Recreation on the water, like paddling, brings measurable benefits to physical and psychological health. Now, a new TVA study shows it brings economic health as well—millions of dollars worth.
Paddling, especially kayaking, is one of the fastest-growing sports in North America (and it’s especially true for the beautiful Tennessee Valley region). Based on recent reports, it’s estimated there are more than 25 million paddlesport participants in the U.S.
The thrill of whitewater has always had its fans, but in recent years less strenuous, recreational paddling is on the rise, and women are taking to it in larger numbers than ever before. It brings physical and psychological benefits that perhaps became even more valued during the long months of enforced social distancing from the COVID pandemic.
When visitors come to the many stream access points in the TVA system, they bring not just enthusiasm but economic benefits with them. A new study estimates annual direct spending by both local and non-local visitors resulted in $44.43 million in direct and secondary effects, supported a total of 624 full- and part-time jobs, and contributed $13 million in labor and personal income.
“These statistics demonstrate the significance of stream site use for overall recreation in the Valley,” says TVA's Recreation Strategy Specialist Clay Guerry. “In other words, people come to enjoy the waterways, to get some exercise, spend time with friends and family, and they usually spend a few bucks while they’re here. A restaurant meal, gasoline, maybe sunscreen or other supplies, and when you multiply by all those paddlers, you’re seeing enormous economic benefits flowing into the communities along TVA’s stream access points.”
“And,” he adds, “TVA lake and stream access are absolutely free of charge.”
From 2019-2021, TVA collaborated with the University of Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Institute and the University of Georgia to conduct a study of some of the economic impacts of TVA’s stream access points throughout the Tennessee River watershed.
Researchers analyzed site level estimates from 21 sampled sites ranked as High, Medium and Low, based on average popular use. Their data shows average visits to be over 17,000 for High, over 4,000 for Medium and over 2,000 for Low use sites. When extrapolated for the entire TVA system, annual recreational visits at all stream access sites was estimated to be over 565,000 visits per year.
These numbers were then used to calculate the average amount of visitor spending in the region, indicating the total economic impact of TVA’s stream access points.
“We already studied the value of recreation at TVA’s reservoirs, which was enormous,” says Guerry. “Then we turned our attention to streams, and found this great additional boost. This further establishes the solid link between the recreational opportunities TVA helps create and support, and improving life in the Valley for its millions of residents and visitors.”
TVA’s stewardship of 11,000 miles of public shoreline means there is something for everyone in the world of paddlesports. To help paddlers of all skill levels find what they want, TVA has put together water trail guides that can be saved to a smartphone or printed out and tucked in a pocket. There’s abundant information on TVA’s website about paddle safety and adding other fun activities to your paddle trip like fishing and camping.
“Recreation is part of our mission,” says Guerry, “and it ties together with our main mission, which is to make life better for the people of the Tennessee Valley. This new study shows what we suspected all along: that maintaining our many stream access points, and maintaining and improving our streams, brings benefits of all kinds to the people in nearby communities as well as the people in the kayaks.”