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Sesquicentennial trips in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina
Region is steeped in blue and gray Civil War history
Explore North Carolina parks
Remember what fresh air really tastes like in North Carolina's parks
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The state boasts many large, historic parks in close proximity
Get a Grip: four-wheelers in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina
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Ancient Ocean

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    Visitors walk past the tunnel entrance to the Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tenn., on Saturday. More than 170,000 people visit the attraction each year.
    Photo by Patrick Smith.
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Sweetwater is all about the ancient.

Far underground in Sweetwater, Tenn., sits the Lost Sea, the nation’s largest underground lake. Its downtown is full of historic buildings and antique shops.

And the surrounding county, which is 30 percent national forests, has been preserved for centuries.

1. BEST THING TO DO: The Lost Sea

There’s something down below

* The Lost Sea is America’s largest underground lake and one of the biggest such lakes in the world.

* About 60,000 curious visitors visit the Lost Sea every year.

* Visitors can enjoy boat rides, cave tours, food and crafts.

Source: The Lost Sea

2. THIS TOWN’S CHOO CHOO

Search for treasures from the past

* There is no shortage of antiques shopping. Visitors can pick up antique gifts, tools, china and other items at the downtown’s main stores or hunt for hidden treasures in the town’s 60-booth antique mall.

* Those looking for a different kind of treasure hunting can search through the town’s flea market, the largest in East Tennessee.

* The Gay Theater and other incarnations of it has entertained the town since 1929. Catch a show and become a part of that history.

* Just walking around town can be a journey to the past. Sweetwater has a number of historic buildings, many of which visitors can explore.

Source: Jessica Morgan, Sweetwater City Recorder, Monroe County Department of Tourism

3. BEST KEPT SECRET

Quack quack!

* Sweetwater locals love visiting the town’s duck park.

* The park sits on the corner of Old Highway 68 and Main Street, making an easy find for visitors.

* Bring a few quarters and buy some duck feed to join the fun.

Source: Jessica Morgan, Sweetwater City Recorder

4. LIST OF FESTIVALS

Nothing holds this heart of mine like sweet, delicious muscadine

* Last September, Sweetwater began hosting a National Muscadine Festival. In 2011, it drew a crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000. City officials hope to see that number rise to 5,000 this year.

* The Muscadine Festival features music, a barbecue competition, a grape-stomping contest and other muscadine-centered fun.

* The festival takes place on the last full weekend of September, this year Sept. 28-29.

* Sweetwater also hosts a large Fourth of July celebration, with fireworks, a parade, music and kids entertainment.

Source: Monroe County Department of Tourism

5. BEST PLACE IN TOWN TO EAT AND WHY

Don’t hunt too far for good food

* Hunter’s Bakery & Cafe serves up a variety of fine salads, sandwiches, salads and dinner entrees.

* Dinner entrees range from $7.99 for marinated grilled chicken to $19.99 for shrimp and steak.

* Locally, the restaurant is famous for its chicken salad and “Big Kid Cookies.” Careful, those cookies are the size of your head.

Source: Hunter’s Bakery & Cafe

6. FACTBOX

A sweet place to visit

* Population: 6,654.

* Biggest employers: Sweetwater Hospital Association and industrial manufacturing company Aeroflex.

* Number of miles from downtown Chattanooga: 72.

* Landmarks or geographic features: Sweetwater Creek, a several-miles-long branch emptying into Watts Bar Lake.

* Date founded: Dec. 10, 1875.

* Historic info: Sweetwater has its own Civil War Trail marker, commemorating the strategic importance of the town’s railroad depot.

* Most famous residents: Retired NASCAR driver Paul Holt, Seattle Seahawks wide receivers coach Kippy Brown.

* Odd/unique traditions: Sweetwater resident and antiques shop owner Todd Richesin has helped decorate for the Obama family’s Christmas for two years. He is part of the team that decorates the White House in December.

* Unique characteristics/fun fact: Sweetwater was the home of the now disbanded Tennessee Military Institute. Before it closed in the 1980s, the institute was know as one of the best military schools in the country.

Source: Jessica Morgan, Sweetwater City Recorder