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Creating the Appalachian Trail of the Tennessee River

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- There could soon be hundreds of miles of trails along the Tennessee River, connecting Knoxville to Paducah, Kentucky.

University of Tennessee Professor Brad Collett is working with students to connect the two cities, which are 652 miles apart. The trails will wind through three states, making every part of the Tennessee River more accessible.

"It starts in Knoxville at Forks of the River, and then it runs to Chattanooga and dips to Alabama — Decatur mostly — and then it briefly touches Mississippi and then back up through West Tennessee through Savannah and ends in Paducah, Kentucky,"
UT landscape and architecture graduate student Sam Irwin said.

Irwin is one of several graduate students working on what they're calling the "Tennessee River Project." Students, professors and more than a dozen other nonprofits are working together to make the dream a reality.

"People will have the option to hike, bike or paddle,"
Irwin said.
"We've kind of envisioned three users; the local user can go for a morning jog,a weekend warrior who can make a trip of it or the hero user can do the whole 652 miles."

Collett is leading the project, and he said it compares to the Appalachian Trail. He envisions it at America's next great trail.

"There's significant segments of this trail that are already up and running, so we're looking at filling in those gaps but also allowing those existing projects to enhance their relationship to the river,"
Collett said.

A project this big doesn't come without road blocks, though. Much of the property along the Tennessee River is privately owned, so it could take years to see it through. Students are currently researching ways to help out areas the trail touches.

"It's an economic and cultural opportunity as well, whether it brings in restaurant and breweries or it forms bike clubs and running clubs,"
Irwin said.

Anyone who wants to learn more about the Tennessee River Project can do so here.