News Release from Tennessee Tech University, April 5, 2019:

Link: https://www.tntech.edu/news/releases/18-19/day-on-the-hill.php

State leaders learned more about Tennessee Tech University’s Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge, an initiative that will accelerate rural innovation and collaboration across the state, at the recent Tennessee Tech Day on the Hill at the state capitol.

Tennessee Tech representatives carried the message of the grand challenge, which is an effort with ambitious but achievable goals that harnesses the capabilities of a campus while inspiring imaginations.

Rural Reimagined focuses on developing and supporting success throughout rural areas in Tennessee that can be replicated to help rural areas throughout the country and the world.

Tech President Phil Oldham shared his excitement for the work that was led by faculty leaders and more than 50 other work group members to shape the priorities and actions of the university. Tech’s director of its Center for Rural Innovation Michael Aikens says the university will focus on harnessing all academic disciplines to transform rural living.

“Rural Reimagined is a grassroots effort, and is squarely in line with Gov. Lee’s visions for rural transformation,” said Aikens. “It is important the legislature know about our goals for reimagining the rural landscape, so that they can assist with support, awareness and action in the communities they represent.

“Having the legislature on board with Rural Reimagined sends a message to their constituents and communities that they are committed to helping and improving their rural areas,” Aikens said. “Support from the legislature will legitimize both Tennessee Tech’s efforts and Gov. Lee’s call for action in rural areas.

Besides legislators, Tech officials were also able to interact with other public figures, medical doctors and student interns, helping energize the Tech students who are currently interning on the hill.

“We were able to have discussions with our student interns about development of a student advisory board for the grand challenge,” said Aikens. “It is our hope to establish a diverse set of student voices on this board. We think it is critical that political science majors have a seat at the table.”

Tech has already been assisting rural areas with career readiness certification; a remote area medical clinic; a small business development center; a cybersecurity education, research and outreach center; a STEM mobile unit for K-12 student success; water quality research to monitor and protect natural resources; and, archives of rural history.

For more information on Rural Reimagined, go to www.tntech.edu/grand-challenge.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, April 2, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/news/2019/4/2/local-farms-creating-unforgettable-memories-this-easter.html

NASHVILLE – With spring in the air and warmer weather within reach, farms across the state are offering exciting activities for the upcoming holiday. From riding ponies to getting pictures with the Easter Bunny, you can spend a whole day of family fun making memories that last a lifetime.

According to mental health professionals, holidays can be a time of stress. The thought of cooking and planning activities can be overwhelming.

However, local farmers are stepping up to the plate this Easter holiday. Tennessee farms are providing the ultimate stress relief that is sure to entertain the whole family.

“At our farm, there are no mad dashes — just a day filled with nonstop Easter egg hunts, farm-wide scavenger hunts for older kids, and, of course, pictures with the Easter bunny!” said Jimmy McCulley of Amazin’ Acres in White County. “We encourage you to bring your camera to capture the amazing memories with farm animals, the bee line zipline, the jumping pillow, milking a cow or goat, racing ducks, and more!”

One farmer has been planning events for years. “At Falcon Ridge, our annual Easter egg hunt provides families the opportunity to enjoy a day on the farm,” Bart Gilmer of Hardeman County said. “Our visitors can hunt eggs, get a picture with the Easter Bunny, visit the Petting Zoo, and much more without the work of planning an event.”

Don’t have kids and on the hunt for an adult Easter adventure? Look no further. “It’s time to find your inner child and get hopping to Lucky Ladd Farms for Nashville’s famous Bunny and Brew – Adult Egg Hunt,” said Amy Ladd of Lucky Ladd Farms of Rutherford County. “We will have live entertainment, fun lawn games, pre-hunt lite bites, and all-you-can-drink brew and coke products.”

Don’t get stressed — hop on over to the farm this Easter and let the farmers do the planning. The sounds of laugher and joy of all ages will fill the air making for life-long memories.

Go to www.PickTNProducts.org or use the free Pick Tennessee mobile app to find a farm near you. Follow “PickTNProducts” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn more about current seasonal recipes, products, and activities.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, March 18, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/news/2019/3/18/grant-program-announced-for-specialty-crops-.html

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).

“The SCBGP supports specialty crop producers through funding for research, education, marketing, and innovative projects,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. said. “Tennessee is an agriculturally-diverse state producing a wide range of specialty crops that can benefit from participating in this program.”

