Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 4)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note } This is the fourth installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 4: Closing Arguments — Why Rural Electric Cooperatives Should Provide Financial Support for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements

I love my electric utility. In fact, as I write, I am wearing a hat they gave me.

Mountain Electric is a small electric co-op serving just over 30,000 members in the rural mountains of East Tennessee. They have a small staff, but are always willing to help out if I have a question or problem. They also seem to sincerely care about the people they serve, and work hard to address member concerns. One way they do this is by helping to reduce members’ electricity bills through energy efficiency incentives and limited financing programs.

I also love Mountain Electric because they are part of a team of co-ops exploring the development of a small-scale on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency in Tennessee. Even more, I admire the co-op model and their potential for doing good in the communities they serve, and I have developed a good relationship with my co-op, as all members should. That’s why I wear the hat.

The Rural Electric Cooperative: History and Mission

I didn’t always know much about electric co-ops, and most people who aren’t a member of one — and even many who are — don’t know much about them either.

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, as late as the mid-1930s approximately 90 percent of all rural homes in America were without electricity. This was due to the fact that the large power companies did not think it was cost-effective to run thousands of miles of transmission lines to areas with low population density.

With the signing of an Executive Order by President Franklin Roosevelt establishing the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, and the subsequent passage of the Rural Electrification Act the following year, a lending program was put in place that supported the creation of rural electric co-ops, and everything began to change. By 1953, more than 90 percent of farms across the nation had electricity, and today, more than 900 co-ops provide electricity to more than 42 million people.

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

What distinguishes co-ops from investor-owned utilities is that they are non-profit entities owned by the utility’s electricity customers. Every “member” owns a share of the co-op, and, at least in theory, has a direct voice in decisions made by the co-op. In addition, unlike large profit-driven utilities, co-ops operate according to the Seven Cooperative Principles, which include a voluntary and open membership, democratic governance by members, economic participation, autonomy and independence, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.

Why Co-ops Should Provide Home Energy Efficiency Loans

The seventh principle, that of concern for community, is described by NRECA as “working for the sustainable development of communities through policies accepted by [the] members.” This principle speaks directly to the mission of Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, which is to work with electric co-ops in Appalachia to alleviate poverty and generate new jobs through the creation of comprehensive home energy efficiency loan programs known as “on-bill finance.” With on-bill finance, the electric utility provides a “loan” to a customer to make a variety of home energy efficiency improvements such as weatherization, insulation and new energy efficient heating and cooling systems. After the improvements have been made, the customer repays the loan through an extra charge on their electric bill. The intent of these finance programs is for the annual savings to exceed the loan payments, thereby resulting in a net reduction in their electric bills.

On-bill financing supports the concept of sustainable development by reducing energy costs for community residents (thereby alleviating poverty), and supporting the development of a local energy services industry, potentially creating hundreds of long-lasting jobs (e.g. energy auditors, home appliance contractors, retailers, etc) while helping to diversify and strengthen local economies. In addition, the widespread adoption of such programs would result in cleaner air and water and therefore healthier communities.

Many co-ops across the Southeast already provide some sort of financial support or incentives, such as rebates and credits on electric bills, for their members to invest in energy efficiency (does yours?). However, most of the cost of the improvements still have to be paid upfront by the member. Currently only five co-ops in Appalachia–all located in Kentucky–provide financing for their members to make multiple efficiency improvements all at once.


Barriers to Implementation, and Resources Available to Co-ops

One thing to recognize is that many co-ops face significant barriers to developing and implementing energy efficiency programs of any kind, much less full on-bill finance programs. First of all, like my co-op, a lot of co-ops have limited staff, and it takes a significant amount of staff time to put these programs together and have them be effective.

Secondly, it takes money, something which most co-ops also do not have because their cost of generating or obtaining electricity and distributing it to their members is on the rise. Further, co-ops have to pay for constructing and maintaining the distribution system (transmission lines, transformers, etc). In addition, most co-ops are still paying off debts associated with loans received to cover past expenses.

Finally, in a lot of areas, the lack of an energy services industry (energy auditors, retrofitters, retailers) means that contractors would have to be identified and certified before an on-bill finance program can be implemented. Each of these factors may pose a significant challenge for a co-op interested in developing a financing program. However, there are a growing number of resources available that can help.

