Built for All
TVA and Partners Expand River and Trail Accessibility
Fallen leaves fly and dust settles in the sun as a yellow blur – an athlete on a three-wheeled, adaptive bike – speeds by.
This is the Trotter Bluff Trail, redesigned for athletes with disabilities.
On the nearby French Broad River, accessible docks on a new river trail will invite all users to paddle safely downstream.
Tennessee Valley Authority specialists have worked with partners on both projects in east Tennessee to help break down physical, economic and social barriers.
Ultimately, this work improves outdoor access for those with disabilities.
“It goes back to TVA’s original goals,” Rebecca Hayden, TVA Natural Resources director, said. “TVA serves all the people of the Valley.”
Catalyst for Change
On a frosty fall morning at Douglas Dam, Hayden and TVA Natural Resources team members presented a $75,000 donation to Catalyst Sports. They’ll work with adaptive athletes to further outdoor access throughout the Valley.
The project at Trotter Bluff is a true partnership.
TVA manages the land. Catalyst Sports encourages athletes with disabilities and provides adaptive equipment. And adaptive athletes guide the design of new adventures.
“When you talk about adaptive trails, people think, ‘We have to pave this trail in the middle of the woods,’” Eric Gray, founder of Catalyst Sports, said. “No. We want to make it fun and exciting. Just because you're disabled doesn't mean … you have a love for staying on pavement.”
The funds will break down multiple barriers that athletes with disabilities face:
- Physical barriers of trailhead access and trail width and slope
- Economic barriers to buying the right adaptive equipment
- Knowledge and social barriers to finding adventures and a welcoming community
TVA’s Clay Guerry and Brian Ross, mountain bikers themselves, rode trails with Carly Pearson, Knox County ADA coordinator and Catalyst board member, to make sure they got the design for Trotter Bluff just right.
TVA recreation specialists have always relied on sustainable practices to guide them when building trails. This means trails can take wear and tear and all kinds of weather over the years, without needing much maintenance.
TVA’s teams now consult adaptive athletes on best practices to serve their needs, too, Ross, TVA recreation agreement specialist, said.
“It just so happens that the design at Trotter Bluff also fit the goals of a beginner adaptive trail, wide enough and with a gentle slope for adaptive mountain bikes and hiking chairs,” Guerry, TVA’s recreation strategy specialist, said.
The updated Trotter Bluff Trail, a rolling 1-mile loop through hardwoods, is the result.
Legacy Parks Foundation donated the first adaptive bikes to serve athletes in Knox County.
TVA’s donation to Catalyst will expand the program to serve
athletes Valley-wide, funding more bikes and a trailer to transport the
specialized, heavy equipment to area trails.
Restoring the opportunity to enjoy the Valley’s natural resources is invaluable.
“There's not a difference in the mindset of someone with a disability,” Gray said. “If you loved mountain biking before you got injured, you'd probably want do mountain biking again.”
She had to make the mental and physical switch to adaptive mountain biking after an accident left her partially paralyzed. Now, she’s one of Catalyst’s leading competitive athletes and a mentor to other adaptive bike users.
“Someone paid it forward for me,” Pearson said. “I don’t want anyone else to sit there and ponder how they can come up with $20,000 for a bike.”
Access for All
Creating opportunities is top of mind for Carol Evans, Legacy Parks Foundation executive director.
Many people – young and old, those new to paddling and those with disabilities – can find it challenging to transfer from a solid dock onto a boat that’s bouncing on river waves.
New, accessible docks on the French Broad River in east Tennessee will make that process easier for everyone.
Built by Pennsylvania-based BoardSafe Docks, each dock is a floating platform with a built-in, gently sloping ramp, allowing a user to safely place a canoe, kayak or paddleboard into the water. It’s also outfitted with rails.
“We've begun to use the terminology 'access for all,’” Evans said. “Because we're helping a lot of people, whether they have physical disabilities or whether they just need help getting in and out of the boat.”
This concept, called universal design, aims to ensure everyone has the greatest access to natural resources.
“With these docks, we want to say, ‘It’s safe and it’s for you,’” Evans said.
The new docks are born of a partnership among TVA, Legacy Parks and state and local agencies.
Workers will begin installing them next year, with the project wrapping up in 2026.
“TVA has been partnering on increased access to the Holston and French Broad rivers for well over a decade,” Guerry said. “Making the French Broad River accessible to those with disabilities aligns with the core TVA values of access for all.”
The docks will be placed at strategic intervals along the 20 miles of waterway from Seven Islands State Birding Park to downtown Knoxville.
“Getting in a boat and paddling is so different than being on a trail,” Evans said. “That's why the docks at 5- to 7-mile intervals – the hour-and-a-half, two-hour paddle – are key. We just need to make people feel really comfortable.”
Accessibility doesn't have to be an exception, Evans said.
“Let's start just making it what you do when you look at adding an amenity,” she said.
On every Legacy Parks river project, the organization has partnered with TVA.
“It’s not just the money, but the expertise,” Evans said. “Having TVA as a partner lends credibility to what we're doing for people.”
“Our missions align perfectly,” he said.
Nationwide, about 1 in 4 people has some type of disability.
Improving access to trails, rivers and recreational activities means greater opportunities for all.
And this means enrichment of life.
“Here in Natural Resources, we work hard every day to make the Valley the best place in the nation to live, work and play," Guerry said. "By focusing on these efforts of adaptability, we ensure that this idea is truly meant for everyone.”
As she finished up her adaptive bike ride on the Trotter Bluff Trail, Pearson lauded the collaboration that’s making it all possible.
“This partnership has been years in the making," she said. “It’s just awesome.”
Explore the region’s recreational opportunities at the TVA Recreation page.