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High up in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina's largely wild, westerly Graham County is Lake Santeetlah. Owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners, the lake was impounded on the Cheoah River in 1928 for hydroelectric energy. The reservoir covers 2,881 acres and lies at an elevation of 1,941 feet.
Graham County is unique for the fact that it is about 70 percent within a national forest and is bounded on all sides by the Unicoi, Snowbird, Yellow Creek and Cheoah Mountain ranges. Santeetlah Reservoir itself sits in the Cheoah District of the Nantahala National Forest, just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. About 80 percent of its 76-mile shoreline is national forest, promising permanent wilderness protection from overdevelopment for years to come. This also means that Lake Santeetlah will never be crowded with homes for those who prefer a quieter and secluded lake lifestyle.
Lake Santeetlah's recreational uses are plenty. Water lovers indulge in canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and rafting adventures. Fishing opportunities are fertile. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, bream and lake trout swim the lake's depths. There is a marina on the lake, and primitive campsites are scattered around the shoreline. The only campground on Lake Santeetlah that has facilities is Cheoah Point, offering camp sites, picnic tables, toilets (no showers), beach area, and a boat ramp. Horse Cove and Rattler Ford are two National Forest campgrounds situated near the lake with camp site, toilet, shower and picnic table facilities (Horse Cove has picnic tables but no showers).
Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners maintains the lake for high summer recreational usage and lowers the lake level in the fall to allow for winter and early spring precipitation and runoff. Although Brookfield owns and operates Santeetlah Dam, the company works closely with the Tennessee Valley Authority to manage lake levels, as Santeetlah Reservoir is affected by flows from TVA's Fontana Dam. Talula Creek, meandering down from Snowbird Mountain, along with other headwater tributaries, add to the lake's water body. From April 1 to November 1, the maximum drawdown is four to five feet. From December 1 to March 1, the maximum drawdown is ten feet. Water from Santeetlah Lake is also released from the Santeetlah Dam into the Cheoah River for the purpose of conserving and restoring the environmental habitats of the Cheoah River. Water releases are on specific scheduled days of the year, creating exhilarating and limited opportunities for advanced whitewater rafters who plan ahead for these scheduled days.
Thousands of hiking trails surround Santeetlah Lake amidst extremely biodiverse flora, awe-inspiring landscapes and intriguing wildlife. In addition to the encircling Nantahala National Forest, the Appalachian Trail can be reached to the east in less than ten miles. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park forms the northern border of Graham County providing visitors with popular camping, backpacking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and auto touring experiences. The 10,000 acres of the Snowbird Backcountry Area, where a group of Cherokee Native Americans hid from persecution on the Trail of Tears, is located south of the lake. Hunting, native trout fishing, primitive camping, and cascading waterfalls make this area a favorite among visitors. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is immediately situated on the western side of the lake. The protected area is a stunning preserve of forest that has never been harvested by humans. Twenty-foot wide poplars and giant red oaks, silent in their ancientness, are among some of the magnificent specimen of life you will see.
For more water fun, the Nantahala and Ocoee Rivers are popular for kayaking, whitewater rafting and paddling. To complement your wilderness journeys, you will find a contrasting experience at Tail of the Dragon which adjoins part of Lake Santeetlah. Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile strip of land featuring 318 curves. It is a hot spot for motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts who can never pass up a great challenge.
You should have no problem finding accommodations that suit your mood among Graham County's pristine natural resources, ranging from bare essentials back-to-earth camping to cabin and home rentals. If you fall in love with Lake Santeetlah and Graham County and do not want to leave, real estate options offer you a wide range of housing possibilities amongst the great wildernesses of the area.
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