There was a lot of dam traffic in Norris last week.
Starting at mid-week, when the Tennessee Valley Authority opened the spillway on Norris Dam for the first time in four years, and continuing through the weekend, scores of folks — including yours truly — made the trek across U.S. Hwy. 441 to marvel at the wonder of water spilling over a manmade barrier.
It was a truly unique sight, and one we aren’t afforded to very often in our neck of the woods. But as I battled the dam traffic jam, I found myself grumbling that I should’ve just experienced it vicariously through everyone else's Facebook pictures.
In fact, I found myself wanting to make the drive back into Lake City — I’m sorry, Rocky Top; old habits die hard — to pick up a couple of cases of beer. I figured I could’ve made a killing by rolling down my window as I crept across the dam at a snail’s pace — which was as fast as the traffic would allow — and yelling, “Cold beer! Get your cold beer here!” I’m no professional beer jockey, but I’ve been to enough baseball games to know the sales pitch, and I figured the profits would’ve added up quick at $5 per can.
Since it was Sunday, beer sales were off-limits, but I wondered why no one had lobbied TVA for a permit to place a t-shirt hut at either end of the bridge. “Norris Lake 2017 — I was there when the water spilled over.” Instant college fund for the little ones. Or a hot dog stand. Goodness knows folks who waited their turn to take a selfie in front of the water rushing over the spillway at 20,000 cubic feet per second surely developed an appetite as they stood in line. (After suggesting the hot dog stand on Facebook, a friend informed me there actually was a hot dog stand set up on the east side. I must’ve missed it, which was no surprise considering all the dam traffic.)
Norris Lake has long been a tourist attraction for Campbell County. Folks flock to the water for fishing, swimming, camping and boating. But a lake chews up a lot of real estate — well over 30,000 acres, in the case of Norris — and that’s a hefty price to pay if the sole purpose of the lake is tourism (it isn’t, of course). However, considering that there were probably more people rubber-necking at Norris Dam last week than there have been boaters on the waters of the lake in the past two years combined, I’m not sure one needs all that real estate to get maximum benefit from tourists. Just build a 265-ft. concrete waterfall . . . and they will come. The City of Somerset built a waterpark as a tourist attraction. Perhaps either Oneida or Huntsville would settle for just a giant spillway.
There are sacrifices to be had, though. Because with the dam comes the dam traffic. Just as Pigeon Forge residents suffer year-round traffic congestion as folks flock to the Great Smoky Mountains, residents of the idyllic village of Norris found out last week that their town’s peace and tranquility went out the window when the flood was followed by a flood of traffic.
On second thought, maybe I’m not quite ready for Scott County to build its own concrete dam, even if there are a few extra dollars to be made off the backs of tourists. Because I was one of the rubberneckers who flocked to Norris Dam last week. And after fighting through all that dam traffic, all I had were a few dam pictures and a dam headache.