Land of the Noonday Sun and Familial Ties

I stood alongside the twisty mountain road, at an elevation of 3000 ft, overlooking the 1,700-acre Nantahala Lake in southwestern North Carolina.  At the bottom of that lake lies the old town of Aquone, and what was once the North Carolina Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Forest Service Camp #10 (NC F-10).  At the age of 17 years, my paternal grandfather served about 2 months in Company 408, in that camp, in the summer of 1936.  The town and camp remnants were submerged when this area was flooded after the construction of the Nantahala Dam in 1942 to create Lake Nantahala, and the hydroelectric power critical to the success of defense projects for World War II.   

View of Nantahala Lake behind Lakes End Marina. Below these waters lie the old town of Aquone and the remnants of Co. 408 NC F-10 (Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 408, North Carolina Forest Service Camp #10). The camp was overseen by military personal assigned to a CCC District Headquarters at Fort Bragg during the Depression, meaning that my grandfather and I were both assigned to units at Fort Bragg – 73 years apart!

As I looked up the road, one side hugging the side of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and the other a steep drop-off into the surrounding Nantahala Forest, I remembered that my grandfather’s CCC service records listed his type of work as “road work.”  He could’ve helped build this very road on which I stood.

Wayah Road skirts the eastern bank of the Nantahala Lake. I can only imagine what impression this landscape must’ve made on a young Cajun farmer back in the 1930s.

Since it was January, the forest was mostly devoid of leaves, providing an unobscured view of the valleys and streams below.  I tried to imagine what my teenage grandfather would’ve felt standing in this place.  He had never been outside of the bayous of Louisiana that he called home before coming here.  He came from a farming family, so surely, he felt comfortable working the earth, but up to this point, he had never experienced altitude, and certainly never had the opportunity to look down on clouds.  This must’ve been such a strange world to him.  

Wintertime view of Nantahala National Forest.

According to, “The CCC was a work relief program that gave [>3 million] young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression.  Considered by many to be one of the most successful of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the CCC planted more than 3 billion trees and constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 parks nationwide during it’s 9 years of existence.  The CCC helped to shape the modern national and state park systems we enjoy today.”   Many of the National and State parks I’ve visited have erected monuments and/or educational placards memorializing the work of CCC workers.

One of dozens of Civilian Conservation Corps memorials I’ve seen in national and state parks and forests during my travels. This one is at Singletary Lake State Park, NC.

I didn’t learn about his service with the CCC until decades after my grandfather’s passing, so I was never able to ask him about it.  What was his impression of the mountains?  Could his fellow workers understand his Cajun accent?  Could he understand theirs?  With over 4,500 CCC camps spread out across the country, and approximately 80 of them in Louisiana, why did he go all the way to North Carolina to work, instead of serving in one closer to home? It seems we will never know the answers to these questions. 

“Nantahala” is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noon day sun,” a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge, where the sun only reaches to the valley floor at midday.” The land was inhabited by the Cherokee for thousands of years until their forced removal in 1838, resulting from a small, unauthorized group of Cherokee signing the land away in a treaty with the U.S. Government. Some of this land was then established as the Nantahala National Forest in 1920 under the authority of the 1911 Weeks Act.

Fed by Nantahala Lake, the Nantahala River provides the perfect playground for a variety of watersports, including fishing and boating.  White water rapids are created when water is released from the dam, which supports world-class paddling sports downriver.    

Capitalizing on the rapids created by upriver dam openings, the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s main campus is a haven for paddling sports, hosting international paddling competitions, national races, and training opportunities for developmental and elite-level athletes as well as recreational paddlers.
Wild trout (rainbow, brown, and brook) can be found throughout most of the Nantahala River, and areas of the lower river also have stocked fish.

Although not as picturesque in the winter, I’ve ridden this area in summertime and it is quite stunning.  The beautiful scenery, well-maintained twisty mountain roads, and now, a familial connection, will all keep me coming back to this incredible forest and area.

2 thoughts on “Land of the Noonday Sun and Familial Ties

Add yours

  1. Another very interesting story. My Dad worked in the CCC for a while, but I have no idea where.

    For some unknown reason, I could not open any of the pictures. The Russians probably hacked m.

    Stay safe and stay in touch!



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