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The Obey River

Ever since the formation of the Sewanee Mining Company in the 1850s, coal has helped put food on the table for many people living on the Cumberland Plateau. It was an industry built mostly by the sweat of good people trying to earn a living the only way they knew how. But what they didn’t know was that the very thing that helped them survive was also killing the life they knew. Today the Plateau is still feeling the effects of those old coal mines. Wild Side Guide Ken Tucker takes us to the Obey River, where clear waters often hide a silent killer…acid mine drainage.

At one time the Obey was considered dead…barren of almost all forms of aquatic life. But now, thanks to the hard work of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the TWRA, the river is beginning to recover. It will take many more years and a lot more work…but even then, the Obey might never be the same.

To learn more about coal mining in Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau, try Jason Duke’s book “Tennessee Coal Mining, Railroading, & Logging in Cumberland, Fentress, Overton and Putnam Counties” available through Special thanks to Jason, Kendall Morgan, and David Johnson for letting us use their coal mining pictures in this story. David has amassed a large collection of old mining pictures that can be viewed on his website,

From show 2806