For starters, the USDA now has two (and potentially three) funding programs that co-ops can access in order to fund an on-bill finance program. The two existing programs are the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. While the requirements and details associated with these two programs are much different, they both provide a significant amount of funding that co-ops can use to fund the program. Another similar initiative known as the Rural Energy Savings Program may become available by as early as 2015, and would provide zero interest loans to co-ops specifically for the purpose of developing an on-bill financing program.

In addition, there are many different models that exist all across the country that co-ops can reference in designing their own program (we wrote about two of them in our last post), and the USDA and others are in the process of developing toolkits and model program designs to help co-ops put a workable and effective program together. Growing interest is also leading many government and nonprofit entities to offer funding and other support for these programs. One such leader is the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, which offers a variety of financial assistance for energy efficiency programs. Appalachian Voices has also been supporting and partnering with co-ops in our region who are taking steps toward developing an on-bill finance program.

What YOU can do to promote more energy efficiency support through your electric co-op

While there is wealth of resources available to help co-ops navigate the process of designing, developing and implementing an on-bill financing program, the availability of these resources will itself not move a co-op to develop a program. If you are a co-op member, that responsibility lies with you.

Find out whether your co-op offers an on-bill finance program by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center, and if they don’t, then send a letter requesting that they develop one. Also, get out in your community and talk with your neighbors about how stronger energy efficiency investments can help strengthen your local economy and provide financial relief and greater comfort for those who need it.

Finally, get to know the people that manage your co-op. Call them up, stop in their office, invite them to a barbeque. You will find that they are good folks that care about you and your neighbors, and are willing to explore ways that they can do more to help all of their members. That is concern for community, and it’s the foundation of creating healthy, sustainable economies in Appalachia and elsewhere.

Tennessee sprouting up as a leader in home energy efficiency

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by ann

Summer has arrived in Tennessee. Gardens are starting to produce a bounty of flowers and veggies. The longing for home grown tomatoes will soon be satisfied, and energy efficiency prospects are springing up all across the volunteer state.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association have recently announced that the Volunteer state was selected as one of six states to participate in the National Governors Association retreat on energy efficiency. According to TECA’s website, the special retreat will help Tennessee focus on policy development and implementation strategies for “reducing energy consumption, stimulating economic demand for local energy-related jobs and services, and lowering emissions associated with the electricity generation”.

Appalachian Voices has been working with TECA and rural electric co-ops in Tennessee to explore the possibilities for the development of an on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency.

Very few co-ops in the region (only five in Appalachia, all located in Kentucky) provide financing for their members to make multiple energy efficiency improvements all at once — improvements that include weatherization, insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems. In truth, the majority of co-ops in Appalachia could be doing a lot more to help reduce energy costs for their members and move the communities they serve closer to achieving real sustainable development.

The fact that TDEC and TECA applied for and received this grant shows that they care about the people they serve, and are willing to work hard to help reduce electricity bills by providing energy efficiency incentives and financing programs. The Tennessee workshop will address specific challenges the state faces in advancing energy efficiency programs in rural areas served by co-ops, and will help the state develop tools and strategies for designing and deploying successful financing programs for co-op members.


The Tennessee Team will consist of representatives from the Office of Governor Haslam, TDEC, TECA, other state agencies, the USDA Rural Utilities Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, Appalachian Voices and Pathway Lending, a community development financial institution.

It’s exciting to see Tennessee sowing the seeds of a sustainable energy efficiency program, and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of this effort. Visit our Energy Savings Action Center to learn more about your local energy provider.

More Than a Market

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market.

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market

Shopping for fresh, locally grown foods at farmers markets is always a refreshing way to find healthy foods while supporting the community. But in recent years, some farmers markets have transformed from grocery store alternatives to tourist destinations, featuring cooking and artisan demonstrations, hands-on healthy living activities for children, and food and farm festivals for all ages. While similarly innovative markets are popping up across the Appalachian region, these eight family-friendly markets offer a small taste of the kinds of educational entertainment that’s enticing both visitors and locals to spend a fun-filled day at the market.

Morgantown Farmers Market – W.Va.

