Friday, July 30, 2021 / by Nathan Fitts
The History of Lake Chatuge
It’s a lot easier writing the history of a southern lake that of a northern one. First of all, you don’t have to track down and interpret cryptic petroglyphs that might tell a complicated story. You also don’t have to sink soil samples to determine the age and general direction of glacial creep that left lakes behind. And you don’t have to read the bony remains of roaming mastodons and scurrying cavemen to link a lingering ice age to lake creation.
Because southern lakes are almost always man-made, guys and governments who make lakes, have to keep records like architectural drawings for dams, the arduous task of land acquisition, the pouring of concrete for retaining walls and other fun stuff which makes things a whole lot easier.
For Lake Chatuge, a 10.9 square mile gem that straddles two states (Georgia and North Carolina), a lot of fun facts are easily accessed to know and tell. For example, Lake Chatuge has 128 miles of shoreline, plus four miles of island shoreline for a total of 132. Chatuge Dam is 144 feet high and 2,850 feet long and 980 feet wide at the base. The lake is fairly shallow, with an average depth of only about 30 feet, although it reaches 144 feet by the dam. And near the dam, a concrete weir was installed to provide a steady flow of water in the riverbed and to increase oxygen levels for fish and other aquatic animals. Wade fishing for trout has become incredibly popular there since fish are attracted to the weir, where food is abundant. Also contributing to a great fishing spot is the 362,465 cubic yards of earth excavation that was put in place for the dam foundation, which produced structure, and the fish love that!
As for the history, which was not written on the walls of caves (because there are no caves), the date of the dam’s initial construction when the Tennessee Valley Authority built the 2,950-foot earth-fill dam across the Hiawassee River in 1941. This date corresponds to what was a war-time need for power during World War II. A total of $51,000,000 actually built four dams, two for storage and two for power, and the region’s energy needs during a difficult time were more than met and have accommodated the extended area’s considerable growth.
The story of building dams and acquiring enough land to create a reservoir 13 miles long is also the story of a major change in culture. Agricultural land that had supported farm families for generations, 3,700 acres in Clay County, NC and 3,500 acres in Towns County, Georgia, was suddenly at the bottom of a lake. And although construction of the dams generated jobs, it also cost at least one life and a couple dozen serious injuries in the process.
The result through the years, starting with a power solution for the region, has been the emergence of striking beauty in this area, which has become a Mecca for outdoors aficionados and those who quite simply love life on the lake. The setting is enhanced by the Nantahala National Forest, which surrounds the dam and the lake’s North Carolina section, while the Chattahoochee National Forest touches the Georgia section of the lake.
Nearby are destination cities like Hiawassee, GA; Hayesville, NC; Blue Ridge, GA, and Blairsville, Ga with activity and recreational attractions at Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge and nearby High Shoals Falls with observation decks near two of the cascading streams that feed Lake Chatuge. Alpine Helen, a re-creation of a Bavarian village, is just 30 miles south of the lake, complete with cobblestone streets and specialty and import shops. Lake Chatuge and the region are well away from the hustle and bustle of city life, but easily accessed within a couple hours of Atlanta, Knoxville and Asheville. Well worth the drive!