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Tennessee River Blueway: Protecting Chattanooga's Past And Future

A Survival Mechanism For Chattannooga's Starving Troops During The Civil War

Kayakers Kayaking In The Tennessee River Blueway

Under the watchful eye of Lookout Mountain, the Tennessee River flows serenely through the bustling, booming city of Chattanooga and opens up into a breathtaking view of the Tennessee River Gorge. Here is it met by many tributaries, and the Cumberland Plateau towers eight hundred feet above. This is but one part of what is known as the Tennessee River Blueway.

During the Civil War, the river had strategic significance for the Battles of Chattanooga. In the Fall of 1863, the Union Army found itself besieged inside Chattanooga, their supplies dwindling to dangerously low levels.

“Union officers Major General William S. Rosecrans, Brigadier General William F. ‘Baldy’ Smith, and Major General Ulysses S. Grant chose Brown’s Ferry to launch an operation for control of the Tennessee River,” Meg Martin, Communications Manager at the Civil War Trust in Washington, DC, explains. “In the early morning of October 27, 1863, 1,400 men on 50 pontoon boats floated to Brown’s Ferry,” which lies just west of Chattanooga, where the Tennessee River takes a sharp turn northward.

They attacked the Confederate soldiers, took the Ferry, and began building a pontoon bridge that would allow them to bring the much needed supplies across the river to their men. This historic act is known today as the establishment of the “Cracker Line.” Named for the hardtack bread which soldiers typically despised, the Union soldiers who were isolated in Chattanooga were so desperate for food that they were even crying out for the hardtack crackers.

The Civil War Trust takes a special interest in historic Civil War sites such as Brown’s Ferry. The trust has “saved” this tract of land on the western bank of the river, and made it a protected area, free from the risk of industrial development.

Historical Photo Of Brown's Ferry [Tennessee]
Image Of General Ulysses S. Grant

Martin clarifies the process for saving this historic land along the Blueway: “A fifteen-member group appointed by Congress and the Department of the Interior identifies the boundaries [of the area, according to historical parameters such as battlefield location]. Our real estate team [then] assesses the land’s historic significance, value, and funding opportunities. Federal [Matching] Grants administered by the American Battlefields Protection Program, as well as grants at the state and local level, often help us acquire land. [Because of this] we are able to double, even triple, each dollar our members donate. [From there] since we aren’t in the business of land stewardship, much of our land has been transferred to the National Park Service, or a state or local entity, which can interpret the property and create a meaningful visitor experience.”

People like Chris Young, a Ranger with the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, are dedicated to creating a meaningful experience. Visitors to Brown’s Ferry can read an inscription on a sign, written by Young, which highlights the significance of what happened there more than one hundred and fifty years ago:

“Brown’s Ferry offered hope and renewal for United States troops besieged and starving in Chattanooga during the fall of 1863…. Without the capture of Brown’s Ferry, what might have been the fate of the starving soldiers and how would that have affected the war’s outcome?”

Visitors are invited to engage with the history of the area as they stand where Union and Confederate soldiers once stood but also to consider how local and national history may have been different if Rosecrans, Smith, and Grant had not been successful on that foggy October morning.

Engagement with the history, culture, and natural resources of the area was also the goal when a forty-seven-mile stretch of the Tennessee River, which includes Brown’s Ferry, was designated as the “Blueway”. Like the Civil War Trust and Brown’s Ferry, leaders in the Chattanooga community made Herculean efforts to protect the natural resource, ecosystems, and recreational opportunities that the Tennessee River offers. The process of designating the Blueway involved partnership among all levels of government as well as cooperation from private land owners.

Kayaking Through Tennessee River Blueway

In 2002, Philip Grymes, Executive Director of Outdoor Chattanooga, was part of a committee in Tennessee that gave this part of the river system its name.

“A blueway is essentially a water trail,” he explains. This designation encourages eco-tourism which dictates a low-impact interaction with a fragile natural area and is vital to an area like Chattanooga. As Grymes continues, eco-tourism develops a different type of commercial atmosphere in the area. Rentals such as kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards become necessary equipment from local outfitters, building up the local population of small businesses along the 47 mile stretch of the Blueway. “This,” according to Grymes, “gives the community more character.” The river itself also runs through the heart of downtown Chattanooga providing an essential city/nature connection.

Visitors can easily plan a day trip on the river. After renting the necessary equipment from local outfitters such as River Canyon Adventures, L2 Outside, Chattanooga Paddleboards, or Scenic City Safari, Grymes recommends, “eight to twelve miles is a comfortable day paddle.” The numerous entry access points, which outfitters can direct guests to, allow visitors to enter and exit the river when needed. They can float for a while…but can also exit the river at the Coolidge Park launch, located on the North Shore under Market St. Bridge, to enjoy an hour or so in downtown Chattanooga. Canoers and kayakers quickly forget the short distance between them and the city. Those who paddle all the way to the Tennessee River Gorge will experience the sensation of a world away from city life and civilization.

From the unique blend of urban and rustic tourism opportunities to the historic significance of the land, making the Tennessee River Blueway a destination this summer is sure to result in an extraordinary learning and cultural experience designed to both engage and enhance understanding of this area’s natural resources.

Kailyn Clay

A graduate of Trinity Christian College in English & Political Science, Kailyn  has written for                       Brilliance Publishing & GEMS' Girls Clubs among others. She enjoys hiking and cooking.

Raccoon Mountain RV Park & Campgrounds

Make Sure To Stay At:

Raccoon Mountain RV Park & Campgrounds, Tennessee’s highest rated cave located just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tour the  vast cave system, pan for gemstones, or relax by a camp fire while taking in spectacular views.

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