Many Americans found relief from COVID restrictions in the last year by escaping to the outdoors. Participation in running, cycling, hiking, bird watching and camping activities has increased significantly since March 2020, according to data from the Outdoor Industry Association.
The greater Chattanooga region of Southeast Tennessee has definitely seen this surge in visitors at area parks and waterways. Record-breaking crowds sought out nature in places such as the Cherokee National Forest, South Cumberland State Park, Fall Creek Falls State Park, the Hiwassee and Ocoee rivers, and many other parks and waterways in the region.
“Increased visitation to the region’s parks and waterways has been great, but it has certainly created some challenges,” says Jenni Veal with the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association. “State park staff and rural county governments have seen record increases in litter, emergency rescues and overcrowding along trails and in parking areas. All of this has brought to light the need for education about outdoor safety and planning, which is why we decided to launch this #AdventureSmartTN educational campaign.”
In response to this need for more education about safety in the outdoors, the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association recently launched the #AdventureSmartTN educational campaign in partnership with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Polk Co. Chamber and Meigs Co. Chamber. The campaign features fun educational videos – starring the region’s own Angelo Giansante, park manager at Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park – to address some of the most common issues affecting our parks, rivers and natural areas: trail safety, water safety, safe planning, litter and being mindful of others while spending time in the outdoors. Beginning in March 2021, a new video will be released each month with related social media posts.
“When I was growing up, we had Woodsy Owl telling us to ‘give a hoot; don’t pollute’ and I feel like we listened,” says Melissa Woody, vice president for Tourism Development at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. “We are striving to put out a message that will stick with people of all ages and ideally result in a shift to positive behavior. Help us spread this message and let’s all do our part to protect the beautiful region we call home.”
Mr. Giansante says he has witnessed a dramatic increase in water rescues in the last year at Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park in Polk County. He and his limited state park staff, as well as Polk County emergency personnel, have spent hundreds of hours rescuing visitors in watercraft inappropriate for whitewater situations on the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers.
“While we do want our guests to come and explore the treasures of our area and look forward to meeting you, we would prefer to not have to meet you on a rock in the middle of the river,” says Mr. Giansante. “Please wear your life jackets and research where you are going and what type of watercraft it requires.” He encourages visitors to reach out to state park offices before visiting to get answers to any questions about trails, appropriate watercraft for whitewater, camping tips and any other issues that will help visitors enjoy a safe trip.
Help share these videos and posts to promote outdoor safety:
• Follow the Adventure Smart TN on Instagram and Facebook: @AdventureSmartTN; and
• Watch and share Adventure Smart TN educational videos at https://www.southeasttennessee.com/adventuresmartn/.