Book Feature: Hazel Creek

Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community

Author, Daniel S. Pierce

Swain County’s Hazel Creek has fascinated author and University of North Carolina–Asheville professor Daniel Pierce since he wrote The Great Smokies: From Natural Habitat to National Park. “Since then,” he says, “I’ve been there many times and it’s become a very special place to me.”

Hazel Creek saw deforestation after the Ritter Lumber Company came to the area from 1910-1920 and isolation after the Tennessee Valley Authority’s damming of the Little Tennessee River flooded the road into the area in the 1940s. The federal government moved residents out, but promised a road back in. Today Swain County residents still await fulfillment of that promise.

Pierce used oral histories, Horace Kephart’s writings and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Archives in his research. A great source, he says, were old interviews with Granville Calhoun, the last Hazel Creek resident to leave in 1944, whom he likens to Forrest Gump. “He was personally involved in almost every major event or movement in the area during his lifetime—and lived to 103.”

Today the area has largely returned to a natural and beautiful state. The story Pierce tells is of two promises: one broken, the other kept. “Ultimately, and in the long term, Hazel Creek represents not a broken promise,” he writes, “but the fulfillment of a promise…to preserve some very special places, in the words of the Organic Act that created the National Park Service, ‘unimpaired for future generations.’”

Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community, April, 2017, nonfiction, softcover, $10.95, by Daniel S. Pierce, and published by Great Smoky Mountains Association, Gatlinburg, TN.

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