Big Ridge State Park is nestled in between the Cumberland Plateau and the Smokey Mountains in the Upper Tennessee Valley. It sits on historic Norris Lake which was the first lake in the TVA dam system built in 1936. The land the park sits on has great historical meaning to not only Union County but to the entire region of East Tennessee. The land on which the park now sits holds the spot where historic Sharp’s Fort once stood. The exact date of settlement cannot be pinpointed but historians believe it is between 1785 and 1792 which predated White’s Fort the settlement which later became the city of Knoxville. Although some of the logs from the fort were repurposed to help build barns in the area a historical marker is now where the fort stood and can be reached by hiking trail. Another interesting historical site that can be hiked to is where in 1794 settler Peter Graves was out hunting and was attacked by the local Cherokee Indians and killed, making him the first person buried in the cemetery by the fort. There is a plaque at “Indian Rock” marking the location of this event. There is also Norton Gristmill built in 1825 the entire structure still stands and is easily accessible. The mill gives visitors a chance to look at the local history and heritage of Union County.
Big Ridge was one of five parks established by TVA in conjunction with the National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps to demonstrate public recreation along newly established TVA lakeshore. The Civilian Conservation Corps built many buildings at the park which are still standing today. The many cabins, dining halls, and bath house were all built by the Corps, the quality of the stonework is evident due to the fact that the structures are still standing today. In addition, they also constructed the dam that separates Big Ridge Lake from Norris Lake and the swimming area. The park offers a wide array of recreational activities no matter what array of ages are in your group. There are tennis, basketball, and beach volleyball courts along with a baseball field. Equipment for all activities can be checked out at the park office. Big Ridge Lake is a part of Norris Lake that is dammed off from the main channel. No gas powered motors are allowed on the water in the park. This provides a uniquely calm and slow paced atmosphere on Big Ridge Lake. There is a pool that is open during the warmer months, and is distinctly unique due to the face that it is also part of the lake that has been netted off and provides a sandy beach. They provide paddle boat, canoe, and rowboat rentals from the boat dock and you have 49 acres of water to prowl if you choose to do so. The lake also provides excellent fishing, many local residents come to the park daily for the fishing. There is also 15 miles of hiking trails that run throughout the park. There are guided hikes by rangers who can give you an informative perspective on local plants and wildlife, or you can go at your own pace enjoying the scenic beauty of East Tennessee. Not only can many historical sites be reached by hiking trails but there is the Ghost Trail. Many rangers and local residents have had firsthand accounts of past residents who never left. There is a guided hike taking visitors back to the site of the old Hutchinson Family home where only the foundation remains, along the way you pass the family cemetery where the graves are sunken in. There are also two playgrounds for younger children.