Improve It and They Will Come

TVA and its volunteer partners logged over 100,000 visitors to reimagined and refurbished visitor centers at TVA hydroelectric facilities in 2016. With further improvements planned for 2017, that number is likely to grow.

JANUARY 6, 2017—Visitors centers at TVA hydroelectric facilities had a big year in 2016, educating and entertaining more people than ever before. That’s due to a continuous effort to boost their quality and accessibility and some savvy support from TVA retirees, according to Laura Smith, TVA coordinator for center improvements.

girl at display

Shown above is a display in the visitors center at Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Facility.

Even though visitor center spaces were built into almost every hydroelectric facility TVA constructed, many have been closed in recent years because of lack of funding, security concerns or misuse by the public. Bicentennial Volunteers Incorporated (BVI), a TVA retiree organization with a mission to tell the story of TVA, continued to send volunteers to staff the Fontana, Norris and Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage centers, but the group recognized that there was an opportunity to improve the experience.

In 2008, BVI approached TVA about their willingness to fund a revitalization of those three centers, in which the facilities would tell stories about the history of the agency, about the facilities and about TVA’s activities to support its mission of service in the 21st century.

In with the New

Beginning in 2011, the three centers reopened with new exhibits that included videos. In addition, a staffed center at Kentucky Dam underwent improvements and unstaffed centers were freshened up at Wilson, Guntersville, Ft. Patrick Henry and South Holston Dams. Improvements are planned for 2017 at the unstaffed centers at Douglas, Melton Hill and Pickwick Dams.

“Visitors have always been able to sign a logbook at the centers, but we began tallying in earnest in 2007 to support our theory that people from all over the world are interested in visiting and learning about TVA,” says Smith.

“In 2007, we knew that 14,421 visited Raccoon Mountain, and visitation at Fontana—the most frequently visited center—hovers in the high 40,000s every year, sometimes topping 50,000.” Smith says. 2016’s logged tally was 100,402.

“The centers, and events like the Norris celebration, prove that if we provide opportunities for people to learn about TVA, they will come,” said Jim Russell, current BVI president and a student of what visitors want when they come to the centers.

“I think our best offering is the volunteers themselves,” says Smith. “You can go to the same center on different days and you’ll hear different experiences and tales from the volunteers. Each worked in a different area of TVA, or they are a spouse of a TVA worker, so they all have something unique to share. They are the dynamic history of TVA’s service to the Valley.”

“We’re so pleased to reach this milestone of exceeding 100,000 visitors, and hope that more people will enjoy the centers, the views and the resources our Tennessee River system provides.”

The Unified Development of the Tennessee River plan stressed TVA was to provide flood control, navigation and electricity for the region. TVAs dams are tangible evidence of its primary mission: improving life in the Tennessee Valley. We’re celebrating the plan with an in-depth look at 32 of the dams it comprises.