Exploring Tennessee: Discovering the history of Chuck Swan State Forest

One of the largest state forests in Tennessee and a fire tower plays a role during wildfire season.
Published: Oct. 5, 2023 at 6:47 PM EDT

UNION CO., Tenn. (WVLT) - Nestled along the backroads of Union County lies Chuck Swan State Forest that spans roughly 24,702 acres. Lined by the shores of Norris Lake you can find some of the oldest cemeteries in Union County.

One of those is Lost Creek Cemetery, which is believed to have started in 1815.

One thing you’ll notice about the park is just how quiet and peaceful it is. There are roughly 80 miles of maintained roads with an additional 60 miles of logging and filled roads.

As you drive through the forest you may notice areas that have had trees cut down and new growth beginning, which is done by the forest service.

“Chuck Swan is considered a demonstration or a working forest,” state forest supervisor Jeffery Collins-Key said. “There are various logging practices and methods, rather it be select cut, shelter wood, clear cut or intermediate treatment.”

While this may seem like it hurts the forest, it’s actually a good thing to help the life and growth of future animals as well as trees by removing the invasive species.

“The various logging methods allow for disturbance, mostly to help with fires, which has been suppressed over the last several decades,” said Collins-Key.

This allows for a mature forest to reset into an early succession and allows for a greater distribution of wildlife.

One thing that will catch your attention is the fire tower that you’ll pass by as you drive into the forest. It stands roughly 100 feet tall and was used in the early days to help spot and locate wildfires before technology allowed.

There are no maintained trails, but that allows you to explore freely without having to stay on a path. On the main road there are vehicle restrictions, but registered ATVs are allowed.

“As far as the secondary roads that are not main forest, those are open. There is a speed limit that is heavily enforced, but as far as access they are fully open to bicyclist, motorcyclist, dirt bikes and ATVS”, said Collins-Key.

Hunting is also allowed on the forest lands.

“There are big game hunts and small game hunting on Chuck Swan,” Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Spokesman Matt Cameron said. “Big game hunting would be deer and turkey are what are called quota hunts, TWRA has a quota hunt system where you have to apply for one of the two species.”

The turkey applications will open in the winter before the spring season and the deer will be during the summer time so you can hunt in the fall.

If you’re looking for a peaceful get away, there are two campsites that are first come first serve.

“There are no electrical hookups, or sewage type hookups, but they do welcome campers and tents, but there isn’t going to be any types of utilities,” said Cameron.

Chuck Swan is located roughly an hour north of Knoxville and will provide a quiet and relaxing getaway where you can make memories with family and see a beautiful part of East Tennessee.