In the late 1980’s I bought some property, near Townsend in an area called Dry Valley. I lived in Nashville at the time and considered the purchase an investment I could use for camping and fishing. 2,500 feet from my little piece of heaven was a beautiful lake.
They called it Laurel Lake. It was open to the public for fishing, hiking and other uses. There were barracks and another building that were used for scout camps, football camps and family reunions. All of my friends here remember fishing and swimming in the lake back when they were kids during the 1960’s. The fishing was incredible.
Bass and bluegill were the most sought after species though there were reports of huge carp. Sitting on the bank and looking out at the lake and the Great Smokies was one fine thing to do before 1993. I loved that place.
I don’t know exactly what happened. The story is, someone discovered water below the dam. I’ve heard that it was due to an emergency valve that someone opened. I’ve heard all kinds of stories. There were public meetings. Eventually the dam was breached and the lake was drained almost completely.
The property in and around the old lake bed is owned by Blount County. Over the years trees took over and you would hardly notice the pond that was left. It’s just a few acres, not even close to the original 50 acre, 20 foot deep Laurel Lake. A large area on two sides of Laurel Lake was developed as a golf and residential community. I’m sure the people who lived there at the time were as sick about this as all of us were. Some newcomers to the area don’t know what we had here. But I never forgot.
I got a call from Carl Goodman two weeks ago. He told me they were forming a group to re-build Laurel Lake. He said they needed $4,000 to rent some equipment to clear the trees that had grown in the old lake bed. I gave him a $500 check from Little River Outfitters without asking a lot of questions. He raised the $4,000 in about two hours.
Paula and I drove over to look at the lake before the work was to begin last week in the evening. She remembered the lake too. We were dating back then. When we got there we were shocked. About 20 acres had already been cleared. Apparently the money that was raised rented three large pieces of equipment, two track hoes that could pick up trees and a Bobcat with a cutting attachment mounted to the front. It was late in the day and there were no people there. But someone had been removing trees. So, I went back over the next day. I could barely find a place to park. The road was lined with pickup trucks. I recognized most of them. After I walked down into the lake bed and talked to the men who were there working I knew or recognized many of them.
There was a large force of local people, armed with chain saws doing some unbelievable work. I waited three or four days and went back. The volunteer crew was still there but they had cleared a lot more land. They were all local men, who had worked with chain saws all their life and it was really something to see. Most of these guys are my age or older. They are proud, they are working hard and they want their lake back. I’m darned proud to know them and be their neighbors.
They will be finished with the physical work this week. They showed the County it could be done for $4,000 and a lot of elbow grease, sweat and determination. Now it is the County’s turn. It’s going to take $180,000 to fix the dam and build a parking lot or so I've heard. The County is strapped for money.
But, another person with the same determination exhibited with the chain saw crew is our County Mayor, Jerry Cunningham. He wants the lake back too. I know Jerry well and I think he will get the job done. We can raise private money. At $2,000 per hour it won’t take long at all. The area and lake will become a County Park.
Apparently, there are some people who don’t like the idea. One resident near the lake said it would cause people to drink beer. Another remark that has been very popular with the guys working on the tree removal is the one about the beavers drowning when they re-fill the lake. They have been laughing about that one for days. One person is concerned about bugs attracted by the lake will infest the golf couse. I told Carl Goodman to come back if he needed more money. I volunteered to help with a fundraiser, I’ve got experience with that. I would not last long out there in that lake bed with a chain saw in this heat. They are better off keeping me out of there.
But now I’m dreaming. I’m thinking about canoeing or kayaking on the lake after work fishing for bass and bluegill. And I’m thinking about our fine community made up of hard working and caring people. We’ll get Laurel Lake back soon, one way or another. I wouldn’t want to be the one telling those guys who have been out there clearing the lake bottom that it isn’t going to happen. We’ll make sure it does, soon.
The photograph below was probably taken just after the lake was drained in 1993. You can see the outline of the lake bed. The pond you see is what remains near the center of the photo. The golf course in the lower left of the photo looks to be under construction. According to the legend on this County map the red lines indicate the County owned property boundary lines. Some of that property is used as a black bear rehabilitation center that is very near our house. We live in the lower right hand corner just above the legend. The bright red A is our house. The B is the barn. The back of our property that has the creek flowing through is not on this map.