U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
—Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge —
Trail of Tears:
The discovery of gold in Georgia and thirst for land expansion prompted the U.S. Government and white communities to force the Cherokee nation from their ancestral lands. During the summer and winter of 1838, the first three detachments driven west traveled by water on the Tennessee River from Ross's Landing near present-day Chattanooga. They followed the river through Alabama and West Tennessee before merging with other rivers and eventually arriving in Oklahoma.
In May of 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act creating the TVA. The Tennessee Valley Authority was designed to modernize the region, using experts and electricity to combat problems in the area. A primary part of the plan was to produce electricity and provide flood relief by constructing a series of dams along the Tennessee River and its tributaries.
TVA Comes to Town:
TVA acquired land in the middle third of the valley in 1934-35 to serve as a bed for and buffer around Wheeler Reservoir. Interested individuals and organizations urged that the government take advantage of the newly constructed reservoir to replace waterfowl habitat.
On July 7, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt set
aside the middle third of the new reservoir as an experimental national wildlife refuge to see if multi-purpose reservoirs could be made attractive to waterfowl. The reservoir and new refuge were named for General Joseph Wheeler who lived near Decatur.
Rachel Carson's 1962 classic, Silent Spring, documented the serious environmental problems caused by pesticide pollution, including those in the Flint Creek Watershed. In the late summer of 1950, farmers experiencing a very wet season, reapplied pesticides to their crops multiple times because they kept washing off in the frequent rains. These high volumes of pesticides washed into Flint Creek, killing most of the fish.
Here and Now:
Impacted greatly by its controversial history, this section of the Tennessee River and Flint Creek are vastly different from what they were over 170 years ago when the Cherokee traveled west. Industries have sprung up, dams have been built, commercial water traffic is considerable, and recreational boating facilities have developed. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few areas remaining along the river that is dedicated to conserving the character of our wild and natural heritage.