We had been in the car for hours,
traveling to a little known oasis in Knoxville, Tennessee. Fort Dickerson Quarry. After check-in at the Hotel and a small road detour we crossed the Tennessee River. We followed the Big Swings App navigation to a short back road that led to a dirt parking lot and the entrance to Dickerson Quarry.
Being the first Monday in June, we hadn’t really expected a crowd, but it turned into a hot day quickly, and the parking lot had only a few spaces left. We locked the Drone and heavier gear in the car while we scoped out this new swimming hole firsthand. A gravel trail marked the beginning of a half-mile hike to the quarry. We passed a group with an inflatable bed and a pair of tubes; we encountered an eight-foot alligator and an oversized banana float… the Big Swings team was getting more excited with every step. Groups of swimmers crisscrossed our path, dripping wet with towels and the scent of sunscreen. This must be the place!
At the final turn, the path opened up to reveal
the cliffs of Fort Dickerson Quarry. Across the quarry, a 100’ cliff-face stood proud; the evening daylight showing the cliff’s reflection in the water, doubling its size. An immense 300’ deep quarry with dozens of tubes and swimmers splashing and embracing the summer lay before us. Fort Dickerson Quarry was the third stop on our adventure.
The first local we met made us feel comfortable right away. Chris, a 28-year-old military vet, was happy to share stories of the quarry and to point out the safest and most dangerous spots to plunge into. After a quick depth check with the goggles and fins, we broke out the measuring tape and recorded the first spot at 32’. People tend to know you mean business when you bring two 100’ measuring tapes. A few more spots came out to 50’, 28’ and 64’. Chris informed us there were fatalities in the last few years when jumpers pushed their luck at the 100’ cliff by the lookout point. Knowing your limits can save your life…Cliff Jumping Deaths in 2015
Most of my team headed back to the car to grab the Inspire and heavy equipment. I hopped in the water and followed my new friends on a 100 yard swim to some nice cliffs mid-quarry. The climb was near vertical but had nice foot holes and outcroppings to keep a solid grip. After scaling around 50’ of the wall, we sent-off, one by one, dropping monster cannonballs and swan dives.
After the adrenaline wore off,
I pumped up the Explorer 300 River Raft and lounged out in the middle of the blue abyss for an hour or two; just soaking up the sun and good vibes from this magical urban wilderness. Nothing but water and cliffs on all sides. Never before, in all of my swimming hole quests, had I seen a legal swimming quarry in the middle of a metropolitan city like this.
A grassroots petition in 2013 transformed this picturesque quarry from a guaranteed trespassing citation to a center for community recreational activities like hiking, paddling, floating and swimming. Other cities worldwide should follow this amazing example. A number of locals contributed to our #keepitclean2016 Adopt-A-Spot movement and pitched in to help us collect trash and litter from around the quarry. Continued community involvement is necessary to maintain this ecosystem and keep this urban wilderness open to the public.
Retiring back to our hotel, we showered and got ready for a night in Knoxville. We toasted to our successful day at the Downtown Grill And Brewery with amazing steaks and craft beers. Following dinner, we took a short walk through downtown Knoxville and stopped by Preservation Pub for some night caps and great music. As a whole, the Big Swings Crew had an excellent time enjoying Knoxville and this incredible swimming hole it fosters. If you live anywhere near Knoxville or even Eastern Tennessee, don’t miss out on this secret paradise.