published Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Driving trails highlight beauty, history

Tennessee tourism officials are developing a guide that lays out 16 self-guided driving trails that highlight the history and culture of Tennessee and land visitors back where they started at the end of the day.

People might hike a scenic bluff or valley, nibble a MoonPie and sip some Tennessee-made distilled spirits or wine, all in the course of a day’s drive, Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association Tourism Director Cindy Millican said.

State tourism officials want to take the best of Tennessee’s regional historic and cultural attractions and connect them for driving tours that can get visitors in the state’s metropolitan areas to stay a few extra days to see the “real” culture in the outlying areas, Millican said.

Cindy Dupree, Tennessee Department of Tourism Development spokeswoman, said five of the 16 trails have been completed and another in the Nashville area launches Tuesday.

Dupree said maps, online information and brochures already are available for the “Walking Trail” in Memphis, the “Old Tennessee” and “Nashville’s Trace” trails in the state capitol, the “White Lightning” trail in Knoxville and the “Sunny Side” trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.

All the trails consist of looping routes with a variety of entry and exit points so a drive can be tailored as a day trip or an overnighter at a state park or a local bed and breakfast, officials said.

Trails under development in the Chattanooga area are the “Pie in the Sky” route that features the “MoonPies to Mountain Highs Trail,” and “Tanasi: Rapids to Railroads Trail,” officials said.

The MoonPie trail will be rolled out in May and Tanasi will follow in June or July, according to Millican.

The Chattanooga area’s outlying counties have hidden “treasures” to discover, such as rural Bledsoe County’s Cookie Jar Cafe, Tracy City’s Dutch Maid Bakery, Etowah’s depot and train excursions, and Polk County’s whitewater sites on the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers, she said.

Tennessee Department of Tourist Development East Tennessee regional manager Dave Jones said each trail takes visitors from one of the state’s major metropolitan or tourism areas and follows back roads and old highways that “connects our city adventures to our back road treasures.”

“The point is, we want to get people out into other areas, and we want the other counties to experience the growth that can be generated by tourists in their area,” Jones said.

None of the routes follows an interstate, though most are near enough to the speedy four-lanes for quick returns to base, he said.

“These are all designed to take the other highways that were very popular back before the interstate system came into being,” he said. “We like showcasing the big places but also helping people find the treasures that are outside the major metropolitan areas.”

When tourism officials roll out “The Jack Trail—Sippin’ to Saddles” on Tuesday, drivers can swing south out of Nashville into rural Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau, not too far from Chattanooga.

“It does the George Dickel distillery and then it does the Jack Daniel’s distillery,” he said.

The Jack features 328 tourism sites along nearly 350 miles of back roads from Nashville, through Bell Buckle, Wartrace and counties in between that are peppered with history, music, horse racing and Tennessee whiskey.

He said Chattanooga’s Pie and Tanasi trails will wind along two-lane ribbons of blacktop as far as 300 miles or more.

“The Pie trail will start in Chattanooga and it’ll go out as far as Sewanee, then head north to Crossville and come back on the north side of Chattanooga back into downtown,” he said. “It’ll end at the new MoonPie store.”

“The Tanasi trail will go north up into Bradley County and all the way north to Monroe and cross over through McMinn County,” he said. Tanasi emphasizes the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers and historic railroads in Southeast Tennessee.

Millican, who was driving the Tanasi route on Wednesday as part of trail development work, said the East Tennessee mountains are a beautiful backdrop for whitewater sites on the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers and railroads in Etowah and Chattanooga, taking in the farmland, roadside shops and country stores along the way.

She said Pie and Tanasi will give visitors the traditional tourism sites in Chattanooga a taste of the “real” Tennessee on the backroads and at small-town bluegrass festivals.

“Who doesn’t want to get out and discover the culture of the area; the true authentic culture,” she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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