April 20, 2016
by Kevin Colburn
Soak Creek has been named Tennessee's newest Scenic River—the first to earn the designation in 15 years. A tributary of the Piney River, this free-flowing creek serves as critical habitat for the iconic species of the Cumberland Plateau and provides a wide range of outdoor opportunities for all ages as it winds through Bledsoe, Cumberland and Rhea Counties and along the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park. After unanimous bipartisan approval by the State House and Senate earlier this month, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation naming Soak Creek one of 15 waterways in the state designated as Scenic Rivers. The designation helps to formalize the work local landowners, nonprofit groups and state agencies have done to ensure the public has access to this pristine natural treasure for generations to come.
Soak Creek flows down from the Cumberland Plateau into a remote cliff-lined canyon of primitive Appalachian wilderness. When flows rise following rains, the stream offers whitewater paddlers a scenic Class III descent. Hikers on the Cumberland Trail benefit from a recent land conservation purchase that borders Soak Creek. In addition to its own merits as critical habitat and an outdoor recreation spot, Soak Creek connects the nearby Piney Falls State Natural Area and Stinging Fork Natural Area—creating a corridor for nature and visitors alike and helping to ensure protection of the wider area.
The Tennessee Scenic River designation of Soak Creek spans land owned by the State as well as several private landowners who have championed protection for the creek and watershed. The designation recognizes a shared vision for voluntarily preserving the ecological, scenic and recreational values of Soak Creek among neighbors and ensures future generations have the opportunity to experience these natural treasures and benefit from tourism and the many other economic benefits they provide. This kind of cooperation serves as a model for how landowners, community groups and local business leaders in other watersheds can come together in support of their shared waterways.
American Whitewater, Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts, The Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association took an active role in advocating for Scenic River designation for Soak Creek. We would like to recognize the leadership of Tennessee State Senator Ken Yager and State Representative Ron Travis who introduced the bill and shepherded it to passage on behalf of the landowners and citizens of Tennessee.