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture administers the grants, which are authorized through the USDA. SCBGP funds are granted to enhance production and competitiveness of specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, floriculture, and other nursery crops.

Universities, institutions, cooperatives, producers, and industry or community-based organizations may submit a proposal for funding. The program aims to support projects that directly affect multiple Tennessee producers and have a positive, long-lasting impact on Tennessee agriculture.

Previous grant funding assisted the Appalachian Region Wine Producers Association’s efforts to designate two American Viticultural Areas in Tennessee, emphasizing the distinction of grapes grown there. The University of Tennessee used grant funds to compare lettuce yield and quality using drip and overhead irrigation on biodegradable mulches.

“The SCBGP has allowed us to address real issues for Tennessee producers,” Dr. Annette Wszelaki, Plant Sciences Professor at the University of Tennessee, said. “From production practices to food safety, the SCBGP has given us the opportunity to provide demonstrations, solutions, and education to our specialty crop growers statewide.”

Eligible individuals and organizations must submit proposals using the 2019 project template. The project template, performance measures, and information required to apply are available online here.

Proposals are due by April 4 and should be submitted by email to tn.scbg@tn.gov. First-time recipients have a funding limit of $25,000. Early submission is encouraged.

For more information about the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, email tn.scbg@tn.gov.

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, Jan. 25:

LINK: https://www.tn.gov/ecd/news/2019/1/25/commissioner-rolfe-appoints-sammie-arnold-as-assistant-commissioner-of-community-and-rural-development.html

Arnold will lead TNECD’s efforts to promote opportunities across rural Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe announced today the appointment of Sammie Arnold as TNECD’s assistant commissioner of Community and Rural Development.

Arnold, a native of Dyersburg, Tenn., has been with the department since 2013 and most recently served as assistant commissioner of Strategy and Legislative Affairs.

“With 80 of Tennessee’s 95 counties deemed as rural, our commitment to these areas of the state is a top priority for our department. In just three short years, the number of high-quality jobs in rural counties increased from 50 percent to nearly 65 percent, and we remain focused on continuing this growth,” Rolfe said. “Sammie’s wealth of knowledge of the state is matched by his genuine ambition to help expand opportunities across rural Tennessee, and I look forward to seeing the great things that will be accomplished under his leadership.”

Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Lee issued his first executive order, requiring all state executive departments to issue a statement of rural impact and provide recommendations for better serving rural Tennessee. It is the first step by the administration to accelerate plans to address the 15 Tennessee counties that are designated as distressed.

TNECD offers a number of programs and grants aimed at assisting rural communities to build assets and prepare themselves for industrial recruitment. Since 2017, the department has provided more than $34 million in funding to rural communities throughout the state. In addition, companies have invested $3.5 billion and committed to create more than 17,000 new jobs in rural communities over the past two years.

In 2018, TNECD landed 127 projects representing nearly 21,000 new job commitments. Of those projects, 54 percent located in rural counties, an increase from 45 percent in 2014.

“I am tremendously thankful for this opportunity. As a rural Tennessean with deep small-town roots, I am incredibly passionate about supporting our rural communities and protecting their way of life,” Arnold said. “Governor Lee has asked us to be aggressive in developing creative solutions to help our rural communities that are struggling. My team and our department are up to the task.”

Press Release from the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, January 18, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/twra/news/2019/1/18/cwd-update-given-at-first-tfwc-2019-meeting.html

MEMPHIS — An update on the status of chronic wasting disease (CWD) was presented during the first meeting of 2019 which concluded Friday at the Duck Unlimited national headquarters.

Chuck Yoest, CWD coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, made a presentation on the agency’s chronic wasting disease response. Yoest informed the commission the agency has sampled more than 4,800 deer this season in Tennessee. Also, he shared that 62 samples from Hardeman and Fayette counties have been confirmed CWD positive.

The agency anticipates more positive CWD results from these areas since it is placing a heavy emphasis on sampling there according to its response plan. Yoest also said that public meeting held in Bolivar earlier in January in regard to CWD, had an attendance of about 400.

Jamie Feddersen, TWRA migratory gamebird program leader, gave a preview of the 2019-20 season. Changes in the federal framework require the TWRA to update its proclamation each year. The changes presented at the meeting were based mainly on hunter input.

Anticipated federal rules will now allow states to have Jan. 31 as the last day of duck season. Previously federal rules prevented states from having duck season any later than the last Sunday in January. Hunter input indicates the desire to end the duck season Jan. 31. The agency recommends the Reelfoot Foot Zone phase 1 season be Nov. 16-19 and the statewide phase 1 season Nov. 29-Dec. 2. The Reelfoot and statewide zone phase 2 season would be Dec. 7-Jan. 31.

