The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development today jointly announced 27 communities will receive more than $1.3 million in the fourth round of Tourism Enhancement Grants to assist with tourism infrastructure assets. The two agencies partnered to assist counties and cities seeking to improve local tourism assets and ultimately, attract more visitors to their area. In 2017, visitors added $20.7 billion to Tennessee’s economy.

Tourism Enhancement Grants are designed for cities and counties seeking to invest in local tourism infrastructure assets. Eligible projects include stages, signage, enhancement to attractions or venues and other resources that target expanding local tourism.

“I am pleased to support Tennessee’s growing tourism sector, particularly in rural counties,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Tourism continues to be a key economic development driver across our state, and these grants will help even more Tennesseans experience the benefits of this industry.”

The City of Dayton was among grant recipients, and received $42,500, which according to local officials, will be used for the construction of a new handicap accessible courtesy boat dock at the Blythe Ferry boat ramp.

“We’re honored to have been chosen to receive this highly competitive tourism enhancement grant from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development,” said Rhea Economic and Tourism Coucil Executive Director Dennis Tumlin. “The grant’s purpose is to help communities improve their tourism infrastructure by improving local tourism assets

RETC’s successful grant application is for the construction of new handicap accessible courtesy boat dock at the Blythe Ferry boat ramp, Tumlin said.

“This is one of the most heavily used tourism assets that we have in the area and it has never had a courtesy dock.,” he said. “I frequently receive complaints from visitors about the lack of suitable facilities in the area.”

Tumlin said this new courtesy dock will assist locals and visitors alike when launching onto Lake Chickamauga and will help prevent damage to boats when launching into Lake Chickamauga. This handicap accessible facility will be the only such facility on the South end of Rhea County.

The location was also chosen as our area plays host to the annual Sandhill Crane Festival, Tumlin said, where thousands of tourists and photographers visit the community for the annual migration of theses cranes and other wildlife viewing opportunities on the wildlife refuge.

“Visitors also frequent the area for viewing of the Bald Eagles that winter on the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge,” Tumlin said. “In addition, this dock will also serve as an ending point to the newly formed Hiwassee River Blueway project.”

More information about the Hiwassee River Blueway project can be found by visiting www.hiwasseeblueway.com.

“This courtesy dock and access area improvement project will improve the visitor’s experience and encourage repeat visits to our area,” Tumlin said. “We’re looking forward to getting this project completed this winter. “

In keeping with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s first executive order to better serve rural Tennessee, the grants will address tourism needs for 7 distressed and 12 at-risk counties. $976,128 funds are earmarked for the 19 rural counties.

The Tourism Enhancement Grant program, in its fourth round, is funded through the Rural Economic Opportunity Act, which is designed to improve the economic indicators in rural communities across Tennessee. Each application was supported by the community’s senator and representative in the Tennessee General Assembly.