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Dave Harrell

Program Manager, Floating Cabins | Lenoir City, Tenn.

Dave Harrell has spent 28 years working in Natural Resources at TVA, and you might say they have drifted by—he spends a lot of time dealing with things that float. Harrell, program manager, manages policies and regulations for the existing floating cabins that dot some TVA reservoirs.

Since the 1950s, TVA has monitored floating cabins and developed regulatory requirements for maintaining these structures. Today, Harrell collaborates with existing floating cabin owners, the public, marina operators and elected officials to ensure TVA’s floating cabin standards continue to protect our nearly 650,000 acres of aquatic natural resources.

About 2,000 floating homes exist, but new ones are not permitted and existing homes cannot be expanded. Harrell said that the main goal of what he does is to make sure that safety and environmental compliance apply to any structure that floats on TVA’s waters.

“Existing homes are going to be out there, so the question is how we manage them safely and in an environmentally responsible manner,” he said.

Doing It for the People

After nearly three decades in the business, Harrell said he still gets a thrill out of knowing he’s keeping TVA’s reservoirs in good shape for current and future generations of Valley residents and visitors.

“That’s whom I work for — the citizens of the Valley — and our goal is to leave the resources we’re entrusted with in better shape than we found them,” he said.

His work also serves to make the economy of the Valley stronger. With visitors coming to the area to pursue recreation opportunities (camping! paddling! fishing galore!), and some of them renting cabins for the weekend or longer, Harrell’s work is a boost to local economies. The recreation opportunities on TVA’s reservoirs generate about $12 billion annually and support more than 130,000 jobs.

“The marinas we work with are really a gateway to many of our reservoirs,” he said. “Managing that recreational experience, from boating to fishing to mountain biking or hiking, is important to me.”

And he doesn’t rest on his laurels, either. Harrell said he’s constantly working to stay up on recreation trends, and seeing how they can be implemented onto TVA’s 293,000 acres of public lands and 11,100 miles of shoreline.

One example is with campgrounds on TVA-owned land that were built in the 1970s. Now, with the evolving camping industry, TVA and its campground management partners are meeting demand by updating the sites with Wi-Fi and more electricity for RV hookups. The amenities that thrilled recreation-seekers in decades past can become obsolete over time, and Harrell and his team work to keep TVA campgrounds top-of-the-line.

Giving Back Through Personal Passions

Harrell’s s heart lies on TVA waters on more than just his workdays.

“My main passion is fly fishing,” Harrell said. “My wife Melissa and I both enjoy it. It’s an outlet that I do on Saturday or Sunday mornings, and by sharing our talent with others, it’s also a way of giving back.”

Harrell and his wife fill their downtime volunteering. From cleaning litter from TVA reservoirs to opening people’s eyes to the world of recreation, the Harrells are constantly serving.

They volunteer with Project Healing Waters, which is an organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of veterans by taking them out on the water for fishing excursions Capitalizing on TVA’s natural resources, the Harrells are able to provide a therapeutic experience for our nation’s heroes. 

“We go to tailwater access sites that are managed by our organization,” he said. “It’s really rewarding to me to be there and to hear how the trip made an impact on their day.”

Another organization Harrell is involved in is Casting for Recovery, where he teaches those touched by breast cancer to fly fish. “Research shows that the casting motion of a fly rod helps with the scarring and with muscle memory,” he said. “It’s a neat way to meet folks and give back a little of so much that has been given to me.”

Harrell also volunteers in many Trout Unlimited programs and events intended to teach cold-water conservation practices.

Looking Back

When Harrell looks back on his 28 years at TVA, he said it’s gratifying to see how his work has made a difference.

“I remember when I first saw a floating cabin. I thought ‘Oh my goodness, what is that? I mean, it’s a floating house out there, of all things!’ And to see how we are successfully managing those, and getting to now be a part of the solution myself, it’s very rewarding.”

About Floating Cabins   

New floating cabins and expansions of existing floating cabins are prohibited on TVA’s reservoirs. Floating cabins that existed prior to December 16, 2016, may remain if they meet health, safety and environmental standards developed by TVA, apply and receive a permit, and pay required fees. Learn more about floating cabins.

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