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Swift reflects on Watauga Lake and Dam

By Jack Swift

I’m old enough to remember traveling on Highway 67 from Mountain City to old Butler and beyond. In my mind’s eye I can vaguely remember that experience. If I tried to travel that road now, I would have to have a submarine for I would have to travel it under several feet of water. Butler and the part of the road that led to and through it were flooded with the creation of Watauga Dam.
The reservoir created with the building of Watauga Dam serves as a recreational area for swimming, boating, picnicking and fishing. Moreover, it is a very picturesque site with blue waters with green mountains as a backdrop. The reservoir extends 16 miles east from the dam toward the North Carolina border. At more than 1900 feet above sea level, the reservoir holds claim to being the highest in the Tennessee River System. Among its many uses are flood control, power generation, water quality and aquatic ecology.
The reservoir is 16 miles long with a shoreline of 109 miles. The cost of the project was $32,335,243.00
Watauga Lake is reportedly the third cleanest lake in America. In its waters you will fine 13 species of game fish including rainbow trout, brown trout, walleye, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass. In addition to the already mentioned exciting activities there are facilities for boating, camping, hiking, horseback riding, hunting lodging, water sports and wildlife viewing.
Writing about Watauga Dam and the reservoir it created brings back to me fond memories of when my parents, my brother and me would take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon trip to the lake and enjoy a picnic. It seems to me that food just tastes better when it is prepared outside on the grill.
The dam consists of rock and earth fill. The dam’s core consists of 1,484,700 cubic yards of compacted clay. It was built in a terrace-like design. On the two sides of the core, 2,000,000 cubic yards of rock were piled. It may not seem so, but the bridge that spans the lake (Highway 67) is longer than three football fields. Anytime I write about the Watauga Dam and Lake, I am cognizant of the controversy it created at the time. Many of the folks who had lived in the area of what would be the lake were forced to leave their homes. Of course it wasn’t easy. The gates of Watauga Dam were closed on December 1, 1948. Almost 12,000 acres of land had been bought. 761 families were relocated.