By Mike Steely
I’ll bet that if you walk outside at night and look up at the sky you’ll see a few stars. Our lights in the city and much of our region make it hard to see many stars. But if you’d like to see a really full view of the night sky there’s one place in our area to visit.
Pickett CCC Memorial State Park is a designated “International Dark-Sky Association” location anytime of the year. The park also has scheduled astronomy programs now and then.
My wife and I drove to the park recently and camped for a couple of nights to see the sky filled with stars. We didn’t stay up late enough to see the full display but did see the initial display until about 11 p.m. We found the campground small and almost empty during the week but full on the weekends.
If you’re thinking of driving to the park by way of Oneida, which is what our car’s GPS recommended, don’t do it. Highway 297 from there to Jamestown is about 30 miles of twists, turns, steep hills and narrow pavement. I especially don’t suggest pulling a camper trailer along that route.
I suggest you take I-40 to Crossville and then take Highway 127 north to Jamestown.
Pickett CCC Memorial State Park is just northwest of Jamestown and is aptly named. “CCC” means Civilian Conservation Corps and there’s a small museum near the park office containing information on the men and organization that was formed to employ people during the depression and before World War II. In 1933 The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company donated 12,000 acres to the state. The corps built trails, native sandstone cabins, a lodge, a ranger station and created a twelve-acre lake. Some of the cabins are still in use for renters and the small campground has water and electric for the RV sites and it seems to be very popular with tent camping families.
Other places you may want to see on your way up or back include a Big South Fork Information Center near the park road. Jamestown is small and the home of the York Institute founded by Sergeant Alvin York. Just north of Jamestown is Pall Mall and the York home and gravesite of the noted World War I hero, complete with a museum, his home after the war, the York Mill, and a reproduction of a World War I trench.
Back in Jamestown is the small Mark Twain Spring Park with picnic tables. Twain’s father lived in Jamestown and Twain mentions incidents that took place there in his books.
During its operation the CCC employed about 70,000 Tennessee men who were housed in 77 camps in our state. A majority of men who worked in the CCC went on to serve in World War II.
The lake at Pickett has a swimming area, picnic tables and shelters, and a long metal swinging bridge leading over and up to a shelter and lookout site.
There is an archeology museum in the park that may or may not be open but the museum is well at home in a park with so many large “Indian” rock shelters, caves, and natural arches. All of those sites are reached by marked hiking trails and one of the natural arches is immediately beside Highway 154 which leads to the park entrance.
The camp office is pretty spare with supplies, although the staff is very friendly. I’d suggest if you’re renting a cabin or a camping space that you go prepared with supplies.
Since there is no city within about 20 miles the city lights don’t penetrate the park. That makes for a darker sky than we have in Knox County or most of East Tennessee. My wife and I sat outside in our camp chairs, enjoyed a campfire, and listened to the silence the first weeknight we were there. The star show began about an hour after sunset and my wife looked out of our camper about 2:30 and said there were hundreds of stars she could see.
It’s about two and one-half hours from Knoxville and well worth a day away with the family. As the pandemic seems to continue with us it is a great idea to load up the family in the car and take some time away from home, even if it is just a day or so. Take your camera or your smart phone and get lots of photos. Then share them with your friends online or print them out and create your own Day-Away photo album.
You can find Pickett CCC State Park online or call them at 931-879-5821. The office is open from 7:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.