That Time I Was Almost Stranded Atop a Dam in a Snow Storm

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
December 27, 2016
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Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
December 27th, 2016
Share story

One very cold February day a winter storm rolled across the Appalachian Mountain of Northeast Tennessee. At first a light flurry drifted across the landscape, but quickly developed into a furious snow storm. A few hours later the snowfall slackened, and a few minutes after that I was out the door with my camera gear to capture photos of the transformer winter landscape. Little did I know I would almost become trapped in this landscape for the night.

The South Holston Dam is about twenty minutes outside Bristol, Tennessee. Visitors can drive across the top of the dam to a small visitor center on the other side and a large recreation area with picnic tables and grills. On warm summer weekends this area is sometimes filled with people enjoying family outings.

I had been here many times before. This area offers great views of the lake during sunrise. Just before sunset the warm light will create great lighting across the water and trees surrounding the lake. Of course it’s also neat to be standing on top of a massive dam; visitors aren’t always allowed to drive across dams like this and enjoy this way.

On this particular snowy day I just wanted some great photos of the lake. Although there are a few places to get to the edge of the lake, this was my favorite. I took the drive along the snow-covered two-lane road heading toward the dam. There was a gate before you begin the climb up the mountain to the top of the dam. The gate is for locking up the recreation area after dark and during maintenance, but today the gate was wide open. It actually surprised me, but I considered myself lucky and decided to drive through.

I got to the top of the dam to find two other vehicles up there with me. I got out, walked around for about an hour, capturing some great photos. Now that the storm had passed it was turning out be quite a beautiful winter day. I was standing in the middle of the dam capturing a photo when I saw a truck heading my way.

Turns out it was a TVA employee with the dam. He stopped beside me, rolled his window down, and said, “Boy, you better get out of here. I was about to lock the gate down below but thought I’d come up here first. You’re not supposed to be here.”

One part of my mind wanted to just immediately nod and leave, but another part was a bit confused and rebellious. “If we weren’t supposed to be up there, why was the gate left open?”

That was the wrong question to ask. The younger man’s eyes turned cold and his face hardened. “Doesn’t matter if the gate is open, you should know better than to come up here on a day like this. I’m leaving work, and when I do I’m locking that gate.” And without another word he drove on across the dam to run off the other two vehicles.

Of course my mind kept trying to figure out this logic. The gates are left wide open, no signs whatsoever to say the recreation is closed, but I’m supposed to know not to come up here to begin with? Still a bit confused, I just counted myself lucky the man had decided to check for strays up here before locking the gate and trapping me up here for the night. It would have made for an interesting night. You know me; I would have just driven back to the top of the dam and kept shooting photos until sunset.

A heavy snow covers the tables at the picnic area at South Holston Dam in Bristol, TN on Thursday, February 13, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

A thick, fresh snow covers the picnic tables at the recreation area across the dam.

Snow covers the top of the South Holston Dam in Bristol, TN on Thursday, February 13, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

Driving across the top of the dam after a fresh snow was fun and scenic.

Snow surrounds South Holston Lake in Bristol, TN on Thursday, February 13, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

For awhile the heavy snow obscured the local landscape, but gradually the storm moved away and revealed the mountains around the lake.

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