UGA Research Magazine

TVA: Asking Questions, Seeking Answers on Future Use

by Bryan Hearn and Sam Fahmy



The mountains, lakes, rivers and streams in the 125 counties of the Tennessee Valley provide a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and a new University of Georgia study looks at how to make these lands more accessible to a changing population.

In a 376-page report commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, researchers from UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources recommend that the agency establish specific outreach programs for the region's growing African-American and Hispanic populations and focus more on the needs of families and older residents. All residents, the study suggests, could benefit from more non-strenuous nature trails and paths, more picnic areas and facilities, larger open areas and greater diversity in recreational opportunities.

“We are catering to a more diverse population that has different needs and expectations,” said assistant professor Gary Green, who co-authored the study with graduate student Heather Fleming. “People want more information, greater choices and better access.”

The Tennessee Valley is the drainage basin for the Tennessee River. The valley begins in the mountains of southwest Virginia, moves south into western North Carolina and east Tennessee and into north Georgia and Alabama before taking a gradual turn to the northwest into Western Kentucky. The TVA manages 49 dams in the region to generate electricity, but the land and water also present myriad recreational opportunities such as hiking, fishing, boating and nature-watching.

Jerry Fouse, a TVA recreation manager called the study, “one of the most exhaustive analyses of outdoor recreation ever prepared for the Tennessee Valley and one that will guide us on the future use of these lands.”

In writing their report, the UGA researchers examined regional, state and multi-county demographics as well as data from the USDA Forest Service’s National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, the nation’s largest survey on outdoor recreation participation and trends.

The researchers note that because Hispanics are the third largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the region, the TVA should provide bilingual print materials and informational signs. They also found that Hispanics, who tend to use the park for large family-oriented activities, could benefit from more covered pavilions, open natural areas and easier access for young children.

The study also recommends that the TVA build more wheelchair-accessible nature trails and campsites as well as sightseeing outlooks and interpretive nature centers for the fast-growing population of residents ages 65 and older.

The researchers found that walking is the most popular activity (80.1 percent of residents). In certain regions, gardening and landscaping for pleasure were the most popular activities (74.6 percent). More than half of participants said they enjoy outdoor sporting events and 60 percent enjoy viewing or photographing natural scenery.

Green is currently working on a similar study in Georgia, funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. He praised both the Georgia DNR and TVA for making the needs of the public a priority. “Public land managers are now actively seeking input and listening to what the public wants,” said Green. “This action represents a signficant step by park managers, who are striving to ensure their facilities and services meet the needs of their public.”

For more information contact Gary Green at


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
For comments or for information please e-mail:
To contact the webmaster please email: