Tennessee's Treasure

June 17, 2002
Filed under Destinations

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Some scenic drives can be covered in a matter of a few hours, and others take a day or two.
But if you really want to do justice to Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, you need to allow
several days. Even then, you will have to make choices on how to allot your time. This
magnificent and varied part of central Tennessee has lofty mountains, verdant valleys,
rolling meadows, rugged canyons, waterfalls, historic sites and more. Although the
Cumberland Plateau stretches from northeast to southwest from West Virginia to Alabama, the
heart of the area lies in Tennessee. Fortunately for today’s visitors, much of the plateau
has been set aside by various agencies for recreation. There are no major highways through
this part of the plateau, which remains sparsely populated except for a few small towns.
However, all of the roads leading to the following sites are RV friendly. Since there are
many roads crisscrossing the area, you will need a detailed map of Tennessee to locate
these sites. Center Hill Lake A good place to start your tour of
Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is Center Hill Lake. To reach the Edgar Evans State Rustic
Park, a good place to spend the night, turn south from Interstate 40 onto State Route 96.
This deep, clear lake, which has 415 miles of shoreline, is great for fishing, boating and
sightseeing. The lake was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the confluence of
the Caney Fork and Collins rivers, and provides many recreation opportunities.
Appalachian Center for Crafts Overlooking Center Hill Lake, just a mile
off State Route 56, is this nationally renown art center. It is far more than a place where
local artisans display their wares. It actually is a satellite of the Tennessee
Technological University in Cookeville. Students, including those who are not pursuing
academic credit, produce a vast variety of traditional and contemporary works of art, using
clay, metal, fiber, wood and glass. In addition to academic courses, there are workshops
for all ages and skill levels, including children’s programs. Artists from around the world
conduct workshops and present lectures at the center. Creative and intricate pieces of art,
many of them on sale at the store, go far beyond the usual arts-and-crafts items.
Cumberland Caverns Tennessee’s largest cave system is best known for its
underground ballroom that seats 500 and is illuminated by a 1,500-pound crystal chandelier
that once hung at Loew’s Metropolitan Theater in Brooklyn. The cave tour includes an
historic 1812 saltpeter mine, pools, waterfalls and some of the most spectacular formations
in Eastern America. “God of the Mountains,” an underground pageant of light and sound, is
shown on every tour. Tours are conducted daily from May through October. This attraction is
located south of McMinnville. Fall Creek Falls State Park This magnificent
park could be considered the crown jewel of the Cumberland Plateau. It offers spectacular
scenery that has been made easily accessible, and there are so many recreational
opportunities that it is an ideal destination park. The feature that gave the park its
name, Fall Creek Falls, plunges 256 feet over a cliff into a beautiful pool, making it the
highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains (including Niagara Falls). As if planned by
nature, there is an easily accessible viewpoint directly across a deep chasm from the
waterfall. If you are ready for a hike, you might want to take the steep trail leading to
the base of Fall Creek Falls. Smaller but equally beautiful is Piney Creek Falls. Two short
paths, which begin at the Nature Center, lead to views of the upper cascades and the
75-foot waterfall. There is a suspension bridge over the upper creek. Inside the Nature
Center, you’ll find exhibits on the geology, flora and fauna of this part of the Cumberland
Plateau. For more recreation, there is Fall Creek Lake, where fishing for bass, crappie or
bream can be done from the shore or from rental canoes or boats with electric motors. Pedal
boats also are available for enjoying a tour of the lake. In addition, there are lakeside
picnic sites. The park also encompasses an 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course.
There’s also an Olympic-size swimming pool in the park and many miles of hiking, biking and
horseback trails, some easy and others more strenuous. A one-way-loop drive with plenty of
places to stop and view the scenery skirts the edge of Cane Creek Gorge. The rock layers
exposed by the cutting action of the creek are 250 million to 325 million years old. The
park hosts a number of seasonal events, including folk festivals, wildflower pilgrimages
and workshops for all ages. During the summer months, naturalists present daily programs.
Crossville In the community of Crossville, which is south of I-40 on State
Route 101, is the historic Cumberland Homestead Project. Designed and built in the 1930s by
the Roosevelt administration as a model community for poor mountain families, it was to be
an answer to the ravages of the Great Depression. Built of native stone, the community was
complete with shops, mills, mines and other small-business ventures. Unfortunately, the
project was not a financial success, and by 1945, most of the commercial activities had
been abandoned. However, more than 200 of the existing stone cottages, along with the
school, churches and the octagonal water tower, are a reminder of this effort to improve
the lives of a small cluster of families. The stone tower, which houses a museum, and a
massive stone dam are worth seeing. Also in Crossville are the Chestnut Hill and Stonehaus
Center wineries. In addition to a wine-tasting room, Stonehaus has a deli that serves tasty
soups and sandwiches. In downtown Crossville, you’ll find the 90-year-old courthouse and
the 1926 depot where Sargeant Alvin York returned to his home as a World War I hero. The
community is known as the golf capital of Tennessee, with 11 championship courses. Another
popular attraction for visitors is the Cumberland General Store, which displays and sells
“goods in endless variety for man and beast.” East of Crossville are two more attractions.
One is Ozone Falls, which offers plenty of hiking trails and scenery. The other is Muddy
Pond, a rural Mennonite community where you can see and sample some of the local products.
You’ll find sorghum mills, general stores, a leather shop and a bakery. With so many
attractions and RV facilities in a compact area, this part of the Cumberland Plateau is
ideal for exploring, taking time to fully enjoy each of the natural and historic sites at a
leisurely pace. Just be sure to take plenty of film.

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