Tennessee named as finalist for national parks and recreation award

Jonathan Roberts • Sep 29, 2019 at 5:23 PM

Tennessee State Parks almost took home a top national award — and the state’s tourism industry could see a big boost as a result, despite not getting the top spot.

“It’s just a great award and a great honor to have been named among the National Parks Service gold medal awards for the entire state, but specifically Northeast Tennessee because our parks systems here do such a great job at telling the story we have to offer,” said Alicia Phelps, executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.

Those five parks, Rocky Fork, Roan Mountain, Warriors Path, Sycamore Shoals and David Crockett’s Birthplace, could be key to further unlocking the region’s tourism potential.

“Tennessee remains in the top-10 most visited states in the country, and we love being in the top-10, but we’d also love to move closer to the top-five,” Phelps said. “I think because of the state parks system that we have in Tennessee, it’s such a great resource (for tourism).

“We’re just a hotbed for natural resources, and it’s great for tourism because we can sell that to folks and show off and showcase our natural beauty,” she added, calling the region “fortunate” to have such a strong parks system.

In a press release, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers said the state’s parks system is a “key contributor” to the state’s high quality of life, and a “fabric of Tennessee communities.”

Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson said the recognition was an “honor.”

The national recognition comes after NETTA received a statewide award for being Tennessee’s Destination Marketing Organization of the Year. At the time, Phelps said the award was a “big deal,” and that it “states what we’re able to do with our resources and our partners in the area.”

“You hear of other states and cities building what we already have,” Phelps said. “We’re fortunate to have to have those natural resources already.

“What we’re known for is the outdoors, we’re really fortunate to have those assets so it’s really important to make sure we’re (using them) correctly, and that we’re able to tell the story of the past, the present and what we hope the future will be,” she said.

In an email to the Johnson City Press, Kayla Carter, outdoor development manager with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said the area is “blessed” to have so many parks, and the region should be “proud of all our local state and historic parks as well as state natural areas.”

“Our parks improve our local quality of life, contribute to the tourism economy as well as create economic development opportunities for the region,” she said.

Tennessee went up against Florida State Parks, the Maryland Park Service and Washington’s State Parks and Recreation Commission. Florida State Parks ultimately won the award.