Working together to connect Knoxville to the Smokies

Legacy Parks helps with Maryville to Townsend GreenwayLegacy Parks is working with a consortium of local and regional government and non-profit agencies to advance the Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway Expansion in Blount County, Tenn. Currently playing a coordination role, Legacy Parks is helping lead the effort to gather community engagement, refine the Greenway route and create a funding strategy.

Contributing groups gathered at the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority’s annual Tourism Day on May 11 to spotlight economic as well as health and quality-of-life benefits of the project – set to unfold in two phases in the coming years.

            The proposed Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway will provide 14 miles of trail connecting Maryville to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – part of a larger regional effort to link pedestrians and cyclists from Knoxville to the Smokies through a greenway trail.

            Carol Evans, executive director of Legacy Parks Foundation joined Ellen Zavisca of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Organization at Tourism Day to outline key aspects of the project.

            Also included in the consortium are Alcoa City Government, Appalachian Regional Commission, Blount County Government, the Blount Partnership, Great Smoky Mountains Regional Greenway Council, Maryville City Government, the City of Townsend and Maryville / Alcoa / Blount County Parks & Rec.

Evans and Zavisca emphasized the positive Greenway impacts expected not only for Blount County’s tourism economic base but also for regional health and citizen quality of life.

            According to Evans, the consortium group conducted an extensive study in recent years to examine multiple options for developing the trail, as well as a fiscal analysis and economic impact overview.

“We are looking at a fairly diverse funding strategy, inclusive of foundation grants and private dollars,” Evans said.

The current strategy includes dividing the trail building project into two phases, with Phase One connecting Maryville to Heritage High School at an estimated construction cost of $3 million. Later, Phase Two – a significantly longer piece of trail – will connect Heritage High School to Townsend, at an estimated cost of $21 million.

For return-on-investment, the Greenway study pointed to a $65 million economic impact of the trail over a 10-year period, with every $1 spent on construction and maintenance producing a return on investment of $2.66.  Property values near the trail will also see a positive boost, with statistics indicating that homeowners pay a $9,000 premium on houses located within 1,000 feet of bike paths.

Communities with greenway systems also reap economic gains with corporate and industrial recruitment – as out-of-market companies looking to relocate to Blount County tend to view greenways as a local quality-of-life and healthy-lifestyle benefit for their employee base.

From a Tourism Day perspective, the driver of the Greenway’s economic impact ties in with how much it elevates Blount County’s profile from a regional destination to a national destination.

A 2015 study by UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy entitled “Economic Potential of South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness” outlined economic impact and growth projections for the 42 miles of trail inclusive of the 12.5 mile South Loop in Knox County.  The study showed that annual expenditures tied to use of the trail – such as restaurant and lodging expenditures – can multiply by a factor of two to nearly three times if the trail evolves from simply being a “local amenity” for community use to a national destination for travelers.

Because the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is already a major national destination as the most-visited national park in the nation, expanding its appeal to include outlying areas in Blount County for hiking and biking purposes means a stronger tourism economic impact, including contributions to the local tax base from visitors.

About Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway:

            The Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway will include a paved trail within the right-of-way of Lamar Alexander Parkway / Highway 321 connecting the Maryville and Alcoa paved Greenway system – totaling 21 miles – and the existing nine-mile Townsend Greenway. The connection between Maryville and Townsend is a key element in the vision to link Knoxville to Townsend, a gateway to the Smoky Mountains.

            This year is a ramp-up for funding to complete and implement the first phase of the trail. A mix of funding possibilities is being pursued, including foundations and private donations. Community outreach is a major component to raise awareness for potential funding. The community will see more about the full scope throughout the summer ahead.

The complete plan is available at knoxblounttrail.com