As leaders, our mission is to develop a sustainable culture throughout State Government. We will model this culture in TDEC and assist state agencies in implementing best practices that improve efficiency, reduce environmental impacts, and contribute to fiscally-sound government. Action-based approaches will focus on travel, building and purchasing.
Greenways and Trails have inherent sustainability components. They link communities, they connect people with natural features, they provide wildlife corridors, and they are built on partnerships. For our monthly feature we want to highlight a trail that is currently under development. The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation describes the project. “A 54-mile-long distance hiking trail is being developed called the Mid-Cumberland Wilderness Trail to take you through this wilderness corridor. Adding this scenic destination will keep visitors here longer and add to the economic vitality of the entire area.” Frequently the perception is that environmental protection is at odds with economic development, but this project clearly aims to demonstrate that conserving natural resources is actually an economic driver.
The proposed trail will run through Bledsoe, White, and Van Buren Counties. It will link important natural features including Fall Creek Falls State Park to Scott’s Gulf in the Bridgestone Firestone Bicentennial Wilderness and Bledsoe State Forest. The Mid-Cumberland Wilderness Trail will also connect the newly acquired Virgin Falls. Virgin Falls is a State Natural Area, named for a 110-foot waterfall that has no visible upstream or downstream flow. The falls are fed by a stream that emerges from a cave and then disappears into another cave at the bottom.
Tennessee State Parks recently conducted a study to determine the economic impact of the parks system. Some key findings include an estimate of $725 million in direct expenditures by State Park visitors each year, and an additional $1.11 of economic activity for every dollar spent. This equates to approximately 12,000 jobs related to the direct expenditures and a total of 18,600 jobs statewide in total industry output. The Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains provides further insight into the potential impact of the Mid-Cumberland Wilderness Trail.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile long “Rail-to-Trail” that connects Whitetop Station and Abingdon, VA. The trail has been the subject of several economic impact studies conducted both by state government and academia. Real estate tax rolls in Abingdon alone have increased by more than $1 million from 2005 to 2010, and food and lodging taxes increased 60 percent during the same time frame. Eco-tourists are known for staying longer, spending more money, and generally leaving a lighter footprint during their stay.
The Mid-Cumberland Trail represents the partnership of many groups—non-profits, state and federal agencies, corporations, private land holders, and area residents. Hopes are high that the connectivity that the trail brings will enhance the natural features, build strong communities, and continue a tradition of Tennessee outdoors activities.