For woodcock season, there was support to provide more hunting days in January so the agency is proposing a split season. For crow, there was support for more hunting days in cooler weather, The agency is also proposing a split season for crow.

There was a presentation from Ducks Unlimited representative DU’s Dave Kostersky. On his annual visit from DU Canada, he reported that there was another dry fall and again officials were hoping for a wet spring in the habitat corridor. He annually makes the visit to provide an update on the partnership and conditions in Canada.

Frank Fiss, TWRA Fisheries Division chief, presented an overview of the fish dealer license to address TFWC questions about license requirements. A fish dealer license is required for bait dealers, fish farmers and operators of pay lakes. In Tennessee, anglers who fish at a licensed pay lake are not required to have a fishing license. This exemption is common among most surrounding states.

Dale Hall, Ducks Unlimited chief executive officer, was honored by the TFWC with a resolution. He has been DU’s top official since 2010 and previously served the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for 31 years, the four as its director.

The commission will consider four rulemaking changes. The TWRA is establishing rules regarding public record requests and will consider changes to the fees associated with motorized boat registrations.

The commission’s established a permanent Tennessee’s Native Son license. When initially created, the Native Son license had an expiration date of Feb. 28, 2019. The change allows the TWRA to continue selling the Native Son license into the future.

The commission passed an amended rule in regard to permit and access fees for non-motorized vessels the rule creates a permit for outfitters that establishes minimum operating standards and associated fees.

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE UPPER CUMBERLAND TOURISM ASSOCIATION, AUGUST 28, 2018:

Level of visitor spending in Upper Cumberland climbs to all-time high

Nashville – Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Kevin Triplett announced today Tennessee tourism’s direct domestic and international travel expenditures reached a new all-time record high of $20.7 billion in 2017, up 6.3 percent over the previous year, as reported by the U.S. Travel Association. The announcement was made at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

For the 12th consecutive year, tourism topped $1 billion in state and local sales tax revenue, reaching $1.8 billion. That marks a 7.6 percent increase over 2016, higher than the national growth of travel related state tax revenues of 4.6 percent. Tourism also generated 184,300 jobs for Tennesseans, a 3.1 percent growth year over year.

The 2017 direct domestic and international travel expenditure for the Upper Cumberland region reached an all time high of $420.9 Mil. Overall the 14 counties in the Upper Cumberland saw a 6.3% increase in their tourism spending. Two of our counties see more than $100 Million – Putnam – $132.03 Mil and Cumberland – $121.54 Mil.

Chambers of Commerce in the smaller UC counties operate on very limited budgets and they cooperate with all the 14 counties and the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association on joint promotions.

“It is important to understand that travel & tourism creates jobs, drives economic growth and helps build better societies. The Upper Cumberland of Tennessee is a prime example of this, as our region and its natural beauty is expected to attract more tourists in the coming years” said Ruth Dyal, director of the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association. It will be vital for Upper Cumberland communities and private sectors to work together with the public to ensure that tourism growth is sustainable, inclusive and benefits everyone.”

Commissioner Kevin Triplett said. “The authenticity and Southern hospitality from our communities and partners gives visitors an unbeatable experience and inspires them to return. The numbers show Tennessee is a destination of choice for visitors around the world. However, we would not have these numbers if not for the capital investments, renovations and dedication made by tourism partners across the state to deliver great experiences that create wonderful memories.”

To view the full report, click here. For more information, contact Ruth Dyal, executive director for the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association at 931-537-6347 or by email at uctourism@gmail.com.

Cool respite from stuffy summer doldrums; Backwoods-style river adventures inside McMinnville city limits

Set amidst a remarkable panorama of thickset woods, rolling pasturelands, rugged mountain slopes and soaring yonder plateau scarps, McMinnville has for two centuries served as a regional hub of commerce, culture and active leisure.

Writing for the intro to the 2009 “Images of America Series” photography book celebrating the town’s bicentennial, authors Monty Clell Wanamaker and Chris Keathley described how “the sheer exceptional beauty of the ancient and mystical mountains and forests with their spiritual attributes” mesmerized early 19th Century travelers and settlers in what is now Warren County.

So too did “the numerous rivers and streams overflowing with fresh water” that twisted down valleys and cut through the land.

