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Geologic History

The region of Tennessee studied for the Cumberland Byway Management Plan is rapidly becoming a top-rated retirement and recreation area while maintaining more traditional farming and manufacturing bases. The Cumberland Byway meanders through eight counties in Tennessee. The geology throughout the region helps define much of the rich history, transportation, and culture of this region. In order to properly plan and manage for the Byway, we need to understand the cultural history from which it developed. Examining the cultural and economic past of the region will inform the intrinsic qualities of the Byway that are unique to the region. The intrinsic qualities are historic, scenic, recreational, cultural, archaeological, and natural resources. The Cumberland Byway passes through or near five geologic regions. From east to west, they include:
  • Cumberland Mountain Thrust Fault
  • Eastern Escarpment
  • Cumberland Plateau
  • Western Escarpment
  • Eastern Highland Rim

The eastern edge of the plateau is about 750 feet higher than the lowlands of the eastern adjacent Cumberland Mountain Thrust Fault and Valley and Ridge Provinces. Very long linear valleys paralleled by ridges, all running northeast to southwest, with local relief of several hundred feet or more, characterize the topography of the Thrust Fault and Valley and Ridge.

The top of the Cumberland Plateau is primarily 1,700 to 1,900 feet in elevation. The topography at the top of the plateau is primarily flat with some rolling hills that can reach up to 3,000 feet in elevation and gorges to 900 feet. From the west, the Western Escarpment of the Plateau transitions to the Eastern Highland Rim that drops approximately 1,000 feet from the elevation of the Cumberland Plateau.

Another way to categorize geographic regions is by ecoregion. An ecoregion is “a relatively large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities.” Each ecoregion is assigned a standard identification number for mapping reference and additional research activities.