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University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Chancellor Donde Plowman and UT System President Randy Boyd test out kayaks during the Tennessee RiverLine launch event Friday, May 21, 2021.

With cheers, confetti, and the dedication of 60 kayaks bound for river communities, America’s next great regional trail system has been officially launched.

On May 21, in a celebration on the banks of the Tennessee River, the Tennessee RiverLine launched its public phase, moving from concept to implementation.

This regional initiative for a 652-mile paddle–hike–bike trail along the Tennessee River has now moved from critical research and concept planning to public outreach, events, grants, equipment, and infrastructure investment. This momentum reflects the essential support of the initiative’s principal partners, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Tennessee Valley Authority, plus the support of many other partners.

Following welcoming remarks from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and School of Landscape Architecture and Tennessee RiverLine Director Brad Collett kicked off the launch celebration, which was held at Suttree Landing Park in Knoxville.

“The Tennessee RiverLine is a trail system like no other,” Collett said. “It is an infrastructure of tourism, public health, quality of life, equitable river access, environmental stewardship, economic and community development, and entrepreneurship.”

Watch the video below to see the launch day events.

Since 2016, the Tennessee RiverLine has conducted critical research and concept programming. So far, 15 river communities are engaged with the Tennessee RiverLine to bring economic development, health benefits, equitable access, and environmental stewardship to their citizens.

TVA Vice President, Gas, Hydro and Integration David Bowling told an excited crowd, “TVA’s mission is to make the valley a great place to live, work, and play. TVA has been excited to be on deck for each step of the Tennessee RiverLine journey, but nothing compares to today’s Meet the Fleet, which celebrates Tennessee RiverLine’s vision as it becomes reality.”

TVA has been a supporter of the Tennessee RiverLine since its founding in the School of Landscape Architecture in 2016 and became a principal partner with UT in 2021.

At the celebration, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman spoke about the power of partnerships and enriching the lives of 2.4 million people in our region.

“As our state’s flagship land-grant institution, we do our best work when we work alongside and on behalf of people and communities across Tennessee and beyond,” she said. “The Tennessee RiverLine demonstrates the value of investing in inspiration and possibilities.”

Beyond celebratory remarks, the launch event included a Meet the Fleet celebration, which marked the granting of 60 kayaks to river communities involved with the initiative’s Tennessee RiverTowns Program. The kayaks, along with safety gear and other accessories, will be available to the communities free of charge for public events at the river, many of which are scheduled beginning this month. Other river communities will have the opportunity to apply for the Tennessee RiverTowns program this summer.

Granting the kayaks is one way the Tennessee RiverLine is making the river accessible to everyone and bringing health benefits and economic development to river communities.

“The fleets of kayaks represent more than recreation gear,” Collett said. “They are infrastructures of experience that unlock the economic, public health, and environmental stewardship benefits promised by the Tennessee RiverLine.”

Equitable access to the river was put into action during the launch as many people took advantage of a paddle experience—for many, their first time in a kayak on the river. Among the kayakers were Plowman and UT System President Randy Boyd.

In addition to granting equipment, the public phase includes programming and vision implementation through infrastructure investment. This spring, the initiative helped two Tennessee River communities earn $100,000 in Tennessee Department of Health grants to begin master planning of Tennessee RiverLine investments. It also formed an historic collaboration with the Singing River Trail to support the development of a 150-mile greenway system along the Tennessee River in North Alabama.

Registration for the 2022 cohort of Tennessee RiverTowns will open in summer 2021. Learn more at


Amanda Johnson (865-974-6401,