Powell River Blueways

Claiborne County, Tennessee

Claiborne County, located in Northeast Tennessee along the border of Kentucky and Virginia, is home to significant portions of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Norris Lake and many hiking trails, lakes and other waterways. The county is known for the White Lightening Trail Festival and The Powell River Kayak and Canoe Regatta. Norris Lake, the historical park and festivals have been the primary tourism drivers in the county for the last few decades.

Like many rural counties in Tennessee, Claiborne County leaders recognized the value of the county’s natural resources and wanted to create new outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors. The Powell River had not been looked at as an asset for outdoor recreation or tourism, even though over 70 miles of the scenic river runs through the county. There were very few places where the public could access the river and even fewer with good parking and access signage. There was also not a good way for residents and visitors to know of canoeing and kayaking opportunities to encourage use of the river.

In 2014, business leaders introduced the idea to host an annual kayak and canoe race on the Powell River to bring new focus to the waterway and county. The Claiborne County Tourism Commission embraced the idea and established a formal committee for the project. Access to the river and promotion for the event were provided through two riverside property owners - Well Being Retreat Center and Riverside Rentals - that also lead the committee that manages the event. This Powell River Tourism Committee proved to be an important organizational asset, and the Powell River Kayak and Canoe Regatta grew in popularity.

In 2017, Claiborne County leaders identified the Powell River and annual regatta event as important tourism assets during TNECD-sponsored Asset-Based Planning sessions. Claiborne County leaders met with TNECD to explore how Claiborne County could develop the river resource and learned how they could utilize the new TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant (AEG) for the project. Formal planning for the development of a new Powell River Blueway Trail and user amenities for paddling and fishing became the focus of the county’s Asset Enhancement Grant application.


Powell River Blueway Project

The Powell River Blueway Trail is an endeavor by the Claiborne County Tourism Commission to identify, improve and publicize public access points on and off the 70 miles of the Powell River in the county. In 2017, TNECD awarded a $50,000 Asset Enhancement Grant for the following purposes:

  •  Provide road signage to public river access locations
  • Provide river mileage signs along the Powell River so boaters would know their location and the distance to the next take-out point
  • Create the Powell River Blueway Trail website
  • Design and produce brochure and maps informing the public about the Powell River and how to access it
  • Construct a new river access point at Indian Creek
  • Improve the road to the Gap Creek access point
  • Identify and obtain land rights to one new access on the river
  • Draft an action plan for future Powell River Blueway Trail development actions

Project leaders have engaged a broad range of community volunteers and sponsors along with local, state and federal partners including TWRA, TDEC, TDOT and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry who have assisted in development of the Powell River Blueway Trail including river access point improvements, installation of directional signage, event management and marketing efforts. The Nature Conservancy has also played a key role in the project and continues to support local fundraising efforts, including the writing of two new Foundation grants awarded in 2017 and 2018 to support river conservation and species preservation, the creation of new access points, river ecology education, event equipment purchases and community outreach and communications.  

Claiborne County now has two new formal access locations in place with three more under development. New marketing and communications resources including the Powell River Blueway Trail website, new social media pages, and brochures make information readily available, and new directional and river mileage signage enhance user experiences. From 2017 to 2018, the regatta event grew substantially, and the Powell River Blueway Facebook page saw an increase from 480 to more than 1280 followers.

Community and Economic Impact

Claiborne County leaders are fulfilling their tourism, economic development and quality of life objectives through this project. New outdoor recreation opportunities are being made available to residents and tourists, and regatta event revenue is being used to continue the development of river access points and amenities. First year project results include:


Blueway Project Development

River Access Points Completed 2
River Access Points Currently Under Development 
Wayfinding Signs Installed 15
Directional Signs Installed on State Highways 12
River Mile Marker Signs Installed 21
Total New Marketing and Communications Resources*
*Website, social media, brochures, event signs and banners

2018 Regatta

Regatta Event Participants    
(11 Claiborne County, 59 Tennessee and 18 Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky racers)  
Community Volunteers for the Regatta 73
Event Sponsors 
(Local businesses, sporting goods, local outfitters, Clinch-Powell River RC&D, Claiborne Quality Council)
Event Promotions 
(Regatta website, banners, brochures, Race Day Programs, T-Shirts for Participants & hats for winners)
Total Event Sponsorships 
Total Regatta Registration Donations/Revenues    
(Regatta event expenses and future Powell River Blueways Trail improvements)

Project Funding

TNECD Sponsored Asset-Based Planning    
(Community assessment, facilitation, priorities identification)
TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant 
(Blueway trail marketing, access point development, directional signage)
The White Lightning Trail Festival Match 
Claiborne County Quality Council Contribution 
Claiborne Economic Partnership Contribution 
Well Being Retreat Center & Riverside Rentals Regatta Day In-kind Contribution    
(Blueway trail access, blueway trail improvements)
TWRA In-kind Contributions 
(Lease of key access sites for public use from TVA)    
The Nature Conservancy In-kind Contributions
(Grant writing, contract negotiations, education development)
2018 Corporate and Business Sponsorships 
2018 Regatta Registration Donations/Revenue
 (Event expenses, blueway trail improvements)
Tennessee Watershed Initiative Grant
 (Capital item equipment purchase for future Regatta events)
Tennessee River Basin Network Grant 
 (River ecology, education, outreach communications)

Total Blueways Project Funding

*Projections for local investments, grant and in-kind funding



Project Leadership and Partners

Claiborne Economic Partnership - Powell River Blueway Trail Committee Chair - Project Contact

Claiborne County

Well Being Retreat Center

Riverside Rentals

Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency

Tennessee Department of Agriculture – Forestry Division

Tennessee Department of Transportation

Tennessee Valley Authority

University of Tennessee – Institute for Public Service

The Nature Conservancy – Tennessee and Virginia Chapters

Clinch–Powell RC& D

Tennessee Scenic River Association (TSRA)

Claiborne County Quality Council

Clinch-Powell RC&D & TN Watershed Initiative

For project information visit the Claiborne Economic Partnership Blueways Committee.



TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant Program

The Asset-Based Planning program was developed through the Rural Task Force to assist distressed counties with strategic planning and development of short-term goals that will address the causes of distress: unemployment rate, per capita income, and poverty rate. TNECD and the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service is working with the communities to develop action-oriented goals based on the communities’ assets. Following that process, TNECD ensures that the communities have the resources to accomplish its goals and created the Asset Enhancement Grant provided through the Governor’s Rural Task Force and Tennessee Rural Economic Opportunity Act of 2016 and 2017.

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.