FLORENCE — Shoals residents put their heads together Thursday to take the next steps for the Tennessee RiverLine project.
The project, born out of a student design studio project at the University of Tennessee, aims to develop and promote a multi-modal trail experience along the Tennessee River.
About 20 residents gathered at the University of North Alabama’s east campus for the latest workshop, which used the “Strategic Doing” method to encourage participants to come up with ways to promote the Shoals as a hub for outdoor recreation.
“I think the meeting went really, really well,” said Carrie Barske Crawford, director of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and part of the project’s local team. “It’s great to see people excited and engaged on projects like this. I think there’s some really great ideas that came out of it.”
Nathan Hilbert, a National Park Service fellow at Conservation Legacy who is working with the project, said the Shoals stood out among other communities that applied to be one of the five pilot communities for the project.
He added the team is wrapping up data analysis from the July meetings.
“We are developing summary reports to kind of condense all the information, and we’ll make that available in the next couple months,” Hilbert said.
Doug Barrett, director of UNA’s Institute for Innovation and Economic Development, facilitated Thursday’s workshop.
Associate Director of Academic Affairs Bliss Adkison and Director of Grants and Sponsored Programs Nathan Willingham served as table guides.
As part of the "Strategic Doing" process, attendees were divided into three tables to determine everyone’s assets. From there, they came up with feasible opportunities with high ease and impact.
“We feel like it’s the best method we can follow in terms of getting us where we want to go,” Barrett said of the process.
Some ideas included developing a database of recreational opportunities; establishing an annual event for outdoor activities; creating a hub to connect volunteers and recreation users; and building a network to connect recreation centers.
“When you get a range of ideas, some of them are more expansive and long-range, and others are shorter in duration,” Willingham said. “The power of the process like this is that we wind up centering on things that are doable strategies — things that people want to do, they’re committed to doing — and individuals are empowered to make an impact in the way that they can.”
Willingham said engagement is key in moving the project forward and increasing the quality of life for those living along the river.
“The more people know, and the more people are actively engaged, the more they can encourage other people to be engaged, and the more recreational activity can grow,” he added.
Colbert County District 1 Commissioner Tommy Barnes, who participated in the workshop, said he enjoyed the process and believed it succeeded in helping participants understand what needs to be done.
“I came in not really knowing exactly what this meeting would be, but I thought focusing on the area with existing opportunities we have for recreation … played in a great role of emphasizing what we have, and to try to actually get … some sort of a better, coordinated effort in the five-county region about things that are going on — whether it be for hiking, running, outdoor activities, boating, mountain trails and various things like that,” he said.
“I think we’re on the right track. In other words, it’s going to be easy to do what we do over the next four to six months, and then from that, I think it’ll branch into bigger things, and possibly into the economic development side of things. But first, we’ve got to educate the people and the residents of the county and the region to let them know what we have to offer.”