Marker to be unveiled designating Hiwassee River as 'blueway'

This sign at the access site in Charleston, Tenn., will be unveiled soon as the first of four such signs planned for locations along the Hiwassee River. (Photo contributed by the Southeast Tennessee Department of Tourism)

A marker will be unveiled in the coming weeks in Charleston, Tenn., officially designating the Hiwassee River as the "Hiwassee River Blueway," recognizing its importance to recreation, history, environment and culture in East Tennessee.

"We want more people to be able to enjoy all the Hiwassee River has to offer, from the whitewater section to the placid waters at the confluence with the Tennessee River, and to do so safely," said Alison Bullock, a community planner with the National Parks Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance. "That's what our website HiwasseeBlueway.com and the signage is about; to guide boaters to the information they need to have a safe and fun experience on this beautiful river."

An unveiling ceremony for one of the blueways' first signs planned last week in Charleston was delayed because of bad weather. A new date will be announced for a "sunnier day this fall," Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association spokeswoman Jenni Veal said. Tennessee Department of Tourism commissioner Ken Triplett will be the key speaker.

Tennessee's portion of the Hiwassee River stretches more than 50 miles from the Appalachian Mountains east of Delano to the Tennessee River on the McMinn-Meigs county line. Historically, the river played a major role in the lives of indigenous populations, later European colonists and modern-day people who live and play along it in the Tennessee counties of Bradley, McMinn, Meigs and Polk.

photo This sign at the access site in Charleston, Tenn., will be unveiled soon as the first of four such signs planned for locations along the Hiwassee River. (Photo contributed by the Southeast Tennessee Department of Tourism)
photo Jesse Novak and Carolyn Buckner begin their journey down the Hiwassee River after launching their canoe near the Two Rivers Campground recently in Polk County.

The term "blueway" describes a water trail that links land and water routes with local resources, historic sites, camping and recreation.

Access points

The following are points of public access to the Hiwassee River in Tennessee. Most have parking, some locations require a short walk and a few have limited access at certain times of year.Lower Hiwassee› Blythe Ferry Boat RampRiver Mile 0.2› Highway 58 Bridge Boat RampRiver Mile 7.7› Agency Creek CampgroundRiver Mile 8.1› Sportsman’s Highway 58 DockRiver Mile 8.1› Price’s Creek Boat RampRiver Mile 10.3› Gray’s Ferry RampRiver Mile 11.5› Candies CreekRiver Mile 11.5› Ed’s LandingRiver Mile 12.7› B&B MarinaRiver Mile 13.6› North Mouse CreekRiver Mile 15.2Middle Hiwassee› Charleston Boat RampRiver Mile 19.7› Calhoun Boat RampRiver Mile 20.1› Two Rivers CampgroundRiver Mile 35.3› Old Patty BridgeRiver Mile 35.6› Patty BridgeRiver Mile 37.9Upper Hiwassee› Highway 411 Bridge RampRiver Mile 43.7› Gee Creek CampgroundRiver Mile 44.7› Reliance State Boat RampRiver Mile 49.6› ToweeRiver Mile 53.9› Appalachia Powerhouse Boat RampRiver Mile 55.0Source: Hiwassee River Blueway

The idea for a blueway arose from Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Gary Farlow's Hiwassee River paddling trips with his family.

"My son and I do a lot of paddling on the Hiwassee River," Farlow said of his personal interest in the river. "It was around 2012 - or the end of 2011 - that we first started looking at other blueways around the country."

Farlow said he started talking with chamber tourism officials and state and federal parks officials about the idea.

"That kind of mushroomed into a much larger committee that included the Cherokee National Forest folks, Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and we have also brought in tourism people from the four counties that abut the river," he said.

"The idea that started was to create more awareness of the river and create more tourism activities, and long term we'd like to see more conservation and education efforts," he said. The idea soon became the goal of a blueway committee.

"The big thrust initially was to get mapping of the river done and map access points so people would know where to go to get on the river," he said.

State transportation officials are helping with wayfinding signs, and Farlow said he was also thankful for support of other important entities including The Land Trust for Tennessee, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Outdoor Happiness Movement, Volunteer Electric Cooperative and Trout Unlimited.

"We're hoping eventually to get a designation as a 'water trail' by the National Park Service," he said.

The Hiwassee's headwaters lie in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest about 15 miles north of the town of Helen, and the river twists through the southwest corner of North Carolina as it flows across Tennessee past the historic towns of Reliance, Delano, Charleston and Calhoun, emptying into the Tennessee River at Blythe's Ferry.

Along the way, it winds through cultural heritage sites like the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood and Charleston, one of the most significant Trail of Tears sites in the eastern United States.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.