Housed in a new pavilion, this innovative market is celebrating the opening of a grant-funded culinary station that will host healthy cooking classes and demonstrations. Youngsters can enjoy a new 10-week kids’ club called “POP” (Power of Produce), which provides each child with $2 in weekly market tokens and culminates in a healthy eating activity. Different fitness activities, including a yoga flash mob, belly dancing, and hula hooping sessions keep the grown-ups in shape too. Local musicians and nonprofit booths create a lively, atmosphere. Morgantown Market Place, 415 Spruce St. Open: May 3 – early Nov., Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – noon. Visit: or call (304) 993-2410

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Lexington Farmers Market – Ky.

Open since 1975, Lexington’s Saturday market in the heart of downtown features more than 60 vendors and draws more than 5,000 visitors during peak season. Each week, the Homegrown Authors series features talks and book signings by local writers. Monthly favorites include chef demonstrations led by local culinary students and an area master gardener information booth. Each week, different organizations host children’s activities, including arts and crafts and pony rides, along with live local music. Cheapside Park. Open: Saturdays, Spring-Fall, 7 a.m.-2p.m., Winter 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Visit: or call (859) 608-2655

Downtown Hickory Farmers Market – N.C.

This year, a new Thursday evening summer market, Tastin’, Tunes & Tomatoes, along with the city’s widely popular Saturday market, offers chef demonstrations as well as clogging, music and healthy food scavenger hunts for children. Wind down after the Saturday market with yoga at Union Square or grab a bite at a downtown restaurant. On June 12, Thursday’s market will host Schmoozapalooza, featuring 50 additional vendors as well as beer, wine and food sampling. Union Square, downtown Hickory. Open: April 16-Nov. 1, Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m; and June 5-Aug. 28, Thursdays, 5-8 p.m. Visit: or call (828) 306-6508

Chattanooga Farmers Market – Tenn.

Now in its 13th season, Chattanooga’s bustling market has exploded into one of the biggest in the region with more than 800 vendors drawing as many as 1,300 people each Sunday. Each market is themed and includes two free music concerts, 20 food trucks and numerous chef demonstrations. During June and July, foodie festivals abound, honoring the blueberry, tomato and peach as well as the Chattanooga Street Food Festival on June 22. Beat the heat at the July 13 Ice Cream Social where $5 buys five scoops from local creameries with proceeds benefiting a community childcare center. 1829 Carter St., Open: April 27- Nov. 23. Sundays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: or call 423-648-2496

Independence Farmers Market – Va.

Almost every Friday in the summer, this southwestern Virginia market hosts family-friendly special event days. At Dairy Day on June 13, youngsters can learn how to milk a cow. In July, build a vegetable vehicle to enter in the zucchini car races, or challenge the family to a pie-eating contest at Berry Fest on July 18. Enjoy monthly fiber and beekeeping demonstrations as well as chef presentations during the first market of the month and free kids activities at every market. McKnight Park, Hwy. 21 and 58 intersection. Open: May-Oct., Friday, 9 a.m.-2p.m. Visit: or call (276) 655-4045

The Wild Ramp – W.Va.
This 125-vendor indoor farmers market in Huntington, W.Va., will more than double in size when it moves into the Old Central City Market building this summer. Staffed by volunteers, the year-round consignment market affords farmers more time for the harvest. Vendors can lead monthly classes about canning, cooking, herbal recipes, cheese making and more. Nonprofits lead various children’s activities, such as making seed bombs. In June, enjoy a grand opening celebration during Old Central City Days, featuring food, music and antiques. 555 14th St., Huntington. Open: year-round, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: or call (304) 523-7267

Charlottesville City Market – Va.

With more than 100 vendors, this downtown market is a bustling hub of seasonal cooking and artisan demonstrations accented by music. Chef Mark Gresge of l’etoile restaurant leads culinary workshops throughout the summer and food preservation classes later in the season. Ten community partners offer numerous children’s activities. The annual Labor Day weekend Farm Tour, sponsored by the nonprofit Market Central, is an excellent opportunity to explore more than 20 vendors’ farms by car. Corner of Water St. and South St. Open: Saturdays, April-Oct., 7 a.m. – noon, Nov.-Dec., 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Visit: or call (434) 970-3371

Asheville City Market – N.C.