“It was that beauty and grandeur of the region that enthralled the area’s first white settlers,” wrote Keathley and Wanamaker, who passed away at the age of 79 in January. “It would draw to its wilderness many anxious, industrious and learned men who had come to build their homes and lives. And so it was that McMinnville came into being.”

You could say the area has always attracted people who appreciate exploration and seek adventure.

Mickey Heath at Smooth Rapids

So in 2012 when four hometown buddies who grew up together decided to start up a kayak-rental and shuttle service to help introduce visitors and locals alike to the aesthetically fertile Barren Fork and Collins Rivers, they were actually on pretty solid ground historically.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boathouse

Early on, they really didn’t envision their enterprise evolving into a full-service launchpad and laid-back landing zone for paddle sport river recreation. It started off just a side hustle from the back of a pickup.

“We bought some boats and were renting them out of our truck — when we’d make a little money we would invest it back in the company,” said Mickey Heath, who along with Michael Lockhart and brothers Jimmy and Todd Barker founded the company that came to be Smooth Rapids.

Located just a few blocks from Main Street McMinnville and the town square on a formerly rundown piece of backstreet river-bottom residential property, today Smooth Rapids is a buzzing restaurant, campground and outdoor music venue.

These days, renting 100-150 boats makes for a pretty good weekend, Heath said, adding, “If you were to tell me that six years ago, I would have said you were crazy.”

Smooth Rapids Outfitters sits on the banks of the Barren Fork River, which gathers from a web of runoff veins in western Warren County. It flows eastward for 23 or so serpentine miles before meeting the Collins River, a tributary of the Caney Fork, just east of McMinnville. The Barren Fork’s lower eight miles shape a lovely and languid course through and then around the edge of town.

Smooth Rapids is aptly named. The lower Barren Fork’s mostly unhurried currents make for typically mellow paddling, requiring only elementary navigation maneuvers.

“This is not whitewater kayaking. It’s more lazy river floating — that’s what the rivers around here are like,” said Heath.

The beauty is hypnotic, though, somehow enhanced by the knowledge you’re floating near a population center, which is often easy to forget as scenes of secluded sylvan riverscape float placidly by.

Learning to Love to Float

Because of the Barren Fork’s gentle descent grade, beginners of all ages can get the hang of handling a kayak in short and safe order.

Smooth Rapids puts a special emphasis on hosting and organizing floats for kids. Getting youngsters out on the water, piloting their own boat, can be a highly enjoyable confidence-building experience they’ll long remember and draw on.

Heath said all the Smooth Rapids crew tend to “love pretty much everything to do with the outdoors.” So introducing kids to the river who may never have had an opportunity to paddle before is exceptionally rewarding, he said, especially if they’re from more urbanized areas or at-risk backgrounds and maybe don’t often get the opportunity to get out and genuinely encounter nature.

As for the food-serving side of the business, Heath said the river “feeds our restaurant.”

Their decision to open a restaurant was based on straightforward and consistent observations made though firsthand market analysis. “When people get off the water, they are typically hungry. When they get here, they are ready to eat,” Heath said.

The moving-waters theme is apparent on the Smooth Rapids restaurant menu, where you can dive into a fleet of appetizers and craft brews. The entrée list contains a boatload of chicken baskets and sandwiches with names like the River Monster, the Riviera, the Daytripper and the Barren Fork Burger.

Confluence of Commerce and Recreation

In addition to their aim of luring people into a lifelong paddling habit, Smooth Rapids is seeking to promote greater visitation to the region by hosting festive outdoor events like the Aug. 3-5 reggae festival and the Sept. 22 McMinnville Mountain Crawl, an annual endurance-testing “adventure race” consisting of caving, biking, and kayaking around the vicinity.

Heath said he’s big believer in the idea that the rising tide of Warren County tourism commerce will ultimately lift more than just Smooth Rapids’ boats. All McMinnville profits from raising the area’s profile for dynamic outdoor-recreation potential, so it behooves local businesses to work together to make everybody’s visit a memorable one, he said.

“We really consider ourselves partners with the other restaurants in town — we don’t look at them as competition,” he said. “We all work together, because if somebody is going to come into town, maybe like to take in a show at Cumberland Caverns, then they may go to Collins River BBQ on Friday night and then come eat with us on Saturday night and then go to another restaurant on Sunday afternoon. This is what you want, everybody working together to keep that out-of-town traffic in the community having fun and spending money.”

To get in touch with Smooth Rapids, call 931-452-9251 or visit online at smoothrapids.com.

