessions for international whitewater athletes.
Old Copper Road: Now Highway 64 in Polk County, this road was originally built for copper haulers who transported ore by wagons to the railhead in Cleveland. A portion of the original road remains and is located near the 1996 Olympic whitewater venue.
Ocoee Whitewater Center: Built by the Cherokee National Forest Service in Polk County on Highway 64 for the 1996 Summer Olympics, the center features a river race course and visitor center and is the new channel upstream of the commercial whitewater rafting section.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center provides a venue for international scale white water canoe and kayak races with a building that also serves as a meeting place and exhibit area, teaching visitors how the Ocoee has changed over time and how humans have shaped the river and its uses. Call (423) 496-5197.
Ocoee Powerhouse and Flume Line: These historic hydroelectric power structures, some of which were built in 1912, includes powerhouses and a wooden flume line that carries the river to a powerhouse.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the powerhouse and flume line is located in Polk County.
Sugarloaf Mountain Park: Located on Highway 64 in Polk County, alongside the Ocoee River near Ocoee Dam No. 1. Includes a scale model of the new whitewater slalom course that was built by the Cherokee National Forest Service on the upper section of the Ocoee River for world class competitions. The park also features information about hydroelectric power in the Ocoee Gorge, interpretive signs, canoe areas, a picnic area and rest rooms. Call (423) 263-0050.
Conasauga River: This river is great for swimming, fishing, hunting, snorkeling and boating. It is also a habitat for more than 70 species of fish, including 25 rare varieties, and 10 species of freshwater mussels.
Cherohala Skyway: This mountain highway, 38 years in the making, connects Tellico Plains to Robbinsville, N.C., and offers beautiful views of the Cherokee and the Nantahala national forests. This road provides access to Bald River Falls on Forest Service Road 210, a state trout hatchery, and Green Cove, a popular spot for tourists and fishermen.
Lost Sea: The world's largest underground lake featuring guided tours, boat rides and a unique peak at cave marine life. Located on Highway 68 in Monroe County.
Tellico River: Located in Monroe County, the Tellico River is known for its trout fishing and beautiful waters. Depending on the flow of the water, kayaking and canoeing are allowed. For information, call the Tellico Ranger station at (423) 253-2520.
Sequoyah Birthplace Museum: Located on the banks of the Tellico River in Vonore in Monroe County, this museum traces the history of Native Americans in the Little Tennessee River Valley and Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee alphabet.
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area: Located in Vonore, this reconstructed British fort was the first outpost in the Overhill. Along with access to Tellico Lake for water sports, beach and hiking, historical reenactments are also offered year-round.
The Overhill area offers too many attractions to include in one reading, but there are several more worth visiting.
At Coker Creek in Monroe County you can pan for gold at the Coker Creek Village Store or pick up some high-quality crafts and artwork at the Coker Creek Crafts Gallery. Holders Store, also located near Coker Creek, is a great place to stop by to visit with the Holder family, gunsmiths for several generations and producers of sourwood honey.
Webb Brothers Store of Reliance is the place to get the low-down on news and great fishing areas and also offers a general store, post office, gas station, raft rental service.
The Pheasant Fields Rearing Pools in Tellico Plains offers an up-close look at brood trout and Sunshine Hollow in Riceville boasts beautiful daylilies, gardens and a bakery.
Several agricultural gems can also be found in the new Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association brochure, AgriCulture in the Tennessee Overhill, which highlights the first agricultural trail in Tennessee, located exclusively in the Overhill area. Featured sites include Benton's Country Hams, Maize Quest at Guthrie Farms, Mason's Corn Maze at Harmony Farm, the Mouse Creek Nursery, Native Garden at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, the Native Gardens at the Fort Loudon state historic area and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, Orr Mountain Winery, Savannah Oaks Winery, Shultz Farm Foods and Sunshine Hollow.
For more information on Overhill area attractions, call 263-7232.
For more information on the area's history and development, check out the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association's new brochure, From Furs to Factories: Exploring the Industrial Revolution in the Tennessee Overhill, or order the more extensive guidebook.