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Shellmound Campground in Jasper, Tennessee

Camp Chronicles

TVA-Certified Sites Ready for New Season

On a Sunday morning in early March, the Barton Springs Campground near Tullahoma, Tennessee, stirred to life.

The clock had sprung forward, but Vista Recreation campground managers Jerry and Jennifer Ross were up early anyway, ready to seize the day.

The husband-and-wife team oversees Barton Springs and Cedar Point campgrounds, located on opposite banks of Normandy Reservoir, a TVA-managed waterway.

For the Rosses, the final days of winter are spent clearing pine straw, power-washing picnic tables and cleaning fire pits in preparation for the mid-March opening weekend.

“We’re looking after the little things and making sure that our guests have the best time possible while they’re here,” Jerry said. “That’s the biggest part of our job.”

Subtle signs of spring’s approach were everywhere.

Daffodils, redbuds and dogwoods looked eager to bloom, a promising sign to anyone gearing up to visit campsites across the Valley region.

Prepping to roll out a warm welcome is hard work, but the Rosses have a go-to ingredient for success: a genuine love of the job.

“I come from a nursing background, so I’m a nurturer,” Jennifer said. “Here, I get to meet new people and know that I have a chance to make their vacation extra special.”

And they’re not alone in their work. They have on-site camp hosts to hold down the fort when they’re gone, and as a team they follow guidelines set out in TVA’s voluntary Camp-Right Certification program.

Jerry Ross clears branches at Barton Springs Campground

Jerry Ross clears brush and debris at Barton Springs Campground as he readies for the season's first campers.

Going for Gold

About 60 other campgrounds in six states within TVA’s seven-state region are certified TVA Camp-Right Campgrounds. The designation recognizes each site’s leadership in environmental conservation, ranking them by entry-level, bronze, silver or gold status.

Every three years, Vicki Stevens-Valentine, TVA’s Public Outreach and Support program manager, evaluates the sites and their performance in four categories: resource conservation, site design and maintenance, waste management, and public education.

She visits with site managers and camp hosts, offering thoughtful guidance on sustainable campground practices.

“We work with campgrounds to educate the public on electrical conservation, water conservation, shoreline conservation and leave-no-trace principles,” Stevens-Valentine said. “We also encourage camps to share what’s special about their particular part of the world.”

This gamified approach to conservation has been wildly successful.

The campsite operators take immense pride in maintaining gold-level status, with operators at other sites eager to reach the next coveted tier.

“It appeals to my competitive nature,” Jerry said. “You always want to be the best campsite around.”

“It focuses on the eco-friendly aspect of camping, enjoying nature while giving back to nature,” Jennifer said. “It was easy for us to get on board.”

That spirit of excellence is seen throughout the TVA Camp-Right program.

Among the top-ranked sites is Riley Creek, a gold-level campground operated by Roane County, near the picturesque town of Kingston, Tennessee.

Roane County Parks and Rec director Josh Lentz leads a dedicated team of maintenance personnel and on-site camp hosts who work to ensure their site remains a leading example of stewardship.

The view from their office offers plenty of reminders about what they’re protecting and promoting.

They can look out and see wild geese fly over Watts Bar Reservoir. When they step outside, they might catch a scent of a nearby campfire, or hear the whir of jet skis headed in the direction of Kingston Fossil Plant.

But achieving status as a TVA-certified campground is more than just a plaque on the wall – it's a sign of each team's commitment to protecting natural resources and providing the best possible camping experience for families visiting from across the nation.

“We’ve had guests come in from as far as Vermont,” Lentz said. “If a site has a TVA Camp-Right certification, you know that it’s well taken care of.

“It shows that people are proud of what they have. We are more than proud to have Riley Creek as part of our county fleet.”

Josh Lentz clears tree branches at Riley Creek Campground

Roane County Parks and Rec director Josh Lentz picks up sticks at Riley Creek Campground at Watts Bar Reservoir.