Situated in the heart of the city’s thriving local food scene, Asheville’s eclectic Charlotte St. market attracts hundreds of foodies craving monthly cooking demonstrations. Every Saturday, the Growing Minds @ Market booth hosts a nonprofit to engage children in exercise and food-related arts and crafts. A strawberry summer festival features samples of creative berry recipes, while the Market Meal Challenge in late June awards prizes to the healthiest shopper. Live local music as well as healthy living booths round out the weekly experience. 161 S. Charlotte St. Open: April 5 – Dec. 20, Saturdays, 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. Visit: or call (828) 348-0340

Mobile Market Transforms Tennessee Town With Fresh Food

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

Ten years ago, abandoned grocery carts left near entrances to public housing complexes dotted the rural landscape in Greeneville, Tenn. Lacking public transportation and deterred by hilly terrain, residents were too often discouraged to return their carts to the nearest grocery store after their weekly shopping trip.

Each week, Mobile Market Manager Rhonda Hensley, left, delivers food to this loyal customer, right, and her four children who lack proper transportation to travel to the nearest grocery store. Photo courtesy  of Rural Resources.

Each week, Mobile Market Manager Rhonda Hensley, left, delivers food to this loyal customer, right, and her four children who lack proper transportation to travel to the nearest grocery store. Photo courtesy of Rural Resources

In 2005, that all changed with Greeneville’s first Mobile Farmers Market. Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the project is an initiative of Rural Resources, a nonprofit focused on connecting farms, food and families with sustainable practices throughout Greene County.

Now in its 10th year, this market on wheels delivers 1,700 pounds of locally grown, fresh food to more than 200 individuals each week — including those living in public or elderly housing — who otherwise would not have access.
“We live in a food desert here where there are not a lot of choices for eating fresh food,” says Rhonda Hensley, market manager and an Appalachia CARES/Americorps member. “I love educating people about the goodness of eating local, fresh food that comes from the earth.”

Each week, customers place their food order online. Volunteers then fill boxes with produce from Rural Resources’ own on-site community farm, as well as meat, eggs and honey provided by local farmers, and baked goods and casseroles prepared by the nonprofit’s Farm & Food Teen Training program. On Thursdays, the mobile market makes deliveries to designated drop-off locations, primarily serving low-income housing areas; the program has seen purchases with electronic food stamps quadruple since the first year.

For Hensley, introducing children to healthier foods and watching their eating habits change makes her job immeasurably rewarding.

“I love filling kids’ hands with blueberries or giving them a piece of kale to taste for the first time,” Hensley says. “This food is so delicious. There’s no comparison to processed foods.”

The mobile market has even empowered clients to grow their own food by providing 60 garden containers and helping one neighborhood start a community garden.

As the program grows, Hensley is planning for local restaurants, hospitals and hotels to turn to the mobile market for fresh, healthy food supplements for their menus.

For more information, visit or call Hensley at 423-470-4047.

Progress for Tennessee Wilderness

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Molly Moore

A waterfall flows through Upper Bald Wilderness Study Area, which would be protected as wilderness under the proposed bill. Photo by Bill Hodge.

A waterfall flows through Upper Bald Wilderness Study Area, which would be protected as wilderness under the proposed bill. Photo by Bill Hodge

Efforts to preserve wild lands in East Tennessee took a step forward this spring when a bill to designate nearly 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness passed the Senate Agriculture Committee.

First introduced by Tennessee Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in 2010, the Tennessee Wilderness Act would grant wilderness designation — the highest form of protection for public lands — to one new section of Cherokee National Forest and expand the boundaries of five existing wilderness areas.

“Creating and expanding these wilderness areas would have no effect on privately-owned land and will not increase costs for taxpayers,” Alexander said in a press statement.

Now that the bill has passed committee it is eligible to be heard on the Senate floor. A companion bill has not been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Virginia Land Trust Drilling Controversy Resolved

By Carvan Craft

This spring, nonprofit land trust Virginia Outdoors Foundation removed a provision allowing drilling for oil and gas on their conservation easements. Land trusts are organizations which, through contracts with landowners, aim to protect natural lands from development by placing that land into permanent conservation. Yet since 2012, the foundation has allowed landowners to maintain drilling rights on their easements.

