Photo: The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River
In central Scott County, the Clear Fork River and New River merge to form the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Upstream of the confluence, the Clear Fork is the more rugged river, with a steeper gorge — lined by bluffs in places — encasing the stream while the gorge encasing New River is more gentle. Clear Fork is enclosed within the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, while New River is only protected by the park a short distance upstream from the confluence. Each river is free-flowing and untamed, with cool and calm holes of water giving way to wild rapids.
The rivers here have always played a central role in the lives of Scott Countians. The first white men to settle the region chose to settle along New River, where the availability of water for grist mills and other necessities and the fertile lands that surrounded it proved ideal for a farming way of life. Later, settlers began to make their homes in the much more rugged land surrounding the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River downstream. Communities in the No Business and Parch Corn areas of Big South Fork country lasted until the World War II era before finally beginning to fade as residents sought an easier way of life closer to the towns of Oneida and Huntsville.
The river was also used to float logs downstream to Kentucky during the heyday of timbering activities in what is now the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.
The land surrounding the rivers may have been unforgiving to settlers, but it’s inviting to recreation seekers. Today, the Big South Fork and its major tributaries are popular among whitewater paddlers, anglers and campers.