After the Chattanooga Nature Center opened its paddling center to the general public, folks are taking advantage of the easy access to canoes and waterways.
"Interest is really growing," said Tina Harvey Crawford, Nature Center director of development and marketing. "We're seeing both locals and tourists coming to use the canoes."
Membership has grown too, she said. The cost to rent one of 12 canoes for two adults is $50, but a Nature Center membership is $60 and allows members to canoe year round.
The Nature Center, which is part of the Tennessee River Blueway system, wanted to be a stronger system partner, she said. The Blueway is a 45-mile river trail that provides opportunities for canoeists and kayakers to take day trips or camp overnight in marinas, parks or in designated Blueway primitive campsites.
"By opening up what we have to everyone, this is also another sustainable revenue source for the Nature Center," Ms. Crawford added.
Laura Durel, a Nature Center member for the past 12 years, enjoys canoeing the Blueway along Lookout Creek.
"We think canoeing is one of the best programs the Nature Center has to offer," she said. "It's free to members, and we use it once a month at least. I go with friends. We're always looking for fellowship and exercise."
More access to the public will boost the Nature Center's profile and support while increasing interest in protecting the creeks and rivers in the area.
"The more people there are on the river, the more will protect it," she said. "People will fall in love with the land and help protect it."
Ms. Crawford said more people are on the Blueway thanks to Outdoor Chattanooga and efforts of other nonprofit organizations.
"Our Paddler's Perch is what we call the Hilton on the Blueway," she said. "And our launching area is a $20,000 state-of-the-art structure that's easy for paddlers to use. The Lyndhurst Foundation is to be thanked for that."