Tennessee River Valley News


The Tennessee River Valley is a diverse and prosperous place with a fantastic history. It is home to world-class research and manufacturing, historic communities, and outdoor recreation.

From the headwaters of the Holston, Watauga, and French Broad rivers in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the Tennessee River winds through Knoxville and Chattanooga. The River Valley also includes the renowned Research and Development Corridor centered in Oak Ridge, Maryville-Alcoa, and Knoxville.

Tennessee River Authority

For 8000 years, the Tennessee River and its tributaries brought people to this beautiful, rugged landscape. The river was both a highway for the western frontier and an essential strategic military river. However, a series of treacherous shoals made travel along the river often impossible, and soil erosion was devastating to the region. By the turn of the 20th century, a few percent of farms had electricity, and poverty was widespread. In addition, outdated farming practices were degrading the land, poor logging practices denuded the remaining forests, and unchecked fires burned 10 percent of the area’s remaining woodland each year.

In 1933, Congress passed an act establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority to control floods and improve navigation and economic development by building dams and hydroelectric power plants along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. The new agency would consolidate all the activities of various government agencies in the region under one roof and operate a massive program of dam construction, hydroelectric power production, and agricultural development.

TVA has evolved into one of the nation’s largest public power companies, but it still takes a broad view of its mission to manage the 41,000-square-mile watershed drained by the Tennessee River. The agency’s engineers, biologists, economists, social scientists, recreation planners, and other professionals work to reduce flood damage, make rivers more straightforward to navigate, create beautiful recreational areas, protect aquatic wildlife, and keep the waters clean.

Tennessee Valley Authority Dams

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dams have immeasurably shaped the geography, history, and culture of the Tennessee River Valley region. As part of President Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal initiatives, the TVA brought jobs, cheap electricity, and improved infrastructure to a rural area. Although the initial project was a huge success, controversy soon surrounded it. The agency’s lofty goals of alleviating poverty and regional underdevelopment were complicated by issues such as the displacement of families, power struggles between board members, and the environmental impact of dam construction.

TVA’s hydroelectric dams generate over 27,000 megawatts of dependable electric power. Dams throughout the system also facilitate navigation and flood control and support the industrial development of the Tennessee Valley watershed. TVA’s diversified energy portfolio includes 29 hydroelectric dams and a pumped storage plant; coal-fired, combustion-turbine, and nuclear plants; and transmission lines.

In addition to its role as a hydroelectric power producer, the TVA is responsible for managing and protecting the river’s natural resources. It works its lands and river systems as an interconnected unit, and its facilities are continuously monitored for safety through a regimen that includes inspections, instrumentation, independent reviews, and maintenance and repair. These efforts have helped the TVA avert over $9.7 billion in flood damage since the construction of its dams. TVA maintains an active and robust Dam Safety Program, with an inspector present at every dam and a thorough inspection regime that includes monthly monitoring for general conditions, annual or biennial monitoring for more detailed investigations, and frequent follow-up visits after extreme weather or seismic events.

Tennessee River Gorge National Scenic Area

Often referred to as Tennessee’s Grand Canyon, the 27,000-acre gorge is a natural treasure. It is the only large river canyon bordering a mid-size city and the fourth largest river gorge east of the Mississippi. The Gorge is characterized by a wide array of scenic vantage points overlooking the twisting Tennessee River.

The Trust’s latest land acquisition, Edwards Point, is one of those vantage points. This popular overlook on Signal Mountain is accessible via the Cumberland Trail, Rainbow Lake’s trail system, and intersecting spur trails. The overlook looks over TRGT, Prentice Cooper, the Town of Signal Mountain, and private properties.

One of the Trust’s other new vantage points is Laurel Point on Raccoon Mountain. The vista is a result of a recent purchase by the Trust from the heirs of Leo Stolphmann. This 308-acre conservation easement will protect, in perpetuity, the western view-shed of the City of Chattanooga.

Whether you’re a nature lover or just looking for an activity to do, the Tennessee River Gorge National Scenic Area offers endless opportunities to get outside and explore. Take a hike on the 13-mile Riverwalk, go rafting or kayaking on the Tennessee River, or enjoy a quiet picnic in a park. Chattanooga also has a number of outdoor adventure companies that offer guided tours and lessons. No matter how you choose to experience the Gorge, make sure to keep it clean.

Tennessee River Valley National Wildlife Refuge

The Tennessee River Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a prime area for hunting, fishing, boating, and camping. This recreational haven is home to migratory birds, deer, and other wildlife that live in the forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural fields.

Established in 1945, the three units of the refuge—Big Sandy, Duck River and Busseltown—provide valuable feeding, resting and nesting habitat for waterfowl. The diverse habitats of the sanctuary, which include crops, natural plants, mudflats, shrub/scrub areas, and forest land, support over 303 bird species, 51 mammals, 89 reptiles and amphibians, and 114 types of fish.

Fishing is popular at Wheeler NWR, which provides excellent opportunities for catching bass, sunfish, and crappie. The refuge has the highest concentration of fishing access points in North Alabama and hosts eight sites on the North Alabama Birding Trail. The sanctuary is also home to many rare mussels, including the orange foot pimpleback pearly mussel and rough picture madtom mussels, as well as 35 other native fish, mussels, and crayfish.

TVA manages more than 100 Wildlife-containing Areas, or WMAs, across the state. These areas are open for public hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities, but certain restrictions apply. WMAs are primarily managed for the conservation of wildlife, plant resources, and their habitats. They are also used for educational and interpretive purposes. All activity on TVA-controlled lands is subject to the rules and regulations of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.