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TVA River Neighbors

New life for Norris trail

man walking dog

Clyde Collins and his dog, Sam, walk the Norris Songbird Trail almost every day.The trail is accessible by persons with disabilities and is locally famous for viewing deer and other animals in the evening. A special feature is the high concentration of eastern bluebirds in the area.

Ellen Bean and her Jack Russell terrier meet a group of women at 7 a.m. almost every day to walk the Norris Songbird Trail. Mike Jolly and Lucille Gustafson also are among the everyday walkers on the 2.3-mile loop below Norris Dam.

“We love coming here,” Bean says. “It is so beautiful, and the bird-watching is wonderful.”

With the Clinch River on one side and a variety of habitats — from old fields to hardwood forests to grasslands — on the other, the Norris Songbird Trail already has a lot to offer. And, according to TVA forester Joe Feeman, it is getting even better.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements in the last few years as part of a land-management plan approved by TVA in 2001. We’ve lengthened the trail, and we’ve begun replacing the non-native exotic plants with natives, such as swamp rose and joe-pye weed.”

During the early 1970s, when TVA established wildlife habitat at Norris Dam, it used some exotic plants that, while good food and cover for wildlife, became intrusive and forced out the native trees, shrubs, and grasses.

“Natives offer a lot of advantages,” explains Feeman. “They’re easier to grow because they’re adapted to local conditions. They generally require less maintenance and fewer fertilizers or pesticides, and they have deep root structures that help to hold soils in place. They also offer a variety of environmental benefits — from protecting water quality and enhancing wildlife habitat to preserving the region’s botanical heritage.”

TVA hopes the Norris Songbird Trail will help demonstrate those benefits to local landowners.

“We’ve already planted over 50 different species of native trees and shrubs along the trail and established a wildflower meadow. We’ve also planted native warm season grasses — little bluestem, big bluestem, and indian grass — which grow well in poor soil with little fertilizer or lime. These grasses are good for wildlife cover and produce good-quality hay.”

This summer, TVA will begin labeling the different plants and developing a map to help the public locate species of interest.


Joe Feeman examines a sweetshrub, planted as part of a native plant reintroduction project at the Norris Songbird Trail.

As part of the ongoing project, TVA plans to nominate the trail for arboretum status with the Tennessee Division of Forestry. An arboretum is a large collection of trees and shrubs cultivated for scientific and educational purposes.

“The Norris arboretum will begin with 60 species, but could eventually have more than 100,” Feeman says. Currently, Chickamauga Dam Reservation hosts the only arboretum on TVA property.

Trails at other TVA locations offer similar opportunities to see native plants, view birds and other wildlife, hike, and otherwise enjoy nature. For information about TVA trails in your area, contact your local TVA Watershed Team.

Interested in learning more about native plants? Check out TVA’s plant selector site. It includes information about more than 140 plants native to the Tennessee Valley, including color photographs, details about height, light preference, and bloom time, and more. also offers a series of riparian restoration fact sheets for property owners interested in shoreline landscaping. The fact sheets include sample landscape plans designed specifically for different purposes — from maintaining privacy to maximizing views to attracting wildlife to preventing soil loss.

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