Although it is known to most of us as Fontana Lake, it is actually Fontana Resevoir. Which means it is an artificial lake, created by the formation of Fontana Dam. Fontana Dam is a hydroelectric facility that stands 480 feet high and stretches 2,365 feet long. Crossing the Little Tennessee River at Fontana Village in North Carolina.
Fontana Dam itself is an engineering marvel. This hydro electric dam was completed in November 1944 to produce electricity for the war effort. The 480-foot-high dam became the highest in the Eastern United States and the fourth highest in the nation.
The 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail crosses Fontana Dam providing a beautiful view of the lake and powerhouse. The Appalachian trail runs from Georgia to Maine and enters the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon after it crosses the dam.
Annual Drawdown —Fontana is a man-made lake with lake levels controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). From September – November TVA lowers lake levels 60-feet to allow for winter snows and spring rains. Fontana is a very deep lake, so even with lowered lake levels fishing is not compromised and public access ramps are open all year.
The construction of Fontana Dam flooded valleys in the Smoky Mountains leaving many homes, and even towns under water. This forced families to leave, and a promise was made in the 1940’s to restore road access to what is known as the North Shore. In the 1970’s construction on the road was halted, and it is now known by locals as the Road to Nowhere. The failure to complete the road resulted in a lawsuit known as the North Shore Road Controversy. In 2007 Swain County reach a settlement with the Park Service.
This Road to Nowhere road ends at a 1/2 mile long tunnel which gives access to trails and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a popular destination for day hikes, horseback riding, fishing, and scenic drives.