Environmental groups including Virginia’s Piedmont Environmental Council were critical of the land trust’s drilling provision, which the group denounced as “contrary to the purpose of most easements.” The council has also noted growing concerns amongst local communities regarding the potential for hydraulic fracturing to impact water quality.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 3)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note }This is the third installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 3: How Energy Efficiency Can Help Diversify Local Economies in Appalachia

Let’s consider our energy use for a moment, and how it might relate to our local economy.

I think of my refrigerator and other appliances, but most of all, of the energy I use heating my home. The house I live in doesn’t have air conditioning, so in the summer I keep the doors open and the ceiling fans running. However, despite having a well-insulated home with double-pane windows, I rely on old, energy-wasting electric baseboard heat to keep me warm in the winter.

Even though baseboard heat runs up my electric bill in the winter, my house is more energy efficient than the homes that many Appalachian families live in. A large number of those homes also rely on baseboard heaters, but also have drafty windows, lack proper insulation in their floors, walls and ceilings, and have inefficient water heaters and appliances. The people who live in these homes are typically poor and cannot afford to pay their electric bills during extreme winter and summer months, much less pay the upfront cost of improving their home’s energy efficiency.

But what if they could? What if they had access to low-cost loans that would cover the cost of making home energy efficiency improvements? Imagine what that could do for residents struggling to pay their electric bills. Imagine what that could do for the local economy.

A home energy efficiency loan could help a single family save hundreds of dollars each year that they might then spend in their community, or use to pay for other basic needs such as education and healthcare. Imagine what the impact would be if 100 homes received such a loan, or 1,000, especially in rural Appalachia, where many small towns are struggling to stay afloat.

Chart by Opower.

Economic output per millions of dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

In addition, each home retrofit would require many different services such as home energy audits or the installation of new heating and air systems or insulation, for example, that more likely than not would be carried out by local businesses. Because most of the services associated with home energy efficiency can be locally sourced, a strong loan program could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new investment being added to the local economy. For many Appalachian communities, that would be a significant economic boost, and could result in the development of new local or regional industries and businesses, thereby creating jobs and helping to diversify the local economy.

Energy efficiency loan programs are not new. They have been popping up all over the place, in fact. We’ve written about South Carolina’s Help My House pilot program, which financed energy efficiency improvements for 125 homes, saving each an average of nearly $1,200 a year on their energy costs (almost $300 of which they were able to put in their pockets). In Kentucky, a program called How$mart Kentucky was developed that is saving residential participants an average of more than 20 percent on their electric bills. These two programs are good models for how home energy efficiency loan programs can save residents a significant amount of money. And each program was developed by member-owned rural electric cooperatives (co-ops), like my own co-op, Mountain Electric (who is yours?).

Chart by Opower

Jobs created by region per one million dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

The greatest impact of these programs is the amount of local investment and the jobs created as a result of the home energy loans. For South Carolina’s program, the 125 loans generated $940,000 in new investment in the communities where the loans were provided. In Kentucky, the loan program generated more than $500,000 in new investment during the program’s 1-2 year pilot phase, and more electric co-ops are beginning to join the program. These two programs — and there are more than 30 more similar programs being offered throughout the U.S. — have resulted in approximately $1.5 million of investment in the communities where they have been implemented.

According to the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, $1 million invested in energy efficiency in the Southeast generates between $1.5 million and $5 million in new economic output and creates between 5 and 20 new jobs. Energy efficiency investments generate a greater economic impact and create more jobs than the same amount invested in other industries, and those impacts are just the result of direct investment. The benefits increase as a result of the money that is saved. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, for every $1 million in investment, the home energy savings from efficiency programs have been estimated to create another 17 local jobs.

Looking at the potential savings for co-op customers in South Carolina, an economic analysis by Coastal Carolina University estimated that, if co-ops in the state committed to an full-scale energy efficiency loan program for 20 years, it would create more than 7,000 jobs and save co-op members $355.5 million annually.

