Sequatchie Valley byway project picks up steam

Sequatchie Valley byway project picks up steam

July 29th, 2012 by Ben Benton in News

South PIttsburg, Tenn.'s Cedar Avenue is loaded with quaint shops, and colorful local people. The Princess Theatre, at center, reopened recently after a major renovation.

Photo by Ben Benton /Times Free Press.


Bledsoe: Fall Creek Falls State Park, historic downtown Pikeville, Ross House, Bridgeman House, Bledsoe State Forest, Head of the Creek (also Cumberland County), Cumberland Mountain State Park (Cumberland County)

Marion: Nickajack Dam and Lake, Children's Holocaust Exhibit, Pickett's Trout Farm, historic downtown South Pittsburg, Buttonwillow Church Civil War Dinner Theater, Prentice Cooper State Park

Sequatchie: Dunlap Coke Ovens Park and Museum, Tennessee Tree Toppers, Sequatchie County Veterans Memorial Park, eastern edge of Savage Gulf State Park

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

With a few brainstorming sessions behind them, government officials and tourism planners are cooking up ideas for a national scenic byway through the Sequatchie Valley.

"We're still kind of sorting through this inventory of sites," said Paul Archambault, historic preservation planner and assistant director of community development for the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

Three meetings on July 17 gathered input from officials in Bledsoe, Sequatchie and Marion counties on what sites to promote on a tour of the Sequatchie Valley.

Each county has sites to consider -- including obvious ones such as Fall Creek Falls State Park on the western Bledsoe County line, Nickajack Lake and Dam and Foster Falls in Marion County and the Dunlap Coke Ovens Park and Museum in Sequatchie -- but officials said others off the main path or tucked away off side roads should be studied to see how they might fit into a tour.

Officials are developing the trail with gateways from Interstates 24 and 40 in mind, Archambault said. Cumberland County is a little north of the Sequatchie Valley, but it is the northern gateway along the route travelers would use to get there from I-40, he said. Cumberland also has similar mountain vistas and Cumberland Mountain State Park and is home to the Head of Sequatchie area where the Sequatchie River originates.

But the heart of the trail will be the 60-mile-long, 4- to 5-mile-wide Sequatchie Valley and its three principal counties.

Regional geologists say the Sequatchie Valley often mistakenly is called a "rift valley." The valley actually was formed as water eroded what was once the floor of a shallow sea, according to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga geology professor John Mies' website.

The Sequatchie Valley offers geology and geography fans and outdoor enthusiasts plenty to see and do and is ripe with scenic beauty, Archambault said.

The scenic byway likely will include the valley's main arteries of U.S. Highway 127, state Highways 8 and 111, Old Highway 28, East Valley Road and side roads and loops that trace the bluffs and the foot of mountains on both sides of the valley, Archambault said.

Officials will study each of the sites for accessibility, public parking, ease of traffic flow and other assets that might attract visitors, he said.

In Sequatchie County, Yonna Weldon, assistant to Dunlap Mayor Dwain Land, said interest has grown and ideas have flowed freely as more folks take part in development.

"We're getting a little more participation each time we've had a meeting," Weldon said.

A few miles south of Dunlap in Marion County's Whitwell, City Manager Charles Tucker said the byway should benefit all three valley counties and Cumberland.

"It'll bring more tourists in and outsiders, and there's probably some people in the valley that don't know about the coal miners museum, the Holocaust museum and things like that," Tucker said.

Archambault said a draft of the corridor management plan for the byway will be unveiled at the next major development meeting in October.

The development district got an $80,000 federal grant to help fund an estimated $100,000 worth of development work. The grant has a 20 percent local match that will be divided among entities in the participating counties, he said.

The Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway will be combined with three statewide and 15 regional trails already developed, according to officials. Driving trails such as the Tanasi and Pie in the Sky originate in Chattanooga and run throughout the state's southeast corner.