McMinnville-Warren County looking to cash in on wealth of outdoor riches

It’s almost always possible to imagine better living arrangements or conditions than one’s current circumstances.

But recognizing that the grass isn’t really always greener somewhere else often enables a person not only to enjoy a more contented and fulfilling existence in present time and place, but also to realize that opportunities exist right in one’s own backyard that others may in fact tend to envy.

To that end, business and political leaders in McMinnville have commissioned a comprehensive report demonstrating that, when it comes to the economic potential of tourism in the area, the grass is already pretty green in Warren County.

And it has the potential of getting greener all the time.

The “Adventure Tourism Plan for McMinnville-Warren County, Tennessee,” released in March after more than a year in the making, lends persuasive and meticulous support to a view that’s been dawning for the past decade on many who call the area home.

The plan’s thesis is this: As a result of its location and surrounding natural features and recreational assets — with hills, mountains, scenic rivers, lakes and exceptional beauty abounding that “cannot be created by the hands of man” — Warren County is distinctly suited to take advantage of Tennessee’s thriving tourism industry, with McMinnville serving as an “adventure hub.”

“Due to McMinnville-Warren County’s geographic location on the Eastern Highland Rim and at the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau, natural resources are in abundance with the Collins, Barren Fork, and Caney Fork rivers, Cumberland Caverns – a United States National Natural Landmark, and eight state parks/natural areas within 50 miles,” according to the plan, which was written by Griggs & Maloney, a Murfreesboro-based environmental-engineering planning and consulting firm.

Paid for using part of a $28,000 state tourism development grant, the Adventure Tourism Plan functions as a strategic blueprint for business, community leaders and entrepreneurs to grow the local tourism economy. It also serves as an impressive “inventory of places and activities” already attracting visitors heading out on Tennessee highways looking for adventure.

McMinnville Mayor Jim Haley

“For a long time, our community didn’t really see our natural beauty and our environmental assets as really a selling point,” said McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley. “But over the last few years, more and more people have been starting to see that using the mountains and caves and rivers and great climate and lushness all plays into a bigger picture. Those things already are here, we don’t have to build them, and opportunities are basically endless. So there’s no reason we can’t use that as an asset and strategy of get other people to come and appreciate it as well.”

Tapping TN Tourism

The backdrop for the bigger picture is that the Volunteer State as a whole is doing quite well in the realm of tourism development.

Tourism is among the state’s most booming economic sectors, with expenditures from the estimated 110 million people who visited Tennessee surpassing $19.3 billion in 2016, the most recent year comprehensive data is available. That was up 4.7 percent over the previous year, and marked the 11th consecutive year that tourism topped a billion dollars in state and local sales tax revenue.

In 2017, Tennessee earned a ranking — for the fourth consecutive year — among the Top 10 travel destinations in the U.S. And last year it was also deemed the fastest-growing state in America for international travel.

Visitation and spending by nonresidents in Warren County has been rising the past several years as well, as has attendance at state parks in the area, like Rock Island, South Cumberland and Fall Creek Falls.

While “laying a roadmap for the next 20 years” for tourism development in McMinnville and Warren County is a central purpose the adventure plan serves, Haley added that it can also be read as a promotional initiative for the entire region.

“We have to quit thinking of ourselves as singular units,” he said. “When people come to McMinnville, they might decide to go up to Sparta to the Calfkiller Brewery or over to the distillery at Short Mountain. When someone is coming to Cumberland Caverns or the Isha Yoga Center or they’re coming here for the Muskie Tournament or one of our other music venues, or if they’re just floating down the river, they’re not worried whether it’s Warren County. They don’t know if it is White County, Van Buren County or Warren County. All the rivers converge at Rock Island.”

As large metropolitan areas in Tennessee and beyond continue expanding as time goes on, “more and more people are going to be looking for outdoor opportunities,” said Ryan Maloney of Griggs & Maloney, the agency that drafted the plan.

Undoubtedly, more and more are going to discover that the Upper Cumberland is a “jewel,” he said.

Choose Your Own Adventure

An “adventure tourism trip” is generally described by travel-economy analysts and marketing industry professionals as one in which an individual, family or group travels to an area outside their normal realm of day-to-day lifestyle preoccupations for the purpose of engaging in some form of physical activity in a natural environment or as part of some “culturally immersive experience.”

