Find Your Way on the Trails of the Tennessee River Valley during the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System

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The Tennessee River Valley Mapguide is recognizing the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and Wild and Scenic Rivers acts by sharing some of the most beautiful places in the Southeast to hike, bike, paddle, and camp. Scenic and Historic Trails provide access to public lands and waterways, and connect people to the cultural and recreational heritage of these scenic places.

DeSoto Falls

The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and Wild & Scenic Rivers act of 1968. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation into law, the purpose was “to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation.” In his speech to Congress, Johnson said, “The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle.” To achieve designation, these trails represent historic travel routes, iconic scenic qualities, and provide healthy recreational opportunities for the public. The Tennessee River Valley is rich with of some of the most well recognized national trails. The Appalachian Trail, the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, the Historic Trail of Tears, and the Natchez Trace all have miles of trail located in the Valley.

Flash forward 50 years, and the National Trails program has grown to cover more than 50,000 miles of trails stewarded by collaborations of local communities along the trails, volunteer organizations that provide physical labor to maintain the surface of the trails, and public- private partnerships that offer many types of resources to conserve these amazing places.

One example of conservation and stewardship is the preservation of DeSoto State Park Trail System nestled atop scenic Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama. The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930’s and has faced ongoing pressures from developers over many years. In 1978, then Governor Wallace was urged by the Nature Conservancy of Alabama on behalf of 2700 citizens to purchase an adjacent 77 acre plot on the rim above the falls in the Little River Canyon. The Conservancy has stayed active with the River Canyon and has added additional lands through partnerships with private funders and several foundations. Today, DeSoto State Park offers miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as unspoiled views of the waterfalls. As Alabama celebrates its 200th Statehood Bicentennial, this is one of the great stories of heritage preservation for public benefit.

Another trail conservation example is the East Lakeshore Trail, a 30 mile hiking trail traversing the undeveloped shorelines of Tellico Lake in east Tennessee. Tellico Lake was created by the damming of the Little Tennessee River, a river that was held as sacred by the great Cherokee Nation, whose many villages dotted the original river shorelines. In 2014, a group of local citizens proposed a concept for a recreational and educational hiking trail to serve the greater community. The early partnership was supported by civic clubs, business partners and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Later other partners such at the State of Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation joined in the work of developing the “longest” National Recreation trail. The original citizen group organized themselves into the Watershed Association of Tellico Reservoir (WATeR) and continues their work with the TVA in managing the stability of the shoreline and protecting the trail from erosion.

The Fort Henry Trail system of Land Between the Lakes is a network of trails through the heavily forested uplands and bottomlands of the vast 170,000 acre national recreation area. The trail closely follows the route of General Grant’s troop movement from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson in the winter of 1862. While Land Between the Lakes is managed by the US Forest Service, its highly engaged and active Friends of LBL group assists with many tasks including trail maintenance and scheduling volunteers to partner on conservation and stewardship projects that protect and preserve the wildlife habitats, native species, and the waterways that surround the land.

Fifty years and trails are still being explored and cared for by modern "outdoorsmen" seeking to connect with recreational pursuits and healthy exercise. To learn more about the trails of the Tennessee River Valley or to get involved in a trail program, link to the Tennessee Valley Geotourism mapguide and find your way.

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