UT Students Complete 1,157-mile Tour of the Tennessee River


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — Four states, five days, 1,157 miles and all the catfish they could eat. A dozen University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Architecture and Design students have completed their tour of the Tennessee River, but their work has just begun.

The students are part of the Governor's Chair Tennessee River Studio, led by Brad Collett, assistant professor of landscape architecture. They traveled along the Tennessee River through Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky to understand the influences and impacts on the river system.

The studio looks at those who live near, work on and engage with the river to understand and mitigate challenges, and to recognize and take advantage of the river's untapped potential.

In August, the students built a Tennessee River atlas to capture the communities, landscapes and systems of the river's watershed. But the tour gave them the opportunity to see how these features interact with the health of the river and meet face-to-face with people who rely on and are impacted by the river system.

"It is unmistakable that the Tennessee River system and its watershed are the lifeblood of the region," said Kenny Townsend, a third-year student in the college's Master of Landscape Architecture program. "The river system, much like any organic circulatory system, is a mode of transport, distributing sustenance and removing waste. The pulse and overall health can be measured by its water quality. In the case of the Tennessee River system, we found that it exhibits its fragility."

The students and faculty began their five-day journey at the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers, where the Tennessee River begins.

They wound their way through the region and questioned river system engineers about challenges with human interaction with the river. They stood alongside farmers and learned how the river often dictates the success of crops.

The group met with city planners and ecologists to hear about urban development and water quality. They discussed tourism, recreation, industry, pollution, energy production and more with business and community leaders and representatives of nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

During the tour—inspired by river culture and those they met along the way—the students affectionately referred to themselves as river rats, junior rangers and aquatots. They found iconic mom-and-pop restaurants and feasted on barbecue and catfish.

Now, the students are tasked with fall semester projects to assimilate the information they gathered into design solutions to address the river's challenges.

The students' research also included water quality sampling, photo essays and individual reflections.

Their proposals will be reviewed by river stakeholders and peer educators Nov. 18 in the college's Fab Lab. Plans to share the work with members of the Tennessee River community are currently under development.