The Hiwassee Dam began construction on July 15, 1936. being 1376 feet long, it is quite an impressive structure. You can actually drive over the dam itself on Hiwassee Dam Access Road (off of Highway 294). Now over 70 years later, the Hiwassee Lake has become the gorgeous lake that we all now know. This article has some great “technical” information about the lake that is sometimes hard to find all in one place.
Impounded in 1940, Hiwassee was originally known as “Fowler Bend.” The name was later changed to reflect the name of the river which it is located on.
According to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), it is 6,090 acres and located close to the center of Cherokee County, North Carolina (according to the Cherokee County Mapping Department, the actual lake 5,635.28 acres. With less than a 500 acre variation, that could be attributed to shoreline variations, etc.). From end to end, it is roughly 22 miles long and has over 163 miles of shoreline. There are many sections that are more than 200 feet deep! It’s quite a large lake with plenty of room to enjoy for boating and fishing. One of the most unique things about the lake is that only 7% of it has development! During the summer, the TVA targets to have the lake levels at 1515 to 1521 feet. On January 1, they shoot for around 1460. They try to maintain recreational levels from June 1st to August ST, with the exceptions of emergencies.
The lake is used primarily for power generation and regional flood control. Because of the flood control component, this is why the water level fluctuates. The TVA aims to have peak water level from June 1st through August 1st. It’s during the off season you see the water level drop 30-40 feet for flood control purposes. What’s amazing is it has an approximate flood water capacity of 3.6 billion gallons of water. One of the interesting things about the dam itself is that it has the ability to reverse flow and pump water back into the lake.
With only 7% of the land being developed, there is very little on the lake other than nature itself. The TVA transferred most of its original holdings to the U.S. Forest Service for it to be part of the Nantahala Forest, but kept lands in the Hiwassee Dam Reservation, the Micken branch area, and some land in Murphy. The majority of development on the lake is in Bear Paw Resort.
The TVA owns rights in one form or another up to the 1532 elevation, which means before you can do anything on the shoreline (dock, etc.) you must approve it with them.
For recreation, you have lots of options! There are four main marinas on Lake Hiwassee – Shooks, Dukes, Mountain View, and Harbor Cove. They provide boat rentals, fishing supplies, snacks, fuel, and much more. Not only that, the Hanging Dog Campground area has the best boat ramp on the lake. The US Forest Service offers several other boat launches that are completely free to use. Nice!
To get more information, contact the Hiwassee Watershed Team located at 221 Old Ranger Road; Murphy, NC 28906. You can call them at 828-837-7395