The internet when used correctly is a wonderful, powerful tool, an unceasing fount of entertainment and knowledge and thought.
Certainly, you could make the argument that it is the most impactful invention since the wheel or sliced bread or cotton gin.
But the internet isn’t run on wishes.
It takes money. Donations, grants, ads or subscriptions … one way or another almost everybody who is posting content to the web is looking to get paid.
Therefore, clicks are the currency of the web. Clicks mean readers. And clicks mean advertising. And clicks mean money.
This is neither good nor bad.
There are thousands of websites that get their clicks by offering valuable information, connections and, again, entertainment.
And there are thousands of websites that get their clicks through other means such as sensationalism, provocation, lying, luring or misleading.
It’s nothing new, of course. Yellow journalism is an old American tradition.
It’s just that the internet has modernized it, weaponized it and turned the job of grabbing your attention no matter the cost into a science.
24/7 Wall Street names Cocke County “worst county”
Recently, the good folks at 24/7 Wall St. identified three categories, life expectancy at birth, percentage of the population with bachelor’s degrees and poverty rate to determine the worst counties in which to live for all 50 states.
For Tennessee, the site’s criteria selected Cocke County, located near Sevier County and Knoxville along the state line.
Now, we know by giving them publicity, we’re getting sucked into their little game. In fact, we gave them a precious click (and a precious backlink – you’re welcome) to write this story.
But, now that we’ve been drawn in, we feel compelled to retort.
The data is data and we’re going to assume it’s correct. Cocke County’s life expectancy is lower than the rest of the state, the poverty rate is higher than we’d like. And the number of bachelor’s degrees per capita is whatever the heck it is.
But that’s how we rate a county? Those are the criteria?
In my years in Tennessee, I’ve explored most of the state. I’ve set foot and spent extensive time in every county in East Tennessee. I’m very familiar with most of Middle Tennessee and have traveled through a lot of the West.
And I can tell you without question that Cocke County is not the worst place to live in Tennessee.
It’s not even the worst place to live in East Tennessee.
But some click baiter with a spreadsheet and a dream came up with three criteria and felt justified in insulting a community to get a handful of extra pennies per click this week.
But here at TheSmokies.com, we believe in the old adage “don’t hate the player hate the game.”
And so, we applaud 24/7 Wall Street’s content-generating creativity.
However, we wish to offer a retort, in defense.
Now, you may be asking, what are the worst places to live in Tennessee if not Cocke County?
I have my thoughts, but I’m not looking to knock anyone down. I prefer to lift Cocke County up.
So without further ado, here are some of the reasons Cocke County is an awesome place to live or visit.
5. Cocke County is interesting
Stay with me here.
Cocke County still had a reputation when we first moved to Tennessee.
In many ways, it was the purest distillation of the insular mountain culture that developed in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina and was celebrated the world over.
As new Volunteers, we were told to avoid Cocke County if we could.
Cocke County was known for treating the law as something of a suggestion.
Chop shops were abundant as were moonshine operations and marijuana growers. Cock fighting was thought of as a family tradition and corruption among elected officials and law enforcement was open and well known.
But John, you might say, none of those things are what you’d consider positives that you could include on a Chamber of Commerce brochure.
No. But it’s part of the history of the mountain people.
According to records in the archives, in 1797, the 443 square miles of Cocke County were cordoned off from Jefferson County. A new county was formed, named after William Cocke, a Revolutionary War soldier.
The kind of history that has drawn tourists to the attractions of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for years, the kind of history that drew the attention of the world in the mid-to-late 1800s.
For better or worse, Cocke County was one of the last real bastions of the old mountain lawlessness that captured national attention.
And, for the most part, it is history in Cocke County as well.
Subsequently, the people of Cocke County decided they’d had enough of the old ways and began concerted campaigns to root out lawlessness and corruption in recent years. And the Cocke County Chamber of Commerce along with the Cocke County partnership believes in a shared vision for the County, with economic opportunities for everyone involved.
Also, I think even in praising a place we know and love, it’s important to be real.
I don’t think Cocke County deserved 24/7 Wall St.’s “worst” label, but I’m not here trying to tell you it’s perfect, either.
4. Cocke County is beautiful
Cocke County’s location near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and being traversed by the Big Pigeon and French Broad Rivers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful area.
Drive through Cosby or Hartford, take the back road to Max Patch in Del Rio. Go find a spot down by the river. Go horseback riding. Drive the backroads and explore Cocke County.
It is magnificent country that reaches into the National Forest. If you want to live among natural beauty, you could do a lot worse than Cocke County.
3. Cocke County is adventurous
Do you want to enjoy outdoor sports? Cocke County is home to the best whitewater rafting and kayaking in Northeast Tennessee. In fact, it proudly sports the nickname – The Adventurous Side of the Smokies.
The county is also home to great hiking, zip-lining, mudding and much more.
Hike the trails and enjoy the wildlife and so much more in the Cocke County areas.
If you want to live in a place where you can enjoy some adventure and recreation in the great outdoors, Cocke County is certainly a better spot than many in the state.
2. Cocke County can be surprisingly diverse
Don’t get me wrong here, Cocke County has and continues to have its issues as does just about every place in the country that suffered homogeny long enough to allow stereotypes and prejudices to build.
But Newport was one of the first communities in East Tennessee to elect a Black mayor and one of the first to elect a Hispanic county sheriff.
Cocke County has its issues. It is certainly not a utopia, but it has a history of surpassing outsider’s expectations.
For example, the history of Dr. Dennis Branch, a Black doctor who rose to national prominence serving the tiny mountain community gives a wonderful insight into the complicated subject of civil rights in the mountains.
Are these isolated cases? Yes. But find me other small mountain communities with similar stories.
1. Cocke County is full of wonderful people
Above all, people, as bad as they can be, are still pretty awesome.
I’ve lived in a lot of places and traveled to many, many more. I’ve never been to a place where I thought man, these locals just suck.
But, by and large, there is something special about the citizens of East Tennessee and its communities like Cocke County.
They can be frustrating and stubborn. But also loving, and giving and forgiving.
They rally to each other’s aid and will help a stranger in need with nearly everything they’ve got.
Local grassroots faith-based community run non-profits such as Empower Cocke County target important issues like vocational rehabilitation and lift up their own to improve quality of life.
I’ve been to places – including lots of rural places – where I wondered what would happen if my car broke down. What I would do if I had an emergency. I don’t have that doubt in Cocke County.
Its people may not have as many bachelor’s degrees per capita as other places. They may not have as much material wealth, but they are proud of themselves, each other and their home.
Have you visited Cocke County? Do you agree with us? Let us know in the comments.