Strong investments in energy efficiency can have profound economic impacts for local economies in Appalachia. Energy efficiency is merely one strategy that local governments, economic development agencies working with the rural electric co-op or municipal utilities might employ with the goal of diversifying the local economy. But the proven benefits of energy efficiency investments suggest it should be a key focus in any plan for local economic diversification. As we described in the previous post of this series, most communities across the Central and Southern Appalachia are in dire need of a comprehensive strategy for diversifying their local economies.

If my own rural electric co-op, Mountain Electric, were to develop a program that allowed me to save money on my electric bills while also supporting my local economy, I would take advantage of the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?

Tennessee mountains are at risk, here’s what you can do

Monday, May 5th, 2014 - posted by ann

UPDATE: There’s still time to speak up for our mountains! Tennesseans can submit public comments regarding a proposed surface mine in Claiborne County to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation until May 16. Help protect the communities and environment near Clear Fork mine by adding your comment today:

Please reference NPDES permit TN0069809 and email your comments to, or mail them to:

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Division of Water Resources
Mining Section
3711 Middlebrook Pike
Knoxville, TN 37921-6538


The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is conducting a public hearing tomorrow on a proposed surface mine in Claiborne County, Tenn.

Fortunately, there’s still time to submit comments or show up to speak at the hearing.

Kopper Glo Fuel, Inc., a Tennessee-based coal company, wants a state pollution permit to begin operating the 578-acre Clear Fork surface mine. As with any strip mine, the Clear Fork mine would be detrimental to local communities and the environment.

The proposed mine site is surrounded by streams that regularly show high conductivity, an indicator of poor water quality and a direct result of previous surface mining in the area. If the permit is approved, Kopper Glo would discharge its pollution into local streams including Clear Fork, a tributary of the Cumberland River.

Tennessee groups including Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment and Tennessee Clean Water Network have opposed the Clear Fork mine for years. Kopper Glo even withdrew the permit after groups appealed a TDEC finding that degradation of local streams by the company was justified by economic and social necessity.

Surface mines in Tennessee employ just a few hundred workers. Compare that number to the approximately 175,000 jobs supported by the tourism industry – a sector compromised by polluted water and formerly lush landscapes carved away.

In Claiborne County alone, tourism brought in $14 million in 2007, according to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. The coal industry, on the other hand, may well represent a net cost to the state to the tune of $3 million.

Help stop this new strip mine in an area already devastated by surface mining by attending the public hearing tomorrow from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at TDEC’s office in Knoxville: 3711 Middlebrook Pike, Knoxville, TN 37921

Can’t attend in person? Written comments submitted by May 16 will be included in the hearing record. Please reference NPDES permit TN0069809 and mail your comments to, or mail them to:

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Division of Water Resources
Mining Section
3711 Middlebrook Pike
Knoxville, TN 37921-6538

New Trillium Species Discovered in Eastern Tennessee

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Meredith Warfield

When Mark Dunaway and his wife purchased land in eastern Tennessee, they had no idea they would be moving in with an unheard-of species living in their backyard.

The Trillium tennesseense, a rare wildflower, was first discovered two years ago in the deciduous forests of eastern Tennessee. Photo courtesy Dr. Edward Schilling

The Trillium tennesseense, a rare wildflower, was first discovered two years ago in the deciduous forests of eastern Tennessee. Photo courtesy Dr. Edward Schilling

The couple came across an unfamiliar, yellow-petaled wildflower while on a plant walk along their property one day, and after searching their field guides and finding no match, they decided to contact experts at University of Tennessee and Tennessee Native Plant Society.

A team of researchers at University of Tennessee examined the flower and found themselves just as stumped as the Dunaways. The experts, comprised of Dr. Edward Schilling, Dr. Susan B. Farmer and graduate student Aaron Floden, then journeyed to the Dunaways’ property and investigated the scene of the discovery. After extensive research the team confirmed that the flower was a brand-new species of trillium — to be named Trillium tennesseense — now known to grow in only three locations on the slopes of eastern Tennessee. The research was conducted over the course of roughly a year and a half and was published in June 2013 in the peer-reviewed journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society, The Castanea.

Trilliums are a three-petaled wildflower that grows in a variety of more than 40 different species throughout the U.S. and Canada. Several species can be spotted along the forest floor in Appalachia, blooming from late spring to early summer.

