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Flooding devastates campground; TVA works to repair Dam area

The TVA restroom facility below Pickwick Landing Dam was destroyed by the flood in early March.

Staff photo by Mark Boehler

By Carol Humphreys

For the Daily Corinthian

PICKWICK, Tenn. "" The devastating flooding of the Tennessee River caused by the unprecedented rainfall in February has come and gone.

Unfortunately, the powerful river's fast moving water left destruction along its river banks, including Tennessee Valley Authority's Pickwick Dam campground just below Pickwick Landing Dam.

Before the flooding, campsites nestled in a stand of tall pine trees sat below the towering dam, providing spectacular views of the river. The campground's layout included 101 camping sites, three bathhouses and an office and store.

As heavy rain in the area continued for eight days, fast moving water caused extensive erosion along Tennessee River banks. Rising water washed tons of debris onto shoreline properties and recreation areas. It was the third highest river stage on record and the second highest since the dam was built, missing the record by about half a foot.

"I visited the area just before the heaviest of the rainfall and it was just unbelievable at the amount of water that was out there," said TVA spokesperson Scott Fiedler. "The river at Pickwick sounded like an ocean with waves crashing on the shoreline."

All that remains at the popular campground below the dam are huge piles of rubble, picnic tables knocked off concrete pilings, demolished bathhouses and uprooted trees. The campground store is gone, campsites swept away and cracked pavement awash with sand and gravel. The newly renovated boat ramp was damaged by erosion. During the flooding, water flowed down through the gravel road giving access to tent sites along the river bank. The road is now replaced by a 40-ft. wide, 4-ft. deep channel of water.

TVA recreation specialist Derek South described the damage at the campground as "eye-catching."

"Long standing bathhouses were demolished and there were huge amounts of debris where gravel and sand came from the riverbed up into the campground. It will take us a while to grade all that back down so grass can grow back," he said.

He added campsites were pretty much all washed away. Picnic tables and grills have been dislocated. RV sites originally had gravel bases that have now been swept away and are back down to bare earth so each site will have to be rebuilt.

Flood waters reached as high as 90 feet within the campground. As soon as the water receded, TVA staff entered the site and began accessing the damage and developing plans to repair the recreational resource.

Repairs are being done in stages. First phase included securing the area and demolishing the damaged bath houses within the campground. That work is completed.

The second phase of the repair work has also been completed -- repairing the severe under cutting the flood damage did to the boat ramp. It is the only public launching ramp on the upper end of the Kentucky Reservoir for 16 river miles. TVA plans for it to be ready for use no later than mid-summer.

Currently, damaged trees and debris are being removed from the site. Though roads leading in and out of the campground have been cleared to allow access for clean-up work, South asked everyone to respect the locked gates and signs at the dam. The campground will remained closed while logging work is going on for safety reasons.

The next step in the campground's reconstruction will be the reopening of Loop C by late summer. The loop has 26 campsites, including five ADA accessible sites.

Loop C is a priority to be opened first because of its location and the upgrades that had already been made to it a few years back. The inner loop sites were all built to ADA specifications and on concrete pads. The sites remained pretty much unharmed after the flooding. The outer loop sites had some damaged, including the bathroom facility being destroyed.

It is also the smallest loop at the campground and has good access from both Botel Lane and Wharf Road.

"We felt like we could start work there first to get everything restored while we continue work on the rest of the campground. Its access is controllable and people can come in on either side," said South.

After the debris and rubble from Loop C's previous bathhouse is removed, a temporary mobile unit with showers will be put there.

The day use area, Loops A and B and campground will open at a later date when repairs are completed.

TVA is also looking at possibilities of what they can do as far as campground upgrades, whether it's the size of the camp sites or making sure the grounds' infrastructure is "future proof." Before any more upgrades can be done on the federal land, an environmental review process has to be completed to make sure the environment is protected while construction work is being done.

A project plan to review the campground's trees was already in place before the flooding event. Trees had been thinned at Loop C while upgrades were being done but the rest of the campground remained untouched. Every year TVA does regular maintenance at the campground by removing dead trees and limbs. In recent years, more and more trees have had to be removed. Forestry experts have been helping TVA come up with a good density plan for tree removal that would help the remaining trees stay healthy.

The project has sped up since the flooding occurred. Foresters are now thinning out almost half of the trees left in the campground, which will allow the remaining trees to have plenty of growing room.

"This will also be a much better situation for campers because of falling limb risks," said South.

Part of TVA's mission is flood control and managing the Tennessee River System for safety, protecting human life and navigation. The Tennessee River is managed 24/7, 365 days a year from TVA's Knoxville River Operations Center. The center runs models every six hours on rainfall to see how water is flowing into the system. This allows them to take actions to raise or lower lake levels as necessary to minimize impacts to flooding and navigation.

"During the recent flooding, we held back 3.5 trillion gallons of water in the tributary system to help minimize flooding downstream," said Fiedler.

Both TVA employees agree on the importance of the Pickwick Dam campground and day use area, not only for visitors but for the local community. The restroom facility below the dam was also destroyed.

"We are working hard to get it repaired and get the facility operational for everybody to enjoy," said Fiedler.

(A resident of Corinth, Carol Humphreys is a freelance writer and contributor to the Daily Corinthian, Crossroads Magazine and Pickwick Profiles.)