Sep 23, 2021 - Economy

Tennessee leans on parks to boost rural counties

A blue boat glides along the river of Fall Creek Falls State Park in fall.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, which is partially located in the economically distressed Bledsoe County. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

The state wants to drive more tourism — and the revenue that comes with it — to its poorest rural counties.

  • A new program will try to accomplish that goal through Tennessee's vast network of parks, forests, and other natural areas.

Why it matters: Tennessee state parks have seen a historic increase in camping and other activities during the pandemic.

  • Four of the top 10 camping months in the state's history were in 2020.
  • State parks last year had a $1.84 billion economic impact, according to an internal review. That economic impact could be a lifeline for distressed communities.

The latest: On Wednesday, the Department of Environment and Conservation announced a task force to look for ways to harness the popularity of public land to benefit rural counties.

The big picture: Gov. Bill Lee came into office in 2019 on promises to invest more heavily in Tennessee's rural communities. As he approaches reelection, the governor has repeatedly touted his efforts to do so.

What's next: The task force will work through May 2022 to develop plans for each of the distressed counties.

  • TDEC spokesperson Kim Schofinski told Axios potential plans could include new trails, new overnight campgrounds, or more marketing for existing attractions.
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