Ribbon-cutting kicks off Norris Lake trail network

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank cuts the ribbon on Friday (April 9) to open the Norris Lake Area Trail System. From left: Keith Montgomery (Big Ridge State Park manager), Chuck Morris (trail steering committee member), Clay Guerry (TVA), Jason Bailey (Union County mayor), David Bowling (TVA), Frank, E.L. Mor- ton (Campbell County mayor) Veronica Greear (Norris Dam State Park manager) and Dennis Yankee (TVA). (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
The newly designated Norris Lake Area Trail System officially opened for business with a ribbon-cutting last Friday at Norris Dam State Park.

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank cut the ribbon next to a picnic shelter on the east side of the park where the first sign has been erected to signify the start of the 87-mile system of trails.

The trail system designation is an effort by the nonprofit Norris Lake Project Team “to preserve the natural beauty and conserve the natural resources of the Norris Lake Watershed area for the benefit of the residents and visitors to the area, while assisting the local governments combat the deterioration of natural resources in the surrounding communities,” according to its website (norrislakeproject.com/nats/).

It’s essentially a marketing effort to boost awareness and use of the combined network of state, county, city and Tennessee Valley Authority trails that surround Norris Lake.

According to the group, the Norris Lake Area Trail System consists of 87 total miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails “adjacent to the shoreline of Norris Lake within 15 miles of each other.”

The included trails are at Anderson County Park, Big Ridge State Park, Loyston Point, Norris Dam State Park, and Norris Dam (Songbird Trail). The trails are within a total of 12,000 acres of public land, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which completed Norris Dam in 1936 to create Norris Lake.

“While water sports are the most popular lake activities, the trails that surround Norris Lake are a very close second,” the website notes.

Before Frank cut the ribbon, she outlined the efforts to create the designated trail system, and gave credit to many who were involved in the project.

“We’re here to officially celebrate a tremendous achievement and introduce the branding of our Norris Lake Area Trail System,” Frank told the group gathered for the Friday morning event. “We kick off today with the installation of the first sign in Norris Dam State Park.

“This collaborative approach to branding and connecting the hiking and biking trails of the Norris Lake watershed is an enormous health and recreational benefit. … Such an advancement not only improves the quality of life for our own citizens, it also offers neighbors from around the region, state and country a place to visit and enjoy the natural beauty of our area,” she said.

“Anderson County commissioners have committed to funding bike racks and repair stations as part of a new annual commitment to continued investment and further development of the Norris Lake Area Trail System,” Frank said. “This project represents an opportunity for positive economic development … to attract new businesses, such as outfitters and biking shops.”

Among those joining her for the event were Campbell County Mayor E.L. Morton and Union County Mayor Jason Bailey.

David Bowling, TVA’s vice president for river and resources stewardship, also spoke, outlining some of the economic-development benefits of the trails project.

“This project will go a long way toward showing the rest of the country what we already know … that this region is one of the best places in the country to live, work and play,” he said.

TVA funded and participated in a study “focused at looking at connectivity [among the] Loyston, Norris Watershed, Big Ridge State Park and Norris Dam State Park” trails, Bowling said.

“We bring $11.9 billion a year into the region annually in economic development,” he said. “That’s over $9 million in local taxes that are collected. Important to our region is this concept of ecotourism. Soon we will be seeing more hikers, more bikers and more campers coming into this area.

“And with them will come the outdoor writers and bloggers and influencers,” Bowling said. “We see this as being another step toward promoting our region.”

Key elements of the system include:

• Anderson County Park, with six miles of hiking and biking trails, along with a campground with electrical and water hookups, a swimming area, a boat ramp and picnic areas.

• Big Ridge State Park, with 15 miles of hiking trails, campground with electrical and water hookups, cabins, swimming and picnic areas, kayak rentals, boat ramp, and programs conducted by park rangers.

• Loyston Point, with five trails that total 17 miles (some are limited to foot traffic only, while some trails are for mountain bikes only), campground with electrical hookups, swimming area, boat ramp, picnic area, and paddle and pontoon boat rentals.

• Norris Dam State Park, with 15 hiking trails ranging from one-half mile to five miles; 11 trails for mountain biking; totaling 22 miles. Included are campgrounds with electrical and water hookups, cabins, swimming pool and recreation areas, picnic areas, a full-service marina with boat ramp; kayak, canoe and water trike rentals; and programs conducted by park rangers.

The website also lists the Norris Watershed, with its 30 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails adjacent to Norris Dam State Park’s trails. But Norris City Manager Scott Hackler said the city, which controls the Norris Watershed, has not officially allowed the watershed trails to be part of the Norris Lake Area Trail System.

“We’re in a spot where we’re not saying no, but we’re not saying yes,” Hackler said Monday. “The city of Norris is not officially sponsoring that project. There is concern within our watershed board that it could bring overuse of our trails, and a huge mountain biking influx could be in conflict.

“We’re not going to overpromote bike use,” he added. “There are some trails already that bikes are not allowed on.”

Stephanie Wells, director of Adventure Anderson County and one of the main coordinators of the trails project, said the group talked to Norris officials “about making the trails more sustainable. They were involved in the planning.”

“The main focus is branding the trails and promoting them as one unit,” Wells said.

“It’s not all about mountain biking. It’s also about hiking, fishing the Clinch, boating on Norris, all the things you can do while you’re in this area. We’re not building a trail system. Just connecting them. “

Friday’s event was about “posting the first signage, celebrating this partnership,” she said.

“Some people say they moved to this area because of the trails and recreational opportunities. We want to capitalize on that idea.”