TVA’s dams are inspiring vacation destinations, being as they are modern marvels of engineering and architecture. They’re big, beautiful and breathtaking. They inspire awe…and questions.
How old are they? Why are they there? What do they do? How do they fit into the regional picture? What kinds of recreational resources surround them? Moreover: What’s TVA?
Lucky for you, there are answers at nine of TVA’s dams in the form of visitors centers. Five of these are freestanding, serve-yourself information centers chock full with beautiful with photos, illustrations and tidbits about the company, its history, the origins of the dam, explanations about its functions and much more.
At four of TVA’s dams—it’s tallest (Fontana), first (Norris) and longest (Kentucky), as well as its most unique (Raccoon Mountain)—TVA volunteer retirees are on hand to chat with you about your visit, and answer your questions in person.
“The dam structures are inspiring, but you’ll get a whole other level of story, expertise and hospitality at the facilities from retiree volunteers,” says Laura Smith, TVA Marketing brand coordinator, who works with the retiree organization Bicentennial Volunteers Inc. (BVI) to facilitate and staff the visitor centers.
“You could ask the same question to three different retirees and get three different answers based on their experience and perspective—and that’s what makes the visitor centers so spicy.”
According to Tony Giggy, who sits on the Board of Directors of BVI, serves as a project manager in charge of the development and improvement of the visitors center and volunteers himself at Raccoon Mountain, those perspectives are a real point of pride. “Every volunteer has a TVA story to tell,” he says. “We draw on our own experiences to talk about TVA’s contributions to the economy and the ecology of the Valley, and we’re all very familiar with the details of the hydro facility we’re working at.”
Of the 200,000 to 300,000 visitors the staffed centers host each year, about 50 percent native Valley residents, and 50 percent visitors from outside the region, according to Smith.
“For those who live far away, we’re answering questions about TVA history and about the management of the river system, as well as telling people how to get the most from their recreation experience,” she says. “For the locals, we want them to be fluent in TVA lore when they are extending their own southern hospitality.”
To get the most out of your visitor center experience, keep your eyes open. Read through the material on the information panels; watch the videos, which are an excellent source of information about TVA’s future. And be prepared to continue your visit outside the centers’ walls.
“The visitor centers are just one part of an overall recreation experience,” Giggy says. “We point people outdoors to the picnic tables, biking and hiking trails, fishing spots and other places and ways to continue having fun. We want them to get the most from TVA public land.”
The visitor centers are also a good place to pick up materials and maps. “This year we have a map that features all the dams TVA manages on the river system,” Giggy explains. “ You can actually spend your vacation touring TVA facilities, and taking advantage of the free recreational opportunities on the land.”
One thing’s for sure, says Smith: “You have to see it to believe it. All our facilities are amazing, but you really can’t get the idea by surfing the Web or taking the virtual tour. Get out there and see them in person. Come visit our dams.”
It’s always a good time for fun on the Tennessee Valley’s lands and waters. Not sure where to start? We have you covered! Check out some of the best recreational activities on our reservoirs. While you’re enjoying the lakes, trails, picnic areas and campgrounds, share your own stories and photos on Instagram using #TVAfun.
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