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How state will draw tourists to distressed, rural counties

Community leaders welcome visitor increase

Katelynn White Nashville Tennessean USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE The state wants to draw Tennessee tourists to rural lands and distressed counties under a new plan.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced the beginning of an economic development plan that will encourage tourism in nine counties, according to a Tuesday press release.

'The accelerated transformation of rural Tennessee is one of our top priorities,' Gov. Bill Lee said. 'The unmatched beauty of our rural communities and vast natural resources they provide draw visitors from around the world, enhancing both conservation and economic development.'

The program will highlight state parks, state natural areas, state forests, and state wildlife management areas.

A task force comprising of state officials and relevant stakeholders will meet to begin strategic planning. Bringing overnight visitors and increasing visitor spending for rural communities are both project goals.

'The abundant natural resources in our state include vast areas that are in state hands, and we believe they have greater economic potential,' TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said. 'This task force will look for ways to maximize these areas for the greatest economic effect.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the great interest in our state parks with increased visitors, so we are eager to expand that success in counties that need that boost.'

Leaders of distressed counties are in support of the tourism growth. Distressed counties are those that rank among the 10 percent of economically challenged counties in the nation.

In Tennessee, there are nine distressed counties, they include:

- Lake - Lauderdale - Perry - Clay - Grundy - Bledsoe - Scott - Hancock - Cocke In the state of Tennessee, outdoor recreation is a major business, accounting for almost $9 billion of the state’s gross domestic product and more than 106,000 jobs.

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