Thursday, March 22, 2007

Norris Dam State Park, Tennessee

Looking for a great summer place to camp and swim for a summer vacation close enough to drive to from Greensboro? Try this Tennessee destination with its cheap, and old-fashioned fun.

Good old Norris Dam, it's been over twenty years since I've set foot on her massive concrete walls. Built by the TVA (the Tennessee Valley Authority) in the 1930s, it helped bring jobs to thousands of unemployed following the stock market crash. 

I always thought the most interesting thing about Norris Dam was that their is a city that is actually submerged below the water behind the dam. When I was little and we would come to the park and vacation and they would show a film about the town, and the filling of the dam. I was hoping they might have it on Blu-Ray when we visited the ranger station but sadly this was not the case. Despite this setback, the dam is still a magnificent sight and educational experience about the  many  lives that were changed by this dam.  Lives that are preserved below the murky water where even today are the homes, yards, trees, cars, furniture and the remnants of the past are preserved in time. Norris Dam is a beautiful example of spirit and perseverance of mankind.

My parents used to drive down from where we lived in Ohio each summer to vacation in the Smokey Mountains when I was a child. We'd attach our camping trailer to my dad's brown 77 Nova and drive down to Norris Dam State Park in Tennessee. One of the thrills of being poor and camping was the playground. The playground at Norris is notorious, historical, and more importantly legendary as far as playgrounds go. The playground was built before lawsuits, and safety measures. Back in those days if a kid fell 18 feet, hitting her head on solid iron ore bars, then she was expected to get her butt up off of the jagged stones and get back up and play.

You can imagine my surprise when we recently drove over to Norris Dam today and the Playground of Death was still there! Unbelievable as it was, when I caught sight of Old Woody, I was in disbelief. Let's just say, that if you ever get to go back a re-live your child hood places, it's quite an interesting feeling. The van was barely park when I flung open the door, pushed my son out of the way and ran like crazy to the metal bars that marked the entrance into the belly of the beast. It all started coming back to me. I knew exactly how to get to the top, I remembered how we used to push out the top boards on the roof of the playground so we could climb on top. Did we have no fear?


See this picture. This used to be an Olympic sized swimming pool. More importantly it is where I learned how to swim. All that concrete? That's where the pool used to be. That grass? Used to all be pool people. This pool used to be huge! Don't get me wrong, this picture doesn't due the current pool justice. It's still big, but the old pool, gigantic.

So what happened? I was nearly in tears when I realized the place of my childhood was filled in and paved over here at Norris Dam State Park.

We asked the park ranger who informed us, that several years ago everyone arrived at work to find the pool empty and a large hole in the pool leading into a cave. If you could comprehend the size of this pool, you'd realize this must have been something to see. The old pool literally was a football field long in size.
This is the sink hole that was being repaired in the middle
of the swimming pool. Can you just imagine coming
to work, and finding that in your pool?

So the odd part is, for all those years of swimming and playing in the Tennessee sun, I was technically swimming over a dangerous cave that at any moment could have gave way and sucked me into the sub-terrain abyss of the Norris Dam State Park. Weird huh?

Update: 7/12/2012
So the last few days of our vacation we met up with the kids and the grans at Norris Dam again. Spent the day swimming, doing camp fires and hanging out with the staff during various activities.

The bad news is they tore down my childhood playground. Apparently the state has decided despite it being there for thirty years, that because it's wood, it might turn into a fiery inferno and bake the kids in a wildfire. Several people complained that it's missing, many who had children and are 20+ or older. The state needs to replace it with a replica in my opinion made out of synthetics or all will be lost.
We took the boat trip out on the lake, and
 they didn't even take you into the cave like they used to. 

I was able to swim in the new pool. It's nice, though a bit weird knowing that the steel girders installed on top of the sink-hole are all that is holding you up. I miss the larger pool but understand the reasons for the smaller pool.

For the most part the park was dead. It was nice for us, but sad for the park, however, most of the country was dead on our travels, likely because of the heat.

Best place to eat at Norris Dam? Drive down to Knoxville to Sweet P's BBQ... it's was awesome!