Students at the University of North Alabama and other members of the community have about a month and a half to start thinking of ways the Shoals can shine as a key location along the new Tennessee RiverLine project.
The first in a series of workshops to develop plans involvement in the project will take place the week of July 15, according to Carrie Crawford, director of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area (MSNHA).
A specific schedule is expected to be set in stone in the coming days.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of great ideas that come out of this first workshop,” Crawford said, adding that anyone in the Shoals may attend.
The overall vision of the project is to create a continuous system of “multimodal trail experiences” along the Tennessee River from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky, according to project director, Brad Collett.
First and foremost, this system will create opportunities for hikers, bikers and paddlers to enjoy the Tennessee River while connecting to other communities along its route.
Project coordinators and communities along the river hope the RiverLine project will encourage economic development and healthy lifestyles.
“There’s a lot of excitement among people that I’ve spoken to already about the potential to connect to other communities, especially people who bike or kayak,” Crawford said.
For the Shoals and the other four communities selected as “pilot” locations, it will be up to local residents, leaders and project officials from Knoxville to establish a clear vision of what that system will entail.
At the workshop, Crawford said community members will have a chance to voice their ideas, especially in terms of what the RiverLine project can do for the Shoals and the region as a whole.
Crawford said MSNHA will make a special effort to involve UNA students.
“One of the main goals at the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is to seek out opportunities and projects that enhance the educational experience of students at UNA,” she said in a press release. “The Tennessee RiverLine project will engage students across campus as we move forward with mapping potential trail locations, creating interpretive signage about the history of our region to be placed along the trail, and developing outdoor recreation programs related to the RiverLine.”
The “long process” to bring the RiverLine to life will give students ample opportunity to learn valuable skills and gain crucial experience as they serve as project ambassadors in the early phases, she added.
“That’s where I think, really, having projects as part of it for our region where students can be engaged will give them a lot of valuable experience and really help move that project forward.”
Students in the outdoor recreation, public history and geography programs are a few who may benefit from this experience, Crawford said.
“I am pleased that our participation in this trail system will be part of an ongoing recognition of this region,” said Carmen Burkhalter, dean of UNA’s College of Arts and Sciences. “I feel certain visitors to this historic area will find it as wonderful as the residents do.”
Crawford said initial workshops this summer will constitute the first phase of the project. Ideas generated will be shared with all communities along the Tennessee River beginning in the fall, according to the release.
“We’re going to be looking for opportunities — both grant-funded opportunities and class projects — moving forward, so I think we’re going to see a lot more student engagement as the project grows and develops beyond this first, initial meeting,” Crawford said.