The Osceola Island and Weir Dam recreation area is a surprising place to enjoy a picnic, catch some fish, take a long walk in the woods, or enjoy beautiful scenery. The area sits about a mile from the base of South Holston Dam in Tennessee, the site of another beautiful area to spend an afternoon. With a large parking area, wide paths, and several tables, it is an area designed for dozens of families to enjoy themselves at the same time. And that is exactly what the locals do.
Osceola Island is administered by the Tennessee Valley Authority and falls under the day-use local parks category. Fishing is allowed here as long as you have a valid Tennessee fishing permit. Several picnic tables and grills are set up to allow people to have lazy afternoon meals with friends and family. A metal footbridge takes you across the South Holston River to Osceola Island itself and a 1.2 mile walking trail around the outskirts. This little recreation area certainly has enough to keep anyone occupied, and it was enough to keep me occupied twice during my photo assignment to the area.
THE HEART OF THE AREA is the weir dam, a dam designed to pool water behind it while also allowing water to flow over. The weirs help control the waters along a river, allow engineers to measure the amount of water moving along the river, and also helps oxygenate the water. It also makes for a pretty sight. The photo to the right shows how the weir dam looks on an average day as water gentle tumbles over the ends. But this isn’t always the case. The nearby South Holston Dam will release water from time to time as part of their hydroelectric operations. When this happens, three things happen: a loud siren plays a sound that echoes for miles down the river, bright yellow lights begin to flash on a sign cautioning visitors about the sudden increase in flood waters, and the water starts to rage across the top of the weir dam.
I was about three-quarters through the 1.2 mile loop trail when I heard the siren for the first time. My first thought was, “Oh #$@! does the island flood, too?” Yes, I know, typical silly tourist thoughts. But I hustled down the trail so I could capture the photos pictured at the top and the one below. This is what it looks like when the dam releases water from South Holston Lake and the surge rages over the weir dam. Ducks and geese will scatter. Fishermen are happy. Parents yell at their kids to get away from the water. I just stood on the footbridge snapping photos with a silly grin on my face.
THE 1.2 MILE LOOP TRAIL on Osceola Island begins with a walk across a rusty metal footbridge. The trail is covered with small, loose gravels and is almost completely level. It’s an easy trail for anyone to walk, bicycles can make it easy, and it’s a good place for a great jog. The trail starts to the left and heads away from South Holston Dam before reaching the southern tip of the small island. Once you make a turn and start heading toward the dam, you find yourself on the backside of the island and in complete serenity. Walking back here was like walking along the Appalachian Trail: no noise, no cars, no barking dogs, just nature. I would have sat here for hours but I had forgotten something even more critical than my photography gear: bug spray. If humans have Eden, mosquitoes have Osceola Island.
About half a mile from the beginning of the trail you’ll come across another weir dam, this one on the backside of the island. It is identical to the first one, only this one is completely surrounded by nature. The two photos above of the weir dam show the two different views: the smaller photo is on the front, the larger photo is on the back. A gazebo with a concrete floor stands next to the weir dam, providing you with a comfortable place to hang out for a few minutes or a few hours. I’d love to sit here and read a book, but I would end up taking a dozen trips to the restroom.
The day I walked around the island I was treated to what I imagine is a rare event: a foggy mist rising from the river. At first I laughed to myself, remembering the movie The Fog. I laugh at horror movies. But watching the mist, seen in the photo below, rise off the river just confirmed this is a beautiful place for nature. I walked around the trail a little longer, trying to find the best vantage point for a photo, when I came up to the weir dam. A little piece of rock jutted out into the river and allowed me to shoot straight toward the dam. It was about 80 degrees and wickedly humid on the island. But when I started walking toward the rocky shore I crossed through an invisible barrier and suddenly started shivering. The temperature had dropped 15-20 degrees in the blink of an eye. I was inside the mist rising off the river. It took me a minute to steady my hands so I could shoot some photos, then I walked back toward the trail. I crossed that invisible barrier and instantly began sweating. It was a strange, exhilarating experience.
FISHING IS A POPULAR ACTIVITY at Osceola Island. When I began my little trek around the island I saw two teenage boys, dressed like they meant it, walking down the trail carrying enough equipment to keep them busy for a weekend. I found a lot of people fishing in the waters around the island, a few people tossing in a reel from the footbridge, and even more people fly fishing in the waters itself. I would guess probably half the people who visit this recreation area come to fish. And I haven’t seen too many leave empty handed.
While the main area to Osceola Island is right here at the parking area and weir dam, there is another access to great fishing just a quarter mile down the road. You actually pass this parking area before you reach the Osceola Island area, on the left side of the road. I have seen many people walk across the small stone wall during calm waters to fish (during a release from South Holston Dam, it’s impossible to stand safely in these waters). This particular area has an easy access, plenty of area along the banks of the river to set up a chair and toss your line, and is popular for fly fishing because of how low the waters sit.