Obed Wild and Scenic River

Clear Creek in Obed
Clear Creek in Obed

Every national park unit that I visited has some unique characteristic. It seems that Obed  is the only wild and scenic river in the Southeast, managed by the National Park Service.

Little River Canyon, though scenic,  certainly wasn’t wild. We walked to the dam and saw houses above the river. I know that if you look at a picture, both rivers look like they’re at the bottom of a canyon, but it’s the surroundings that count. Chattahoochee outside of Atlanta has really been used, and not just by paddlers.

But the Obed and its tributaries are pristine.The flow of the river carved amazing gorges for thousands of years. Only portions of the four streams that make up the Obed unit are in the Wild and Scenic program.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Note that I said, managed by the National Park Service. Rivers like the Chatooga are wild and scenic but managed by other agencies. If you make the category small enough, everything is the “only” and “first”.

My first stop is the visitor center in the town of Wartburg, northeast of Oak Ridge. Because the river is so spread out and there are few access to the streams, they probably decided to make the visitor center more accessible. I wonder how many people stop at the visitor center and then drive several miles to the river itself.

The narrator in the film says, God made three beautiful places: Garden of Eden, Obed and then never came back to name the third place. The video stresses the climbing, paddling and fishing opportunities here.  In a climbing scene, a woman slips, gets caught by her rope and recovers nicely. I gasped, but not as loud as when I saw a girl, maybe six years old, walking on the river rocks, barefoot. What was the park service thinking, showing a visitor walking barefoot on slippery rocks?

The Obed River and its two main tributaries, Clear Creek and Daddys Creek, cut into the Cumberland Plateau of East Tennessee, providing some of the most rugged scenery in the Southeast. Paddlers come from all over the world to run this river. Maybe this is what Daniel Boone saw, when he walked west. At the overlook, if you look up and out, you’ll see no sign of civilization.

On the Obed
On the Obed

I drive down to Lily Bridge across Clear Creek. Like a true New Yorker, I stop at the first parking area I see and grab my pack. A steep trail takes me to the Overlook. When I walk around past the Overlook, I realize that I could have driven a little further and walk a flat trail to the view. But I would have missed the layered boulders, that looked like a uneven multi-tiered cake. Climbers have left metal chains with hanging loops on the end.

I’m getting close to the end of my visits to national park units in the Southeast.

I only have a handful left to see. Like the country music song says, “you’re going to miss this.”

I’ll miss discovering new parks. I’ll miss driving backroads, with its small churches, farms and meeting people. I won’t miss driving hours on the interstate at 70 MPH, sandwiched between trucks on either side of me, especially when it’s raining.

You’re gonna miss this / You’re gonna want this back / You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast


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