Sustainable Growth

The benefits of sustainable, well-operated campgrounds go well beyond environmental stewardship.

TVA-certified campgrounds help drive ecotourism, too, as they cater to boaters, kayakers, hikers, fishermen and many other adventurers looking to connect with Mother Nature while still enjoying plenty of amenities.

Many of the TVA Camp-Right sites host short- and long-term RVs, which according to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis survey contribute about $25 billion to the nation's economy.

In Barton Springs alone, about 30 guests had already reserved RV spaces ahead of opening weekend.

The site is expected to reach capacity by July, and it’ll continue to see ample activity with major events like the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, hosted just a short drive from Barton Springs.

A TVA Camp-Right certification is something many visitors look for as they choose a campsite, Stevens-Valentine said.

“People feel comfortable knowing they’re on TVA public land and with a TVA Camp-Right campsite,” Stevens-Valentine said. “It gives consumers a good sense of security knowing they’re selecting a campground that voluntarily goes above and beyond to be environmentally sound.”

Alongside providing a direct benefit to nearby businesses, TVA Camp-Right sites also serve as an economic engine for communities.

Consider Tishomingo County, Mississippi.

Nestled in the tailwaters of the Tennessee River, Goat Island Campground in Iuka, Mississippi, has become a prime location for vacationers.

A tiny island adjacent to the campground is home to several goats, cared for by local residents who provide food and shelter.

These friendly creatures draw many visitors to Goat Island Campground, a huge attraction for families and youngsters who enjoy feeding the goats and watching them romp.

Ed Noble, a consultant on the campground’s board of directors, has witnessed firsthand how conservation efforts through TVA’s Camp-Right program benefit not just the campground, but the larger community.

“We started cleaning the shoreline – next thing you know the roads are getting cleaned up, too,” Noble said. “Ultimately, it’s for the good of the water quality, the animals and fish.

“But as a business owner, it also helps keep our business sustainable, too. We want to be the apple of somebody’s eye.”

That pristine landscape has even spurred residential growth. Nearly 100 houses now dot the area around Goat Island Campground.

Most of the homes, condos and cabins were attracted to the area by Goat Island Campground and the easy lake access offered through its boat ramp, Noble said.

“You could not ask for a better support group of neighbors. It is a special area with special folks,” Noble said.

Mountain view and campfire ring near waterfront at Shellmound Campground

A glorious mountain view awaits visitors who opt for this cozy campfire spot at Shellmound Campground in Jasper, Tennessee.

Helping Hands

The successful buildout of sustainable campgrounds doesn’t happen in a bubble – it requires many eager hands, all working in partnership.

The TVA Camp-Right program’s public education efforts have been instrumental in unifying the camping community toward a single goal: help protect the great outdoors for future generations.

The campground leaders often organize visitors and local residents to join in these efforts.

Last Halloween, the Ross family held a shoreline cleanup ahead of annual trick-or-treat festivities.

Community members picked up litter and helped remove invasive species, all while learning about the importance of clean waterways and preservation of local habitats.

For the Rosses and the thousands of visitors they serve, these natural resources are worth it.

“Growing up in Detroit, I was never really around nature,” Jerry said. “It still amazes me to see how hawks and other wildlife interact with each other.”

Jennifer, whose family planted flowers and a garden every year during her childhood, wants to share that lifelong love of nature with visitors from near and far.

“I like seeing birds and butterflies, and helping bees pollinate,” she said. “It’s really cool for me.”

Jennifer and Jerry Ross walk hand in hand at Barton Springs, a gold-level TVA Camp-Right Campground.

Barton Springs, managed by Jennifer and Jerry Ross, maintains a gold-level status as a TVA Camp-Right Campground. 

PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: A commons area at Shellmound Campground in Jasper, Tennessee.

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TVA Camp-Right Campgrounds are now open. Visit the TVA Camp-Right page to find nearby sites – and visit TVA Fun to plan your next getaway.

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