TVA manages nearly 293,000 acres of land for the benefit of the public. Some of these lands are designated as TVA Natural Areas—home to the most scenic and ecologically significant resources of the Tennessee Valley. There are four types of these Natural Areas (see sidebar at right). Of these, the Small Wild Areas are the most accessible for pure public enjoyment.
The trails marked in red are open for hiking only; blue are open for hiking and biking.
“These are areas TVA has set aside for conservation, for their unique aesthetic value. They are little pockets of land that we are keeping close as natural state as possible while allowing the public to enjoy their beauty—they are our gems,” explains Heather Hart, TVA Natural Resources senior conservation specialist. “At the same time, the Small Wild Areas are suitable for low-impact public usage, for activities like hiking, photography and birdwatching. So we make improvements as well as develop educational signage to make Small Wild Areas available and enjoyable for the people of the Tennessee Valley.”
Of TVA’s 28 Small Wild Areas, 16 feature trails. They are:
Big Ridge TVA Small Wild Area is located on Chickamauga Dam Reservation in Hamilton County north of Chattanooga. The SWA is over 200 acres of mature upland hardwood forest; at least 60 acres being over 100 years old. A portion of the area is habitat for large-flowered skullcap (Scutelleria montana), a member of the mint family and listed as a threatened species.
Buck Island Small Wild Area trail provides a relaxing walk through the woods for hikers, trail runners, bird watchers and other wildlife observers. This 250 acre area provides 2.2 miles of trails that wind past a wetland that provides birdwatching opportunities and through the hardwood forest providing views of Guntersville Reservoir. There are several varieties of wildflowers that are featured in the spring and fall including Spring beauty, trillium, cross vine and others.
Cave Mountain Small Wild Area occupies about 34 acres on the south side of Guntersville Dam, has an abundance of flora and fauna, and is home to an important part of Civil War history. As the name implies, there is a cave on the property that was mined for saltpeter (a base ingredient in gunpowder) during the war.
Fooshee Peninsula Small Wild Area is an 182-acre tract on Watts Bar Reservoir that has exceptional natural, scenic and aesthetic qualities. On the east side of the peninsula is a dry ridge forest of large white oaks and shagbark hickories. Brown Hollow, on the western edge of the area, is a moist forest of beeches and maples with a ground cover of ferns and wildflowers. The SWA provides habitat for wintering bald eagles and numerous other migratory birds, offering visitors a unique wildlife viewing opportunity.
Hall Bend Small Wild Area encompasses about 30 acres on Tellico Reservoir and is quite diverse in habitat. Within the SWA is a limestone bluff, a well-developed barrens plant community and upland hardwood forest. Barrens plant species include little bluestem grass, orange coneflower, asters and yucca with scattered eastern red cedar trees of considerable size.
Hemlock Bluff Small Wild Area is a 78-acre area forested with hemlocks, white oak, beech and pine. It features scenic views of Norris Reservoir as well as a variety of wildflowers. This areas is accessed through the Loyston Point Trails complex.
Honeycomb Creek Small Wild Area is a 274-acre area that includes numerous limestone outcrops and is characterized by upland hardwoods and old growth, short leaf Virginia and loblolly pines. Sinkholes, caves and other karst features are also present.
Johnson Ridge Small Wild Area is approximately 100 acres in size and located on Cherokee Reservoir. It is comprised of various habitats: upland hardwoods cover most of the area, two wetlands are present and the ridge top is a dry pine-oak forest dotted with rock outcroppings. Part of the SWA is a Habitat Protected Area where Pursh’s wild petunia and American barberry grow—the latter is a protected species.
Gnarled old cedars, limestone outcrops, sinkholes and spectacular views of the Tennessee River and the state migratory bird refuge on the opposite shore are only a few of the many points of interest at Lady’s Bluff Small Wild Area. Wildflowers such as shooting star, jack-in-the-pulpit and wild ginger bloom here in abundance in mid-to-late April and early May. In mid-October, the wildlife refuge becomes a landing strip for thousands of migrating ducks and geese making their annual visit.
Little Cedar Mountain Small Wild Area is named for the red cedar in the forest on its limestone outcroppings and bluffs. This area, located on Nickajack Reservoir, consists of 320 acres forested with cedar, redbuds and post, red and blackjack oaks. It features boulder fields, rock walls, a wetland pond, cedar glades, a variety of wildflowers and scenic views of the reservoir.
Norris Songbird Trail State Wildlife Observation Area is located below Norris Dam on the Clinch River and provides a variety of habitats (including riverine, old fields, bottomland hardwoods and grassy areas) for many songbirds and other wildlife. A special feature is the high concentration of eastern bluebirds breeding in the area. Osprey and bald eagles can occasionally be seen along the river. During the spring and summer, look for nesting eastern kingbirds, eastern peewees, great-crested flycatchers, white-eyed and yellow-throated vireos, gray catbirds, brown thrashers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, yellow-throated warblers, and orchard orioles along the trails. During the winter, watch for yellow-bellied sapsuckers, winter wrens, hermit thrushes, kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers and white-throated sparrows. Woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, cedar waxwings, northern cardinals and song sparrows are present year-round. Eastern screech-owls, barred owls and great horned owls are also permanent residents in this area.
Spring wildflowers, woodland birds, rock steps and check dams built by the historic Civilian Conservation Corps are just part of the 25 acre Old First Quarters Small Wild Area managed by TVA. The name “First Quarters” refers to a WWI building complex that housed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers troops who constructed Wilson Dam.
River Bluff TVA Small Wild Area is located on Norris Dam Reservation in Anderson County along the Clinch River. Composed of 125 acres of rich, mixed mesophytic forest on steep north facing slopes, this area harbors a rich assemblage of wildflowers including several rare species.
Trotter Bluff Small Wild Area encompasses about 30 acres and is characterized by a mature, upland hardwood forest. The bluff itself is a 400-foot cliff that overlooks the French Broad River. In early spring the ground is covered in wildflowers, including phlox, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal, hearts-a-bustin’, bloodroot and jack-in-the-pulpit.
Whites Creek Small Wild Area is located on one of the least-developed reaches of Watts Bar Reservoir. The 1721-acre tract has great natural and scenic attributes with its high ridges and deeply cut, verdant ravines, its bluffs and secluded bays bordering on the reservoir. Flora in the SWA include fire pink, jack-in-the-pulpit, pussytoes, hog peanut and false foxglove. There’s a native holly grove at the trailhead.
Worthington Cemetery Cedar Barrens Small Wild Area on Melton Hill Reservoir near Oak Ridge, Tenn., is 26 acres of barrens, wetlands pines, cedar thicket and is home to a small cemetery. It is also an Ecological Study Area, where local schools conduct outdoor classrooms. Over 125 species of birds have been identified here. Cedar barrens are uncommon in East Tennessee, making this SWA a unique environment for this part of the state.