The T. tennesseense, similar in structure to the Wateree trillium growing in South Carolina, seeks shelter on hillsides just above healthy creeks, where there is good drainage and little disturbance from agricultural activity or construction. When in bloom, its yellow petals reach delicately towards the sky above a fan of green leaves sprouting from a very narrow stem. The recently discovered flower is known to grow on the slopes of Bays Mountain in Hamblen and Hawkins counties, although Dr. Schilling and his trillium experts suspect the flower may flourish in more areas that are not yet documented.

The areas surrounding the site of the flower’s discovery are inhabited mostly by residential landowners such as the Dunaways. This reduces the threat of commercial and agricultural development that could harm the plant, but also makes for plenty of “No Trespassing” signs in wooded areas where the T. tennesseense could secretly be thriving, its rare beauty unbeknownst to scientists.

“You can’t just go waltzing on these landowners’ property, ” Dr. Schilling says, but the team was able to go bushwhacking into a ravine where they found thousands of individual T. tennesseense flowers along a hillside.

The biggest difference between the T. tennesseense and its fellow genus members is its floral odor. When in full bloom the flower emits a smell similar to old-fashioned shoe polish. Aside from this, the newly discoverd species’ relatively shorter ovary and longer stamen also differentiate it from its close trillium friends.

Although the T. tennesseense is considered globally rare, Tennessee has no law to protect the plant species. “This is the only place in the world that it grows, so if it disappears, it will most likely be gone for good,” Dr. Schilling notes. As wooded residential areas flourish where the T. tennesseense grows and commercial activity remains at bay, it seems the same fences that have been hiding the flower from human eyes have been sheltering it from extinction.

*Note: In the print version of our description of T. undulatum, we stated that maples and spruces were acid-loving trees. In fact, maples are no more acid-loving than most trees in the southern Appalachian region.

*Note: In the print version of our description of T. undulatum, we stated that maples and spruces were acid-loving trees. In fact, maples are no more acid-loving than most trees in the southern Appalachian region.

Connecting the Dots of the Southern Appalachian Loop Trail

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Matt Kirk

Matt Kirk stands at Rocky Top on the Appalachian Trail while thru hiking SALT. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

Matt Kirk stands at Rocky Top on the Appalachian Trail while thru hiking SALT. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

What unites many of us in the Southern Appalachians is a love for hiking along the hundreds of miles of trails in our region. Ten years ago, I discovered that many of these paths form a loop measuring over 350 miles in length. Pieced together, this route, known as the Southern Appalachian Loop Trail or SALT, is currently 99.4 percent complete. With the exception of a sliver of undeveloped land on the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina in Transylvania County, it’s already open to the public for hiking.

As a loop, you can start and finish at just about any point along the way and hike back around to where you started. The route highlights the beauty of the Southern Appalachians, from its staggering biodiversity and abundance of waterfalls cascading down from the Blue Ridge Escarpment to the high-elevation spruce forests and panoramic mountain balds in the Smokies. Several connecting trails afford each hiker an opportunity to choose his or her own adventure throughout the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

In the summer of 2012, I thru-hiked SALT, starting and ending at Jones Gap State Park in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of South Carolina. I hiked in a clockwise direction towards Georgia, along the Foothills Trail. After crossing the Chattooga River, I climbed ever higher over the Georgia mountains, into North Carolina, through the town of Franklin, and eventually joined the Appalachian Trail. At Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee, I ventured onto the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and back through Brevard towards South Carolina.

In preparation for my journey, I started with a big picture and then fine-tuned the details for my adventure by consulting guidebooks, maps, websites and knowledgeable staff from local outfitters. I completed my journey in ten days, but a month would be better for a hike of this duration.

Rhododendron blossoms line a route near the intersection of the Art Loeb and Mountains-to-Sea Trails. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

Rhododendron blossoms line a route near the intersection of the Art Loeb and Mountains-to-Sea Trails. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

Even at my blistering pace, this walk brought me closer to the sights, sounds and smells of a wonderful, living temperate rainforest. For days, I enjoyed the sound of songbirds and the fragrance of the wildflowers as I watched for newts, snails, and yes, one rattlesnake along the trail. Although physically depleted, I returned both mentally and spiritually charged with a renewed appreciation for our region.

