The Travel Channel series “Off Limits” will feature East Tennessee and Chattanooga area sites Monday night at 9 p.m. as host Don Wildman explores hidden history of the region.
The Travel Channel’s Don Wildman schlepped through underground Chattanooga, went overboard in the rapids of the Nolichucky River, explored a Marion County mining site and an Appalachian ghost town and sampled the state’s first distillery.
It wasn’t just for fun. It’s his job, and his experiences will air Monday night on the series “Off Limits.”
Wildman launches his adventure with some whitewater action on the Nolichucky River en route to the Ole Smoky distillery in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Valentine’s Mill in Dandridge. Then he heads south to investigate the “mysterious underground world” lying beneath Chattanooga and the McNabb Mines in Marion County, Travel Channel spokeswoman Caryn Davidson Schlossberg stated in an email.
Wildman said Friday that East Tennessee and the Chattanooga area are perfect examples of what the “Off Limits” show is all about.
“There’s a lot of ‘no trespassing’ in the world today, especially since 9/11,” Wildman said. “We learn about the identity of American cities through the spaces that the public can’t see.”
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, TVA’s underground power generation areas inside Raccoon Mountain have been closed to the public, he said. But he was allowed in.
“It’s true of so many places,” he said, and Raccoon Mountain is the “perfect example” of a public area now made mysterious by a more closed society.
Underground Chattanooga is another story hidden from public view, Wildman said.
“Cities have been built on top of each other forever, and it’s fascinating to peel them back and figure out why the engineering had to be done to create this multilevel society,” he said. “Chattanooga’s was sort of a flood-control situation.”
Missy Crutchfield, administrator of Chattanooga’s Department of Education, Arts and Culture and Chattanooga/Southeast Tennessee film commissioner, said the city worked with production crews to get them in touch with local historians and property owners to gain access to the city’s depths.
“It was fun and I learned a lot,” Crutchfield said of her experience trekking into Chattanooga’s underworld with Wildman. “It’s kind of scary down there.”
Area historian Jamie Woodcock said the “Off Limits” crew visited the McNabb Mines site in Marion County’s Shakerag community a few months ago as Wildman and company toured the sites between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
“I have no idea what to expect, but I spent about 10 hours with the crew as their expert out at McNabb Mines,” Woodcock said. “It’s a good way to highlight this former coal town that most locals have never even heard of.”
Shakerag, in Prentice Cooper State Forest, was established in the 1880s on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. A company town for the McNabb Mines, the community was abandoned about 1905, according to newspaper archives. The remote, 457-acre site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 2008.
“I found myself in a real small space, but it told the story,” Wildman said of the mine visit. “In this case it was a foot-and-a-half tall [mine shaft].
The mines show that “a tremendous amount of effort was made for not that much money,” he said, remarking that the experience demonstrated what miners went through to make a living.
While inside the mine, he and his crew experienced a power outage that left them in complete darkness for a bit while the cameraman went to get another battery.
“I found myself kind of way deep in this mountain thinking, ‘This is really not a good idea,’” he recalled.
Wildman said Monday’s episode will highlight East Tennessee’s heritage and go a long way toward stomping out some of the Appalachian stereotypes of corncob pipes and barefoot hillbillies.
Schlossberg described the Travel Channel’s foray into Tennessee as being a little like life here — “dangerous, dirty and a darned good time.”
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...