Tellico Plains is at the gateway to the southern Cherokee National Forest. The 640,000 acre forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee, running along the North Carolina border in the heart of the Southern Appalachian mountain range. The Cherokee National Forest is one of the world's most diverse areas, abounding with nature, history and scenic beauty. These mountains are home to more than 20,000 species of plants and animals. Recreational opportunities are plentiful, with hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, scenic overlooks, swimming holes, streams, rivers and abundant wildlife. In the Cherokee National Forest there are 43 species of mammals, 55 species of amphibians and reptiles and 154 species of fish. Each year millions of people visit Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest.
Cherokee National Forest took its name from the Cherokee Indians, stewards of this land long before colonial settlers moved into what is now east Tennessee in the late 1700s. A wave of the northern timber companies moved to this region in the early 1880s. By 1910, almost 40 percent of the timber produced in the United States was harvested from the Southern Appalachian Mountains. As timber and mineral companies bought up large tracts of land, small mountain farms decreased and towns became important centers of population. Local residents were employed both in the forest and in work camps. For several years, lumbering provided steady dependable income for thousands of mountaineers. Timber was brought out of the mountains by rail and by the rivers. A rail line was built along the Tellico River in the early 1900s. Because of constant flooding, this road was moved upslope and converted to a road in the mid-1930s, and today it is the Tellico River Road (FR 210), a beautifully scenic drive.
Sadly, less than 50 years later, timber and other resources were depleted and companies began heading west. They left in their wake the lands nobody wanted, a region plagued with unemployment, poverty, and limited natural resources.
A 1902 government report outlined the devastation of the Southern Appalachians. As a result of the report Congress passed the Weeks Act in 1911, authorizing the federal government to purchase "forested, cut-over, or denuded lands within the watersheds of navigable streams," as well as purchasing private land from willing settlers. Much of what is now known as Cherokee National Forest was acquired under this Act, much of it from large timber companies.
Cherokee National Forest was established June 14, 1920, from land acquired in southeast Tennessee. In 1936, national forests were reorganized along state lines and all National Forest System land in Tennessee became Cherokee National Forest.
A great resource for anything you want to know about the Cherokee National Forest (pass & permit info, interactive maps & guides by activities, alerts, learning centers, and more). "Special Places" are broken down by Forest Service zones (see map below), including the following near Tellico Plains:
The quality of forestlands purchased during this time varied over the Southern Appalachian region. The best lands were in areas with remote, steep terrain where rail and road access was difficult. Unlike some Appalachian forests, most of the lands acquired in the Cherokee purchases were already cutover, burned, or in the process of being cut.
Today it is difficult to see the scars from this devastation. The Forest is managed cooperatively as a Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Several Civilian Conservation Corps structures remain in this vicinity, including historic Tellico Ranger Station, Pheasant Fields fish rearing pools and the portal at Dam Creek Picnic Area. The Cherokee National Forest now presents a changing ecosystem ranging from the rugged shores of Tellico River to a typical Southern Appalachian forest to a high elevation mountain forest more typical of the northern United States. The Cherokee's majestic mountains, tumbling streams, and diverse vegetation, our great natural resources, are protected and respected by those who now enjoy it. Throughout the seasons, sightseeing, picnicking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting, wildlife viewing and water based activities bring visitors from near and far to the Cherokee National Forest. Places to camp vary from primitive sites to developed campgrounds with hookups and bathhouses.
Tennessee Wild is dedicated to protecting wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. We aim to educate the public about the benefits of wilderness and promote volunteerism and the sound stewardship of Tennessee's wild places. To get involved or make a donation, please visit: tnwild.org Tennessee Wilderness Act (see video)
Below is a clip from the PBS show "This American Land" episode 201 featuring Tennessee Wild's work to protect the Cherokee National Forest.