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Kayakers enjoy a day on the Tennessee River.

The Tennessee RiverLine has released comprehensive research findings and recommendations from its first immersive community outreach program. Each river community that participated in the Pilot Community Program benefits from the research insights and recommendations specific to their communities, and the findings are available to all communities along the Tennessee River and beyond.

A collaborative project between the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership, the Tennessee RiverLine will be a continuous system of paddling, hiking, and biking experiences along the Tennessee River’s 652-mile reach from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky. River communities that become a part of the Tennessee RiverLine benefit from economic development and entrepreneurship opportunities, quality of life amenities that improve public health, increased access to the river for all, and generations of river advocates who are active participants in its stewardship. Participating communities also receive support to understand their current relationship with the river and a framework to enhance that relationship with community programming and data-driven recommendations.

In summer 2019, a Tennessee RiverLine team consisting of UT students, Tennessee RiverLine staff, and partnership members engaged with the first five communities through the Pilot Community Program. Those first to partner include Benton County, Tennessee; Roane County, Tennessee; The Shoals, Alabama; Bridgeport, Alabama; and Paducah/McCracken County, Kentucky.

In August 2020, each community received its unique Pilot Community Program Report, a comprehensive document containing results of qualitative and quantitative research conducted onsite and online by the Tennessee RiverLine team. The reports aggregate feedback from community residents and leaders, data collected during leadership workshops, and research derived during river experiences and community engagement events in the communities.

Research findings shared with communities address topics including current river use patterns and maps of existing river assets, each providing insight to the community’s current relationship with the Tennessee River. The reports share how community leaders and residents would like to improve that relationship in the future and conclude with individualized recommendations for how this may be accomplished with support from the Tennessee RiverLine. The reports are available to download as PDF files.

“These efforts will no doubt reshape our collective perception of the Tennessee River,” says John Johnsonius, Tennessee state park manager in Benton County. “I commend the team for their outstanding work on the Tennessee RiverLine, and our community is looking forward to working alongside the team in the next phase, the Tennessee RiverTowns Program.”

The substantial research data also is available to offer insight and ideas to other river communities.

As a result of what was learned and the overwhelming interest witnessed during the Pilot Community Program, the Tennessee RiverLine is taking its next step toward a realized vision with the Tennessee RiverTowns Program. River communities that are interested in participating applied in August, and the inaugural cohort of RiverTowns will be announced in October 2020.

Called North America’s next great regional trail system, the Tennessee RiverLine originated in 2016 in the School of Landscape Architecture at the UT College of Architecture and Design and Herbert College of Agriculture. Part of UT’s land-grant mission, it is conducted by the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership with ongoing strong financial support from UT and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Since the Tennessee RiverLine’s inception, the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership was founded as a diverse group of subject-matter experts and river advocates, including UT; TVA; the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program; and several others, to achieve the Tennessee RiverLine vision.