Tennessee offers plenty of places where you can live the rock-and-roll lifestyle. As in, climb a rock and roll a kayak.
Adventure sports such as rock-climbing and whitewater kayaking are becoming increasingly popular throughout the United States, and Tennessee has an ideal outdoor playground for such activities. The abundance of mountains and rivers provides ample opportunities for adrenaline-pumping recreation, including hang-gliding, zip-lining, rafting and mountain bike riding.
“We feel like this area has the entire outdoors package. There are very few places in the Southeast that can offer everything that this region offers,” says Ben Garrett, editor of the Independent Herald in Oneida and a member of the recently formed Scott County Adventure Tourism Committee. “You can come here and spend a week and do something different every day. People are just now starting to realize the potential that is here.”
The potential is to promote this call to the wild and bring in tourists who specifically want to participate in adventure sports. The state recognized the possibilities with the passage of the Tennessee Adventure Tourism and Rural Development Act of 2011. This allows communities to set up official adventure tourism districts, enabling such qualified businesses as restaurants and hotels within the districts to receive tax credits.
“This is still very much in its infancy as far as the economic development around it,” Garrett says. “We’re starting to see new businesses pop up and grow through adventure tourism, and I think in the next few years we’re going to see a lot more of that.”
Lately, Josh Legg has noticed an increase of new tourists showing up at outdoor outfitter Rock/Creek in Chattanooga, which is close to both the whitewater wonderland of the Ocoee River and the Smoky Mountains. As the store’s director of marketing and brand experience, Legg says it is becoming common for new visitors to the area to ask what there is to do.
“You can spot them when they come through the door that they’re from out of town and are here for the first time,” Legg says. “We’re seeing a lot more people who still want to have a city experience and be able to go to a restaurant in Chattanooga and have a good meal, and then combine that with things to do outside.”
The natural beauty of Tennessee has long been one of the state’s primary attractions for visitors, especially during the fall leaf-changing season. But this effort to promote tourism aimed specifically toward adventure sports is still relatively new and something of a work in progress.
“The opportunities for adventure tourism are almost limitless. What we’re trying to do now is define it and capitalize on opportunities to help grow it,” says Wade Creswell, president of the Roane County Chamber of Commerce in northeastern Tennessee. “Because there’s really momentum there, and we think it could lead to growth in other areas of the economy.
“Tourism in general is all about bringing in visitors to the county. Adventure tourism really targets niche groups of people, enthusiasts who are looking for specific things. That gives us opportunities to bring in people who probably wouldn’t come here otherwise. Then once we bring them in, there are opportunities to capture them in other ways, too. Maybe they come back for a family vacation at the lake. It just creates opportunities for us to reach people who we wouldn’t be able to reach any other way.”
It certainly helps that several national organizations are noticing all the adventure activities available in Tennessee. For example, Men’s Journal magazine recently called the Chattanooga area “an adventure hub on par with anyplace out West.” The International Mountain Biking Association has designated five trails in the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area as Epic Rides (indicating they are trails that enthusiasts need to ride at least once). And outdoorexperienceonline.com stated that Tennessee has some of the best unknown rock-climbing spots in the Southeast.
“Everybody is starting to really realize what we have right here at our fingertips in Tennessee,” Legg says. “I’m seeing a lot more emphasis from people saying that these are our natural resources, and it’s definitely a reason to come here.”