The Nolichucky River at Embreeville in Washington County, Tennessee
|States||North Carolina, Tennessee|
|Counties||Yancey NC, Mitchell NC, Unicoi TN, Washington TN, Greene TN, Hamblen TN, Cocke TN|
|Source||North Toe River |
|- location||Avery County, NC|
|- elevation||4,280 ft (1,305 m)|
|Secondary source||Cane River |
|- location||Yancey County, NC|
|- elevation||3,533 ft (1,077 m)|
|- location||Yancey County, NC|
|- elevation||2,021 ft (616 m)|
|Mouth||French Broad River |
|- location||Cocke Tennessee, TN|
|- elevation||1,001 ft (305 m)|
The Nolichucky River is a major stream draining the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and east Tennessee, including Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States. The river is 115 miles (185 km) long.
The Nolichucky River rises as the confluence of the North Toe River and the Cane River near the community of Huntdale, North Carolina. The stream succeeds the North Toe as the boundary between Yancey County and Mitchell County, North Carolina. Trending roughly westward, it flows along the north flank of Flattop Mountain. The gorge is especially steep on its north side. Geologically, the area is predominantly underlain by metamorphic rock of Precambrian age.
The river then enters Unicoi County, Tennessee as it drops through a whitewater gorge, flowing through ranges of the Bald Mountains and the Unaka Mountains. Turning northwest, the stream is bridged by the Appalachian Trail, and then, just beyond this, by U.S. Highway 19W southwest of Erwin, Tennessee. Near Erwin, two tributary streams, South Indian Creek and North Indian Creek, join the Nolichucky River. Turning more to the north, the stream is paralleled for several miles by State Route 81, crossing into Washington County. The river cuts between several mountains at this point, including Rich Mountain to the south and Buffalo Mountain to the north.
Shortly after entering Washington County, the river makes a horseshoe bend near Embreeville, where it is bridged by Tennessee 81 for the first time. At the northeastern end of Embreeville Mountain, the stream emerges from a large gap, and, turning west-southwest, is bridged by Tennessee 81 again. This region is known as the Ridge and Valley province, underlain primarily by sedimentary rock of the Lower Paleozoic Era. The river then continues west-southwest for several miles, paralleled by State Route 107. The river leaves the roadside near Mt. Carmel. From there it flows northwest over a curving course to Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park near the Washington County–Greene County line. Many tributary creeks join the river in Washington and Greene Counties. At the county line one of the larger tributaries, Big Limestone Creek, joins the river.
From Crockett's birthplace the river flows southwestward, following the trends of the Ridge and Valley province's underlying geology. Bridged by Tennessee 107 just east of Tusculum College, the stream continues southwestward, later bridged by State Route 350 just above an impoundment caused by Nolichucky Dam. This dam was constructed as a hydroelectric project by the former Tennessee Electric Power Company in 1912. The dam was sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1939. The TVA continued to operate the dam for electrical power purposes until the 1970s. The degree of siltation of the reservoir, called Davy Crockett Lake, had made continued efforts to operate the facility for hydroelectric purposes impracticable. The agency retired the dam as a power source but continues to maintain it and to use it for flood control and recreational purposes.
The stream then flows almost due west and is then bridged by U.S. Highway 321. Just before the Greene County–Cocke County line the river is bridged by State Route 340. Shortly below this point, the river becomes the Greene County–Cocke County line. A few miles below this point it is bridged by Knob Creek Road, a Cocke County road. Slightly south of Interstate 81, Greene County, Cocke County, and Hamblen County come to a point at a bend in river, where Lick Creek joins the river. From this point on, the meandering stream forms the Hamblen County–Cocke County line.
The confluence of the Nolichucky with the French Broad River occurs in the upstream portion of the Douglas Lake impoundment, caused by Douglas Dam, a World War II-era TVA project. This area, which the locals call 'Herndons Point' is in Jefferson County in a community named Leadvale. Near the mouth is the Rankin Wildlife Management Area, a reserve operated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
While the origins of the name-place have long been debated and remain unclear, it is believed to come from a distortion of the nearby Cherokee village resting in present day Jonesborough, TN called (roughly) Na’na-tlu gun’yi, which has been interpreted “Spruce-Tree Place.” Others argue that it actually means "Rushing Water(s)" or "Dangerous Water(s)". Local guides like to insist upon the menacing "River of Death", although that name is actually associated with the Chickamauga (which also happens to be a contested name-place itself). Perhaps the 'true' meaning remains elusive, and yet the river's life-nourishing stream has established itself again as a sacred space, demanding reverence for its awesome power.
The Nolichucky is considered to be a fairly famous and historic stream in Tennessee, being in and associated with the part of the state that was the subject of the first extensive white settlement - nearby Jonesborough, (see above) being Tennessee's oldest town. The state's first governor, John Sevier, was known by the nickname "Nolichucky Jack", a reference to this stream.
Most of the history of the Nolichucky River Valley has been largely forgotten, even since European settlers moved into the territory. Up until that time, for thousands of years, Native Americans inhabited along the banks and in the surrounding woodlands. "Here, in 1776, militiamen built Fort Lee near the confluence of the Big Limestone Creek and the Nolichucky River. Future Tennessee Governor John Sevier, then a lieutenant, was in charge of constructing and garrisoning the fort, built to defend the frontier settlers of Upper East Tennessee (then North Carolina) against an invading Cherokee army during the Revolutionary War... The Cherokees burned Fort Lee in July 1776. The site of the fort is believed to be in the vicinity of the David Crockett Birthplace State Park... the park preserves the site of the original farm of John Crockett; his son David (aka Davy Crockett) was born at this property in 1786."
Influence of weather
The naturally flowing Nolichucky River is a popular whitewater rafting and canoeing destination since it has stretches of both white water areas and calm water, however, when lack of adequate summer rain fall will not allow for rafting trips on this naturally flowing stream during seasonal droughts, local commercial rafting companies in Unicoi County will often divert whitewater river trips to the Watauga River running through Elizabethton, Tennessee in Carter County. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) regulates flow of the Watauga River guarantees a minimum release schedule accommodating whitewater rafting companies during the summer season for with the regular release of deep, impounded reservoir waters from behind both the TVA Watauga Dam and the TVA Wilbur Dam
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: North Toe River
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Cane River
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Nolichucky River
- "The National Map". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2011.
- Mooney, James (1992). History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books. p. 527. ISBN 9780914875192.
- Sakowski, Carolyn (2007). Touring the East Tennessee Backroads (2nd ed.). Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair. p. 63. ISBN 9780895873507.
- "The Transformation of the Nolichucky Valley, 1776-1960." National Register of Historic Places - http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/64500763.pdf
- Nolichucky: High water temporarily strands campers; rafting company expects boon in business..