What Cherokee Lake means to the community of Grainger County

Mallory Smith Special to Grainger Today. June 5, 2024

Mallory Smith receiving scholarship from Cherokee Lake Realty.

Grainger High School senior Mallory Smith was named the winner of the $500 Cherokee Lake Realty college scholarship for her essay on the topic “What Cherokee Lake means to the community of Grainger County.” Her winning essay appears below, and is being published with her permission.

Cherokee Lake, nestled in the heart of East Tennessee, holds profound significance for the small community of Grainger County. From its historical roots to its present-day impact, the lake serves as more than just a body of water. The lake embodies the spirit, culture, and livelihood of the people who call Grainger County home. This essay explores the multifaceted importance of Cherokee Lake to the community, encompassing economic, recreational, environmental and cultural aspects. 

The history of Cherokee Lake intertwines with the rich tapestry of Grainger County’s past. Originally formed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the 1940s, the lake emerged from the construction of the Cherokee Dam. According to Tennessee Valley Authority, it states, “Cherokee Dam was build to generate hydroelectric power during the World War II emergency, but it also plays an important role as one of the chains of TVA-managed reservoirs that have prevented billions of dollars in flood damage over the years.” This project not only provided electricity and flood control but also transformed the landscape, creating a reservoir that would become a focal point for the community. For generations, Cherokee Lake has been a witness to the evolution of Grainger County, serving as a reminder of its resilient spirit and ability to adapt to change.

Not only that, Tennessee Valley Authority states, “Cherokee Reservoir is named for the tribe of Native Americans who once inhabited the area. The Great Indian Warpath, once followed by Daniel Boone, American frontiersman and legendary hero, crossed the basin now filled by the reservoir.” This proves that Cherokee Lake goes back to the late 1700s and was originally owned by Cherokee Indians, hence the name of the lake. Most of Grainger County have ancestors from the Cherokee Indians, such as myself. Without the Native Americans and Daniel Boone, Grainger County would not have been founded until later on in time. 

Cherokee Lake plays a pivotal role in driving the economic engine of Grainger County. The presence of the lake attracts tourists and outdoor enthusiasts year-round, stimulating local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, marinas and recreational outfitters. Fishing tournaments, boating events and lakeside festivals draw visitors from far and wide, injecting revenue into the local economy and supporting jobs for residents. Additionally, the real estate market around Cherokee Lake benefits from its scenic beauty, with lakeside properties becoming coveted investments for both locals and out-of-state buyers. 

For residents of Grainger County, Cherokee Lake is not just a destination but a way of life. The lake offers a plethora of recreational opportunities, catering to diverse interests and age groups. Fishing enthusiasts flock to its waters in pursuit of bass, crappie and catfish, while boaters and water sports enthusiasts indulge in skiing, tubing, swimming and leisurely cruises. Picnic areas, campgrounds and hiking trails along the lake’s shoreline provide ample space for families to reconnect with nature and create lasting memories. Cherokee Lake serves as a recreational haven where residents can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse themselves in the tranquility of the great outdoors. 

Beyond its recreational value, Cherokee Lake plays a crucial role in preserving the natural environment of Grainger County. As a reservoir, it supports diverse ecosystems that sustain a variety of plant and animal species. Wetlands, marshes and shoreline habitats provide vital habitats for waterfowl, migratory birds and aquatic wildlife. Additionally, the lake serves as a source of drinking water for local communities, highlighting the importance of its conservation and responsible stewardship. Efforts to maintain water quality, prevent pollution and preserve the ecological balance of Cherokee Lake are essential to safeguarding the health and wellbeing of both humans and wildlife. 

Cherokee Lake is deeply ingrained in the cultural heritage of Grainger County, serving as a symbol of community pride and identity. For generations, residents have forged cherished traditions and rituals centered around the lake, from family fishing trips to lakeside barbecue and holiday celebrations. Folklore and legends abound, weaving tales of the lake’s mystical origins and its significance in shaping the collective consciousness of the community. Moreover, Cherokee Lake serves as a gathering place where residents come together to commemorate milestones, honor their ancestors and pass down stories from one generation to the next. Its shores resonate with the echoes of the past and the promise of the future, uniting people in a shared sense of belonging and kinship.

Cherokee Lake has always been a huge part of my life. I have spent quality family time with my siblings and parents near the lake. Whether it be fishing, hunting, playing disc golf or even having family reunions. This lake has also been a great hang out place when I want to be with friends, family or with the community. Not only that, when I am at Grainger County Park, I love to look out in the direction of the lake and the hills to take in its beauty. 

Grainger County Young Life also uses Cherokee Lake for their weekly meetings and campaigners. I always love looking out onto the lake as we talk about the Bible and play volleyball. Just knowing that God had created the lake and everything around it astounds me. Something about Cherokee Lake just makes everyone in Grainger County fall in love with it. Without Cherokee Lake, I don’t believe Grainger County would be what it is today. 

In conclusion, Cherokee Lake holds profound significance for the community of Grainger County, embodying its history, culture and way of life. As an economic engine, recreational haven, environmental treasure and cultural landmark, the lake serves as a focal point for residents to connect with nature, each other, and their shared heritage. Its enduring presence serves as a testament to the resilience and vitality of the Grainger County community, enriching the lives of all who call it home. As we look to the future, it is essential to recognize the importance of preserving and protecting Cherokee Lake for generations to come, ensuring that its legacy continues to inspire and uplift the community for years to come.