When R.L. Harris Dam went into service in 1983, it was the culmination of a project that began more than 50 years ago. The site on the Tallapoosa River was identified for a dam in the mid-1920s but did not receive federal approval until 1973.
After more than 40 years in service, Harris Dam and Harris Lake have not only provided decades of low-cost hydroelectric power, flood control and recreational opportunities. They’ve also been catalysts for economic growth and a quality of life that’s attracting visitors and new residents from all over the country.
Harris Lake – known locally as Lake Wedowee after the small, nearby town – has built a reputation as one of the cleanest lakes in the country, while Wedowee and Randolph County are known for low tax and crime rates, said Terry Norton, a retired Georgia State Patrol officer turned Realtor. Lake Harris has also been named one of the top lakes in Alabama for fishing.
“It’s just a place that has good, hometown charm,” Norton said. “When you come here and see the lake, it’s like going back in time. I call it the Mayberry of Alabama. It used to be one of our best-kept secrets, but more and more people are discovering it and once they visit, they fall in love.”
Morris, originally from Cobb County, Georgia, said he and his family used to visit the area on weekends but moved permanently in the 1990s. He’s enjoyed raising a family in the area.
As former Georgia residents, Morris and Norton agree the lake’s proximity to that state has been a draw for many Georgians looking to visit, vacation and even retire in the area.
“The dam and the lake have had a tremendously positive impact on Wedowee,” said Mayor Tim Coe, who has served in that capacity for almost 31 years. “Without question it’s been the biggest economic driver we’ve had in the northern half of the county.”
Wedowee and the surrounding area have seen new jobs created as a direct result of the dam and lake, Coe said. They include construction and maintenance jobs, and along with people such as Morris and Norton moving to the area, the growth means more dollars spent locally on fishing, shopping, dining out and more.
Crystal White, a team leader with Alabama Power Shoreline Management, said the number of permits issued for building, repairing or modifying structures on Harris Lake increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That sustained growth, and the trend of more people doing their jobs remotely, has seen Wedowee and communities around the lake transform into a region where more people are living and working, as opposed to just a weekend tourist destination.
Investing in communities
Alabama Power understands its responsibility and connection to the communities it serves, and the positive economic and recreational impacts of its dams and lakes.
The company maintains public use sites, known as The Preserves, around Harris Lake, and protects land around the reservoir.
Little Fox, a day-use area at Harris Lake, was developed by Alabama Power in partnership with the Lake Wedowee Property Owners Association. It features miles of walking trails, pollinator plots, gazebos and plenty of fishing spots.
Even more popular is Flat Rock Park, known for its 25 acres of smooth-top granite that is a destination for fishing, swimming and sunbathing. There’s a playground, picnic and grilling areas and hiking trails.
The company also maintains boat ramps at eight locations around the lake.
“Communities are anchored by the reservoirs behind our dams,” said Wyatt Williams, operations and maintenance manager, adding that the lakes draw people in, creating a domino effect that means better schools, roads and hospitals.
“Reinvestment in hydro doesn’t just help us keep making energy, it helps preserve the wonderful communities around them, like Wedowee,” Williams said.
To learn more about Harris Dam and Harris Lake, and Alabama Power’s other dams and lakes, visit apcshorelines.com or download the Shorelines app.