Decatur will be one of 15 Tennessee River communities in a new program that local leaders hope will bring tourists, jobs and recreational growth to the city in the coming years.
State Sen. Arthur Orr said during a news conference Thursday on Decatur's selection as a Tennessee RiverTown that the program will help the city develop more recreational activities along the riverfront for residents to enjoy.
“In Morgan County, we’ve used the river for years for industrial growth and jobs and companies, but the more and more we hear, local people want access to the river," Orr, R-Decatur, said. "They want to be able to enjoy the river and get access to it, so that’s something that locally here we'll be concentrating on."
The Tennessee RiverLine initiative, which is led by the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, selected the inaugural Tennessee RiverTowns. The program will create a continuous system of hiking, biking and on-water experiences along the 652-mile length of the Tennessee River, from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky.
As a RiverTown, Decatur will also be marketed as a tourist destination, which Orr said could boost the local economy and support local businesses.
“The more people that come, that means the more restaurants, perhaps, that are kept in business, more museums and cultural attractions, and certainly in this situation people coming to enjoy the river by using it, and kayak trails, canoe trails and other water sport type activities,” Orr said.
A total of 22 communities applied to be a part of the Tennessee RiverTowns program, and 15 communities in Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee were accepted as part of the program’s inaugural cohort, including Guntersville, Florence, Huntsville and Bridgeport.
President and CEO of Decatur Morgan County Tourism Danielle Gibson said as a RiverTown, Decatur will be marketed as a featured destination within the Tennessee RiverLine system.
She said local attractions and services will be included in experience guides, trip planning tools and mobile apps, all of which may help bring tourists to the area.
Jeanne Payne, director of development for the Cook Museum of Natural Science and co-chair of Decatur's Riverfront Corridor Committee, said in addition to tourism and recreation, the RiverTowns program will create jobs and housing as riverfront properties and businesses are developed.
“Being a part of the Tennessee RiverTowns gives us information and connections that will facilitate more effective and timely development of our riverfront, which will spur jobs and housing," Payne said. "I am expecting to see fruits from these efforts quickly and I am expecting amazing things to happen in under three years. Of course, some things will take more time.”
A timeline on the Tennessee RiverLine website (tnriverline.org) indicates the process of developing a “continuous system of paddling, hiking and biking experiences” and connecting the 15 RiverTowns will be an eight-year process. Stage three of the process is slated to begin five years from now, at which point local water-trails, greenways and related amenities are expected to open.
A slide presentation during the news conference said Decatur "will work with our area partners to sponsor river cleanup days, provide opportunities for residents to paddle/explore the river (and) continue to cultivate our trail systems by the river."