The trickiest section resides in Transylvania County where a road detour is necessary to bypass the missing link. Here, a proposed trail could join DuPont State Recreational Forest in North Carolina and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina, bridging 24,000 acres of protected land. Measuring roughly two miles long, this connecting trail would also help to protect the propagation of local flora and provide a wildlife corridor for many animals.

The DuPont Connector, as it’s called, is a focus project of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, a western North Carolina land trust dedicated to protecting the region’s natural resources. Since 1994, CMLC has protected more than 27,000 acres of natural lands across the Blue Ridge, including more than 3,000 acres directly buffering DuPont State Recreational Forest. Often, the land trust works with landowners and partners to make many of these protected lands available for public recreation.

In 2013, a year after my thru-hike of SALT, I began a year of service with CMLC through the AmeriCorps Project Conserve program with a motivation to help move the DuPont Connector project forward. During my service with CMLC, I’ve been encouraged by the enthusiastic feedback from local residents and hikers about the concept of SALT. Thanks in large part to the work of a handful of organizations responsible for the creation of the Palmetto, Foothills, Bartram, Appalachian, Mountains-to-Sea and other regional trails, the route is close to completion.

My hike inspired me to encourage others to explore this amazing region rather than drive or fly to a far-away place. I strongly believe that this loop could soon become a popular hike for many throughout the country. And as hikers venture through the scenic mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, they will inevitably visit and patronize the businesses in the towns that SALT passes through along the way, including Brevard, Cherokee and Franklin, N.C.

You can help make SALT a reality by joining or volunteering with organizations involved with the construction and maintenance of the route. Visit these organizations at:,,,,, and


An overview poster of the SALT map is now available from with all proceeds going towards the completion of the route in Transylvania County.

An overview poster of the SALT map is now available from with all proceeds going towards the completion of the route in Transylvania County.

Tennessee Invests in Main Street

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Nolen Nychay

The Main Street Festival of Gallatin, Tenn., celebrates its 16th anniversary this October, keeping community traditions alive with local music and homemade food and craft vendors. Last year, the event drew more than 25,000 visitors looking to enjoy the rustic charm that the small communities of Tennessee pride themselves on.

The Greater Gallatin Inc. nonprofit organization hosts the annual festival to stimulate local businesses. The Tennessee Main Street Program, a statewide resource for communities revitalizing their downtowns, aims to preserve the authenticity of such small towns through their new “Ignite Downtown Economic Action” Initiative. “We’re excited about the potential of this new initiative to set realistic, economically prudent goals for Tennessee’s culturally unique towns,” says Todd Morgan of the Tennessee Main Street Program.

Launching this April, the IDEA Initiative will be a one-year program designed to help 27 Tennessee Main Street towns identify areas of economic opportunity. Economic development experts will visit each town, including mountain communities such as Bristol and Kingsport, to identify what most effectively attracts visitors and how that might be expanded. Afterwards, small business owners, city officials and local residents can gather for a public workshop to hear these expert opinions and offer their own suggestions for improvement. A final report with recommendations will be presented to each town hall to use for future projects.

2013 Marks Banner Year for Open Space in Virginia

By Emmalee Zupo

This past year marked the fourth most successful period for land conservation by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation — a state agency responsible for preserving open space and areas of cultural significance.

Nonprofit organizations such as New River Land Trust, based in Blacksburg, Va., have been helping local landowners place their properties into permanent conservation under the stewardship of VOF. The 56,697 acres of land protected from development in 2013 included more than 900 acres added to the state’s New River Trail State Park.*

Conserved properties also included historical landmarks such as the Shot Tower Historical State Park in Wythe County, Va., which protects one of the only remaining shot towers in the United States — and the remnants of what was once a major industry for the state. Shot towers are tall buildings that were used to create lead shot for firearms by dropping molten lead from a height of 150 feet into water, where the lead was then cooled.

John Eustis, executive director of the New River Land Trust, attributes the success of this past year to strong outreach efforts. “We couldn’t do our work without the support of our community,” Eustis says. “Thanks should always be given to those landowners and those community members who support conservation.”

*CORRECTION: The print version of this article incorrectly stated that 900 miles were added to the New River Trail scenic route. We regret the error.