19 August 2020

Programming in a Pandemic

Written by: Lizzy Gardner

The majority of my time working with the Tennessee RiverLine and now halfway through my fellowship has been devoted to the creation, development and implementation of a program called the Tennessee RiverTowns. 

This program in its simplest form is the tool we are using to make the vision of the Tennessee RiverLine, a series of multimodal hike/bike/paddle trails along the 652 mile stretch of the Tennessee River, an actuality. But so much more than a trail, the RiverLine is a catalyst for local and regional economic development, a tool for public health and an avenue to drive generational environmental stewardship within the Tennessee River Valley.  Through the Tennessee RiverTowns Program communities have the ability to participate through a series of benchmarks for leadership development, outdoor programming, infrastructure development and eventually connectivity between trail and town to ultimately create the Tennessee RiverLine.

Needless to say, in the best of conditions this is a major challenge and project to take on.  In the time of COVID this project has had to pivot in many directions, while simultaneously being the recipient of unexpected support that I’m not sure would have been given different circumstances.  All of our communication with communities and programming within them has had to take on new life.  From facilitating virtual community and leadership engagement programs to altering the way in which paddle events are facilitated, especially from a risk management standpoint, we are approaching at the future of community engagement within the Tennessee RiverLine project in an entirely new way.   Although the facilitation of programming is taking on a new life and presenting us with an entirely new set of challenges, there have been unexpected changes catalyzed by the pandemic that have benefitted the outdoor industry as a whole.  Overall, cities and urban areas are seeing the benefits and needs of constituents to get outside, not just from a standpoint of safety but public health.  As a result of this spur to get community members engaged outdoors, our project has been able to receive support for staffing and operations to continue for the next three years.   

All in the midst of operational and programming changes, new and old hoops to jump through, we managed to launch the first round of applications for the Tennessee RiverTowns Program last week.  I find myself at times letting out a sigh of relief that that past six months have paid off and we’re still able to move forward given the current environment.  And while that it a major achievement in and of itself, when I look forward it’s clear to see how much work is yet to be done or discovered. I will hopefully and happily wade through those next set of challenges as they come.

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Tennessee River Line

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