BRISTOL – Fishing is already a big part of Tennessee’s economy, but there is plenty of room for growth.
The Tennessee Valley Authority held an event Tuesday in the downstream waters of the South Holston River to bring together several agencies and introduce newcomers to fly fishing. It was designed to promote outdoor activities and preserve areas like South Holston.
Dennis Tumlin, director of clientele for the Tennessee State Department of Tourism Development, said COVID-19 has brought people to many rural areas of the state and has shown how the economic impact of these activities has been neglected by those in power.
“The pandemic has caused a stampede of people on the outside,” Tumlin said. “There has been a good job of retaining these people. It opened my eyes in difficult times to how a county can prosper economically. We have seen our rural areas grow as we expected the economy of those counties to shrink.
“Instead, the big cities retracted and it opened our eyes to outdoor recreation. “
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy generates 106,000 direct jobs and $ 4.1 billion in wages and salaries in the Volunteer State. It represents 2.4% of the State’s GDP (gross domestic product).
Tommy Woods, District 1 commissioner for the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, points out that the unique outdoor tourism in Northeast Tennessee is something that cannot be exported to other places.
“I like to say that tourism is the factory that never closes and moves to a foreign country,” Woods said. “It’s something if we develop it, market it and promote it, it will be there forever. This helps a lot of economically disadvantaged regions. Some of them don’t have a lot of industries or jobs, but they do have some great outdoor activities to participate in.
“There is a direct push from the governor’s office to develop tourism and market it in depressed counties.”
For northeast Tennessee in particular, Tumlin sees an area that can be distinguished from other parts of the state.
“You are so well positioned with world class trout streams,” said Tumlin, a resident of Chattanooga. “You have South Holston Lake, Watauga Lake, hiking trails, and mountain biking trails. This area can capitalize so much. The outdoors has increased the economy.
Tumlin is a fisherman whose passion for the sport dates back to his childhood on Chickamauga Lake and spending time with his father. He pointed to a study that found that 90 percent of those who fish today were introduced to the activity as a child.
“We love to create opportunities for parents to expose their children to fishing,” he said. “Studies show that if you are introduced before the age of 12, the likelihood of signing up increases dramatically.
“In my work with the state, I have learned to better understand the strengths of Tennessee. Watch world-class fisheries like this and the Clinch River. We have trout, largemouth bass, and catfish fisheries in some lakes around western Tennessee. Whatever experience you’re looking for, we want to let people know about family experiences, from trout and striper to bluegill to crappie and bass.
An example of the outdoors promoting extreme tourism is less than two hours away.
The Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area was first marketed for its outdoor activities. Today, it ranks among the main tourist destinations in the country.
“Smoky Mountain National Park is the # 1 visited park in the country,” said Woods. “Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are a gateway to this park. While these towns are tourist attractions in themselves, many people have come to the park and found Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.
A 2020 National Park Service report shows that tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2020 created a cumulative benefit of $ 1.38 billion for the local economy. Visitors to the Smokies spent more than $ 9.2 million in communities near the park, with more than a third on accommodation and camping, and almost a quarter on food and drink. It showed that the spending supported 13,942 local jobs.
Tumlin and Woods have both seen the impact of outdoor activities in other states. Tumlin pointed to Illinois, where much of the economy is hunting-driven with good prices offered for renting farms and food plots year-round.
Woods sees how a rural area of South Dakota that he visits in October benefits from pheasant hunting.
“There is more revenue generated in the state of South Dakota on the opening day of the pheasant season than any other day,” said Woods. “It’s a big tourist attraction for them. We hope that when we open up outdoor activities, whether it’s a nice fishing ramp with state-sponsored tournaments, a fishing trail or whatever, these people will come to our counties and visit our motels. , restaurants and shops.
Woods grew up on Lake Boone, where he loves striper fishing with his good friend and guide, Derek Paduch. Woods also spent a lot of time on Watauga and South Holston Lakes. He did some fly fishing, but did more trout fishing with a fishing rod.
Bert Carter, TWRA’s regional fisheries program coordinator, prefers fly fishing to lake fishing. For him, it offers both solitude and a challenge that combines different outdoor activities.
“I really fish in, like, mountain streams,” he said. “The downstream waters are also great, but I like the challenge of going up streams in the mountains and fishing for wild trout. They are not very big, but the challenge is like the combination of hunting and fishing. You have to be stealthy because these fish are extremely scary.