The Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway expansion plan was spotlighted Thursday during Blount County’s annual Tourism Day as an important investment that will benefit Blount County significantly.
As part of National Travel and Tourism Week, Carol Evans, executive director of the Legacy Parks Foundation, and Ellen Zavisca, principal transportation planner at Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, outlined key aspects of the project that seeks ultimately to connect Knoxville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“The greenway expansion is part of a larger vision to connect Knoxville to Townsend,” Zavisca explained. “And we really want to emphasize the economic impact of that trail and engage a broader community to help generate more support for that.”
“We all benefit from getting out and taking a walk,” added Evans. “But you can’t invent these mountains, this topography in Kansas. ... Greenways allow you to fully take advantage of the assets you already have.”
First introduced in 2014, the 14-mile expansion plan is proposed to be completed in two phases with funding stemming from foundation grants and public-private partnerships.
The initial phase, estimated at $3 million, aims to connect Maryville to Heritage High School, while phase two, estimated at $21 million, will link HHS to Townsend.
Both phases will utilize existing transportation corridors — an abandoned rail line and the right of way along East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. Highway 321).
The completed plan could potentially bring the county $65 million in economic impact over a 10-year period, with every dollar spent returning an investment of $2.66, according to a recent Legacy Parks Foundation study.
“We’re fortunate in Knoxville that we’ve been working on trails for a number of years,” said Evans, citing the impact of the Urban Wilderness trails in South Knoxville that brought various businesses and homeowners to the area. “Not to say that if you build it, they will come, but we are absolutely seeing it in Knoxville. ... If you built it, it does work and it does improve your economy.”
Last year alone, travelers spent $346 million in Blount County — an increase of $5 million from the previous year.
“That makes us No. 8 out of 95 counties (in Tennessee),” Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority Chairman Tim Seay said.
With over 250,000 people entering the National Park through Blount County, Seay said the tourism industry accounts for over $12 million in county tax revenue and supports more than 3,000 jobs in Blount County.
“We’re expecting even better results this year,” he said.
During the Tourism Day event on Thursday, the Blount Partnership was also recognized by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) as an Accredited Economic Development Organization.
Blount Partnership President and CEO Bryan Daniels said the organization is the first of its kind in the state to receive the IEDC accreditation and the 57th in the world.
“Blount County has always been known in our state as a model,” Daniels told The Daily Times last week. “We’re very proud to be the first organization in Tennessee, but we’re really proud for the community because it takes a community for this.”
Joanne Crary of the IEDC praised both the Partnership and the county for their collaboration in the area’s economic development efforts.
“You have tremendous vision and leadership in this community,” said Crary, attributing Daniels’ leadership to Blount County’s well-known status. “And everything rises and falls on leadership, but you can’t do anything without a team.”
The Partnership received the honor on behalf of its four internal entities — the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Board of Blount County, the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and the Blount County Chamber of Commerce Foundation — “because each partner is doing pieces of what it takes to be world-class,” Daniels said.
Proclaiming May 11 the county’s official Tourism Day, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell emphasized that “none of this would happen without the total partnership we have here in Blount County.”