Why is it some Indian maiden is always committing suicide for a lost love? The Appalachian Mountains are littered with the names of these unfortunate young women – Evaleka, Cateechee, Issaqueena, and Jocassee among them – or named for the event itself – Jump-Off Rock in Hendersonville and Blowing Rock as examples. This weekend Houston and I decided to visit the lake bearing Jocassee’s name to do a bit of paddling and camping.
Lake Jocassee has a controversial past. Created in the late sixties by damming the Thompson, Toxaway, and Whitewater rivers, the poweplant and all of the surrounding land is owned by Duke Power Company. It at one time was the heart of the Cherokee Nation, which gave way to remote farmlands for settlers. Even as we prepared for this trip, an article came out in the Greenville news about the memories of one woman who used to live at Attakulla Lodge, now buried beneath the lake. Ron Rash’s book , One Foot in Eden, also mourns the loss of farmland and displacement of the settlers. Both the article and novel refer to the lake as a cemetery, due to the inundated graves, and cast a pall over any thought of enjoying its waters. Despite its past, Lake Jocassee is in one of the most pristine areas of South Carolina. Development is limited to one tiny pennisula, and most of the 75 miles of shoreline are uninhabited. The waters are crystal clear, and several waterfalls tumble directly into the lake.
I arrived at Devil’s Fork State Park at about 1:30 and secured our campsite – a tents-only spot not far from the water. Unfortunately, that also meant hauling all of our gear about 100 yards down a steep hill – not exactly car camping. Most of the campers had already checked out for the weekend, so things were thinning out as I set up camp. Unfortunately, the campground is also near the day-use area, with jet skis zipping up and down and fishing boats churning up wakes. The camping facilities, in general, are quite nice, with a bath house and laundromat not far away.
After touching base with Houston to find he would be later getting in, I decided to go for the first paddle. The day had turned stifling, and after hauling all of the camp gear downhill I was ready to cool down in the lake’s frigid waters. For this first outing, I stayed close to the shore. Jocassee has hundreds of tiny coves to explore. Water visibility is outstanding – a feature I hope won’t be marred by the number of motor boats on the lake. One of the most striking features are the eroded shorelines and caves that have been carved under the waterline. As wave action erodes the bedrock, the vegetative layer droops over the opening, and can go back for quite a way.
I paddled for about an hour, then came back to the camp to relax, read, and try to ignore the jet skis. Houston eventually showed up (at 7:30 – only 4.5 hours late) and we began work on dinner. Camping meals are unique – requiring a lower threshold for cleanliness, and often including a greater acceptance for lesser quality due to hunger brought on by increased activity. The quality in this case was quite good – two different jambalyas with rice, which were not harmed in the least by the added protein from insects wandering through or by the pine sap dripping from above.
Dinner dishes put aside, we decided to go for an evening paddle. It was about 9:00, and only the last vestiges of light remained. Moving as silently as possible, the lake was as tranquil as could be. We couldn’t see much of the lakeshore, but the stars were brilliant. Back at the campground, we relaxed by the fire and remembered other camp trips. This our first in quite some time, so we had both hauled nearly all our camp gear just for an overnighter. Despite that, we did forget a few things…
"I forgot to bring the cigars. We need them to keep the mosquitoes away."
"Does that work?"
….Our relaxing was disrupted by a loud horn. Not sure if there was a disaster at the nuclear plant downstream, we didn’t know whether to bend over and put our heads between our knees, or just have more wine. We figured it was only an alert for water release for those downstream, and kept drinking. The horn sounded several more times during the night – usually just as one of us fell asleep.
The next morning brought a brisk breeze, kept at bay by hot coffee and an enormous breakfast, the likes of which neither of us would consume in regular circumstances. While feasting, we heard the call of loons out on the lake, and spotted several swimming and diving nearby. We decided to break camp, haul the boats up to the farther put-in, and paddle up to a little cove I had visited previously. The break-down process took until lunch time, so it was high noon when we finally hit the water.
The water clarity and spectacular features were even more brilliant in the day’s sunlight. Several other kayakers had the same idea, and fortunately, there weren’t too many power boats since it was a Monday. We proceeded north/northwest, with the loons accompaning us a bit of the way. I finally found the cove, and paddled on back to where a small stream cascades into the lake. Houston decided that it was the perfect place for a swim. I would agree, but not in 50-degree water. Common sense aside, we both plunged in and shivered until discovering tiny thermoclines that warmed us just enough to keep swimming. Suitably cooled, we paddled back and loaded up the gear for the return trip home, both wishing we had another day to spend exploring the lake.
There was another depressing bit of news in the Greenville News this morning. Duke Power Company will merge with Cenergy. Due to some 1935 law, Duke will now have to divest itself of all of its land holdings, including the pristine land around Lake Jocassee. About 84,000 acres are managed by Crescent Resources, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Duke. Of that, about 34,000 acres are part of the Jocassee Gorges project managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, but that leaves about 50,000 acres in potential danger. The untarnished mountain views will probably soon be blemished by multi-million dollar homes. I guess we need to make another trip quickly and take LOTS of pictures.
Laura pointed out the proximity of the two Greenville News articles. We couldn’t help but wonder how the families who had been displaced feel, knowing that they were kicked off their farms, and now that land might be sold to developers.
More Lake Jocassee Resources…
- Jocassee Gorges
- Lake Jocassee Information
- Jocassee Photos from Webshots (pop-ups)
- National Wildlife Organization article
- Discover SC – Tourism
- Devil’s Fork State Park
I just got e-mail from Debbie Fletcher, who was featured in the Greenville News article about Attakula Lodge. She stated that she is working with the News to expose the dangers of overdevelopment of the Jocassee area. Her website is http://www.JocasseeRemembered.com .