published Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Tennessee promoting outdoor tourism

This photo from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development shows fisherman Bill Dance with one that didn’t get away. The state is marketing Tennessee as an outdoor paradise this spring.
This photo from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development shows fisherman Bill Dance with one that didn’t get away. The state is marketing Tennessee as an outdoor paradise this spring.

Tennessee has more than 300 species of fish, with bass, crappie and catfish awaiting hungry anglers.

The Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian Trail offer scenic spots for ambitious hikers.

Or, you can shoot the rapids on the Ocoee River, or go camping just about anywhere across the state, including backcountry camping at 12 state parks.

So it's no wonder that the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development is promoting the state's plentiful outdoor opportunities this spring.

Elvis, Dollywood and the Grand Ole Opry are not Tennessee's only attractions for the travel dollars.

The department has launched www.spring.tnvacation.com to highlight fishing, hunting, hiking, camping and other activities. The site also is sponsoring outdoor adventure-inspired contests, with the grand prize three ultimate fishing getaways throughout Tennessee, one of them a fishing trip with famed fisherman Bill Dance.

Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the department, says Tennessee's outdoor activities, and music, make it easy to market the state, which has up to 50 million visitors a year.

She says Tennessee brings to mind "scenic beauty and so much variety to do and the music. Those components you will see in everything we do."

Jackie Van Cleave, a fishing guide at Reelfoot Lake for more than 30 years, says both fishing and duck hunting are awesome on the earthquake-created lake in northwestern Tennessee.

"It's full of bluegill, crappie, bass, catfish. It's just an easy lake to fish," he said.

People from around the world, Van Cleave said, come to Reelfoot to fish and hunt.

"I've had 'em from Russia, China, Korea; you name it, I've had 'em," Van Cleave said. "The fishing and duck hunting are so good, they come, have a good time and go back and tell others."

Additionally, the sprawling lake is a prime location for bald eagle watching. Then there are nearby game preserves full of deer and turkey.

"I can't think of anything else to ask for," Van Cleave said.

Peter Olsen, vice president of the Washington-based American Hiking Society, has hiked the Great Smoky Mountains and encourages others to do so.

"It was a phenomenal area, beautiful and well maintained," he said. "It was a nice experience and just what you hope for when hiking."

For a 4,100-foot walking trail, Rock City Gardens atop Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga draws nearly half-a-million people from throughout the world every year.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says Tennessee fish represent one of the most diverse collections in North America. There are 29 major reservoirs and 19,000 miles of warm and cold water streams.

The Appalachian Trail covers 284 miles along the state's eastern border, mostly within the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nine million people a year visit the 500,000-acre Smokies, making it the most popular national park.

The state's push as an outdoor paradise is not a major departure from stressing Tennessee's music.

"The staff certainly realizes music and outdoors are regularly vying for the top spot among travelers to Tennessee," said Cindy Dupree, spokeswoman for the tourism department.

Olsen, reflecting on his hike in the park, said Tennessee can reap rewards from its campaign.

"Outdoor recreation has huge benefits for tourism," he said.

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