Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and spanning 31 miles along the eastern shore of Tellico Lake, the East Lakeshore Trail provides plenty of opportunity for those in the region to enjoy the outdoors.
In 2002, TVA sold land for the development of what is now the Wind River community. A small group of citizens from Tellico Village, Vonore and Greenback voiced concerns about possible damage the new development could cause.
From there, the Watershed Association of the Tellico Reservoir, or WATeR, was born.
“It is an all volunteer, not-for-profit organization whose focus is on water pollution, soil erosion, and promoting environmental education and appropriate outdoor recreational pursuits, ” Bob Martin, WAReR board member, said. “It has sponsored an annual lakeshore cleanup for many years.”
Those involved with the early formation of WATeR were concerned about the loss of the natural undeveloped east lakeshore of Tellico Lake.
“They came up with the concept of developing a trail,” Martin said. “It was a major community, recreational asset that might also help deter future sale of land on the underdeveloped, natural side of the lake for commercial and residential development.”
WATeR entered into a formal, cooperative agreement with TVA in March of 2003 for the purpose of developing the East Lakeshore Trail.
“It was a slow start with one of the local hiking groups giving up one of their weekly hiking days to work one day a month on building the trail,” Martin said. “This eventually changed to working three mornings a month with more volunteers showing interest in building the trail.”
What began as a mere idea 15 years ago has become a reality that has far exceeded expectations. The trail was completed on Dec. 1, 2014, extending 28.5 miles from its southern terminus near the U.S. Highway 321 canal bridge to its southern terminus at the Wildcat Pointe Trailhead located off East Coast Tellico Parkway, close to U.S. Highway 411.
The East Lakeshore Trail was officially designated as a National Recreation Trail by the United States Department of the Interior on May 30, 2012.
“That was such a great day for all involved,” Rebecca Hayden-Morgan, TVA policy and project manager, said.”There was so much work that went into developing all of these trails from so many volunteers around the area. They put in a lot of money, sweat, and hours to help make it all become a reality.”
The work would not have been possible without volunteers teaming up with the TVA, Morgan said.
“It was a joint effort between all the different volunteers and the TVA,” Morgan said.”We helped them with the visioning and marking everything and they put in all the hard work because there was no way we had the man hours to get that done, especially with a 30-mile trail system that spans into three different areas.”
Completing the Trail
Today, the East Lakeshore Trail consists of 31 miles of trail, including a recently developed one-mile spur trail near the southern terminus with several connectors.
“It’s all a product of a successful partnership between WATeR and the Tennessee Valley Authority,”Martin said. “Building the trail involved much more than just digging a foot path in the woods. I know we put in 1,722 hours of work up to 2014. We had another 1,300 hours just for maintenance.”
In all, there are nine separate branches of the trail supported by eight developed trailhead parking areas with information map kiosks. There are also 35 handmade benches, bridges and boardwalk structures of various lengths throughout the trail system.
“The trail was and still is completely maintained by volunteers,” George Zola, WATeR president, said. “It’s a constant thing — a never-ending process. We’ve all put in a lot of work over the years and still do to keep it all up.”
Martin believes there are many draws for hiking the trail.
“Well obviously, the entire trail system runs along Tellico Lake,” he said. “Tellico is one of the prettiest lakes in all of the country and these trails are perfect for anyone that enjoys nature. All of the trails have different characteristics — none are the same. Some are highly wooded, some are wide open and others have both aspects along the lake. I really think this trail is one of the best in the nation.”
The branches vary in length with the purpose of making the trail accessible to anyone.
“These trails aren’t difficult and anyone can use them,” Martin said. “The Knoxville Track Club also comes out and they’ll run a marathon, including a 100-mile race. That’s incredible to me and I’m certainly glad they come all the way out here to do that. The purpose of developing this trail was to allow everyone to use it, not just for us. There’s really no way of telling how many people use the trail every year, but we do know it’s thousands. It’s just a really good draw for this area.”
For Maryville resident Dakota McMahan, the trail is a ‘hidden gem’ due to its location and opportunities for more than just a hike.
“I really didn’t even know all of this was out here until this summer,” McMahan said. “It’s really nice out here and seems like a hidden gem. The trails are nice and with the lake, it also seems like there could be some really good fishing and swimming spots. It’s a nice place to just get away.”
The News Herald