FLORENCE — The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area will host meetings in July to begin developing the vision for a proposed multi-modal trail system that would run the length of the Tennessee River.
The Shoals will join four other Tennessee River communities that will help create a continuous regional trail system from the river's beginning at Knoxville, Tennessee, to its confluence with the Ohio River in Paducah, Kentucky.
The concept is known as the Tennessee RiverLine and would promote hiking, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking experiences along the river.
“We are thrilled to work with the Shoals and all of our pilot communities,” said Brad Collett, director of the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership and associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “This collaboration will help us gain valuable feedback for the Tennessee RiverLine vision from the unique perspective of Shoals residents and leadership.”
Carrie Crawford, executive director of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, said the Shoals applied and was accepted as one of the five pilot communities that will help develop the RiverLine project.
The Shoals was one of 17 communities to apply for pilot community consideration.
As a pilot community, Crawford said the Shoals will host a workshop that will include members of the Knoxville-based Riverline group, and host public forums to solicit input from the community.
The RiverLine group will work with community leaders, and community and regional planners to determine how to make the project a reality in the Shoals.
"We'll also be working with UT (University of Tennessee) to map out the existing network of trails along the river," Crawford said.
Collett said one of the first priorities will be to pinpoint trails that are available in which communities to determine where the gaps are. The river itself, however, is already an existing, publicly accessible "trail."
The proposed trail would provided access points for people kayaking or canoeing the river. Signage would be placed along the river to provide information to those using the river trail.
"Our communities will benefit through increased collaboration, the continuation of a unified approach to economic development, and branding of our cultural identity and increased visitation and tourism," Crawford said. "Residents and visitors will have more recreational opportunities along the river, and the RiverLine will boost economic development, which increasingly relies on quality of life to spur local investment."
Other pilot communities include Roane County, Tennessee, Bridgeport, Alabama, Benton County, Tennessee, and Paducah-McCraken County, Kentucky.
“Working with the five pilot communities is a critical early step that will lay a foundation for the long-term effort and engagement needed to realize this vision that will affect the lives of millions for generations to come,” Collett said.
The Tennessee RiverLine originated in 2016 in the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Architecture and Design and U.T. Herbert College of Agriculture. Today, it is conducted by the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership with ongoing support from U.T.
"It sounds like a wonderful concept," local hiker and environmentalist Charles Rose said. "The Tennessee River is one of our greatest assets here in the Shoals, and a trail system would just allow more people to enjoy it.
"Once or twice a year I take people on nature walks on the TVA Rockpile Trail, which runs alongside the south shore of the river, and it is always a popular event."
Crawford said she met Collett last year. She said the Tennessee RiverLine concept grew out of a class project.
"He came with some students and explored the Shoals," Crawford said. "We've had a couple of follow-up calls since then."
She said the concept would benefit communities along the trail.
"We very much think about this project as a way of connecting existing communities, as well as existing trails," Collett said.
Funding for the project will be discussed as the project progresses. Collett said the volunteer partnership could mature into a nonprofit that could assist communities with matching funds.