Kids aboard the Miss Hazel — the venerable 33-year-old pontoon boat that glides across Fontana Lake — serve as wee apprentice captains, “helping” the real skipper, Capt. Karl Sutter, as
Kids aboard the Miss Hazel — the venerable 33-year-old pontoon boat that glides across Fontana Lake — serve as wee apprentice captains, “helping” the real skipper, Capt. Karl Sutter, as he steers. There’s no shortage of scenery to take in: Here, deep in the Great Smoky Mountains, lies a largely unspoiled landscape abundant with native North Carolina flora and fauna.
On these excursions, each lasting about an hour and a half, passengers might spy bears and deer. Bald eagles soar proudly over the water and have nested once again along Fontana’s 238-mile shoreline. Depending on the time of year, tubular, peach-colored blooms of wild azaleas or the bright whites, pinks, and purples of dogwoods, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons might make an appearance. Sutter is the Miss Hazel’s enthusiastic ambassador. At a spry 80 years old, he has ferried thousands of individuals, groups, and families around the 10,230-acre lake, describing the area’s original inhabitants: the Cherokee Indians and the Scots-Irish settlers who followed. “Every tour is different, but on all of them, I get to meet some really interesting people,” Sutter says.
Along with tours, the Miss Hazel transports hikers and anglers across the lake and ferries descendants of the original settlers to tend family cemeteries on select Sundays from May to September. At the end of each excursion, when the Miss Hazel docks at Fontana Marina, the boat’s little skippers disembark, each with a sticker in hand that proclaims, “Boat Captain Miss Hazel.” —