By Mike Steely

Our nearby neighbor to the southeast is preparing to celebrate its 200th birthday. The new county mayor there, Mitch Ingram, has named a Bicentennial Committee and they’re talking about having a county fair later this year to celebrate.

To help promote its 200 years Monroe County is seeking an official slogan. There’s a form available on the internet for suggestions. The objective is to select a slogan made up of 10 words of less about the Bicentennial Celebration in a way that attracts both locals and visitors to attend upcoming events.

You can find the submission form at and submit your idea at that site.

If you’ve never visited Monroe County or haven’t been there in a while the winter is a great time to see the sites, attractions, cities and communities. Founded in 1819 following the Calhoun Treaty with the Cherokee, which gave the former Overhill Towns along the Little Tennessee to the nation, the county today has its courthouse in Madisonville. About half of the county is part of the Cherokee National Forest and the Cherohala Parkway is a drive worth taking.

There are lots of places in Monroe County worth a day’s outing and there’s events coming.

The Monroe County Chamber of Commerce has its annual membership meeting coming up on January 9 at the Vonore Baptist Church. The chamber is celebrating 40 years and planning a luncheon and reception starting at 11:30.

Something the chamber and other Monroe County residents may be celebrating is the passage of the U.S. Farm Bill that included protection of 20,000 acres above and behind Bald River Falls south of Tellico Plains. Senator Lamar Alexander announced the protection recently and was joined by other regional congressmen and outgoing U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

The act is the first Wilderness Protection for Tennessee since 1986 and includes the forests in Monroe and Polk County.

Monroe County includes the historic county seat in Madisonville, nearby Hiwassee College, and the homes of former Senator Estes Kefauver, William Heiskell, Ray Jenkins, Charles McClung McGhee, Gen. John C. Vaughn and many other notables.

It was also the birthplace of Sequoyah, the developer of the Cherokee Alphabet, who was born in the Overhill Cherokee Towns near Vonore. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum recounts his life and that of the Cherokee.  Vonore also is the location of Fort Loudoun State Park, a reconstructed pre-state military fort, a Vonore Museum, and Tellico Block House.

The villages of the Overhill Cherokee were flooded by Tellico Lake but there are monuments to several villages including Chota, the principal town.

The west end of Monroe County has the Lost Sea cave, Sweetwater, Sweetwater Valley Farm, and the Sweetwater Flea Market. Downtown Sweetwater has emerged as an “antique” showcase and the Duck Pond Park there is a great place to visit. Developed along the railroad Sweetwater is a bit unique among East Tennessee towns.

South Monroe County has Tellico Plains and Coker Creek, the Cherohala Skyway, Bald River Falls and the Cherokee National Forest. Tellico Plains has campgrounds, two museums, a visitor center, and a bed and breakfast inn.

Coker Creek was a gold-mining community and people can still pan the creeks there for the precious metal.

Other communities in Monroe County include Ballplay, Hopewell Mill, Hopewell Springs, Jalapa and Mount Vernon.

About 49,000 people call Monroe County home. The drive to Madisonville and Vonore along Highway 411 takes you past the entrance to “The Dragon” loved by motorcycle riders and past Greenback.

Just beyond Madisonville is Highway 68. To the north it brings you to Sweetwater and, to the south, to Tellico Plains.

You can get more information about visiting Monroe County this winter, or any time, by emailing the Monroe Chamber of Commerce at or calling 423-442-4588. The same is true from the Monroe Department of Tourism in Tellico Plains by calling 423-253-8010 or by emailing