Adventure tourism encompasses more than just higher-energy, adrenaline-elevating activities like rock climbing, mountain and road biking, caving, backcountry backpacking, zip-lining and kayaking — all of which are common activities in or around Warren County. It could also involve consciousness-elevating pursuits like simply exploring some new natural landscape or setting out to gain improved knowledge of, or a better appreciation for, how people live or used to live in a place of historical or ecological interest.

“The definitions of adventure tourism vary as much as the activities,” explains the plan, which catalogs a dizzying index of adventure-seeking pursuits one can embark upon in the vicinity.

Among them are kayaking, rafting, canoeing, paddle boarding, trophy sport fishing, motorized water sports of all manner, road cycling, mountain biking, skydiving, cave exploration trips, zip lining, bungee jumping, geocaching, target shooting, hang gliding/paragliding, historical tours and a spectacularly scenic yoga sanctuary boasting the largest meditation hall in the Western Hemisphere.

“Within 45 miles a visitor can explore eight state parks, access over 125 miles of hiking trails, mountain bike trails, kayaking, numerous waterfalls, caves, zip lining and ropes courses, numerous fishing opportunities, an 18-hole golf course, and a 1,500 to 2,000 year old stone fort,” notes the report. Also nearby are “two recreational lakes and three rivers that could easily be listed as wild and scenic.”

Besides all the natural beauty and recreational draw of the area, visitors are also lured by “the cultural resources that represent the heritage of the communities (that) are the tangible link to the past generations who established McMinnville-Warren County many years ago.”

Many activities, places and events that “meld heritage and adventure together to form a more experience based tourism” are in Warren County, the plan states. And McMinnville in particular — a “quintessential small town” with an attractive and active downtown and “tree lined streets” — is ideally stationed as a jumping-off point for adventure tourism throughout the region.

“McMinnville is unique in that it can function simultaneously as both a hub and destination within Warren County and the surrounding region for Adventure Tourism,” according to the plan, which notes that four major urban population centers home to an estimated 2.92 million people are within an easy two-hour drive of downtown McMinnville.

“Just as the natural beauty and the landscape of McMinnville-Warren County has created business and commerce that is still evident in the landscape today, more and more people, both residents and visitors, are coming to experience and interact with the natural beauty of the area and experience the small town main street feel of McMinnville,” the plan’s authors wrote.

McMinnville is, in fact, one of 35 nationally accredited “Main Street” communities in Tennessee.

Mandy Eller, McMinnville-Warren County Chamber of Commerce president.

Like Mayor Haley, Chamber of Commerce President Mandy Eller is among those who believe it makes sense to market McMinnville and Warren County more energetically to visitors seeking physically active getaways and rewarding cultural experiences.

“That is an opportunity for the whole Upper Cumberland — maybe we can build it as a model and then they can do it across the whole region,” she said of the Adventure Tourism Plan blueprint.

Eller, who grew up the daughter of a nurseryman and then became the wife of one, said she’s always been engaged in the community. But she acknowledges there were times as a younger adult when she took some of the region’s beauty, history and outdoor recreation for granted. But once she had children of her own, Eller said she became determined to instill in them a sense of pride in their hometown and county. That in turn led her to discovering things about the area for herself that she never knew.

Her impression now is that she’s immeasurable fortunate to live and raise a family of her own in a land of unbounded allure, potential and promise.

“We are completely spoiled here, we really are,” Eller said.

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, Sept. 20, 2017:

TDCI Announces Approval of Rates for 2018 Individual Marketplace

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) announces today the approval of insurance rates requested by the three carriers offering coverage on the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) ahead of Open Enrollment for 2018.

The rates sought by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Cigna, and Oscar Health for coverage on the FFM in 2018 are as follows:

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee: Average 21.4 percent increase (Range: 4.6% – 44.5%)

Cigna: Average 42.1 percent increase (Range: 12.2% – 182.2%)

Oscar Health: Initial Rate Filing (Rating Area 4)

A map detailing the carriers’ plans across Tennessee’s eight rating areas can be found here.

TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak, who testified twice this year to the Senate on behalf of consumers, has supported stabilization of the market by Congress in order to lower the 2018 rate requests. Recent bipartisan efforts ended Tuesday without an agreement.

“I’m disappointed by yesterday’s announcement out of Washington,” said McPeak. “While Tennessee is supportive of long-term strategies such as the Graham-Cassidy Amendment introduced in Congress, I appreciate the diligent efforts of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to find common ground in providing more immediate stabilization in the marketplace. Instead, it appears more likely that Tennesseans must prepare themselves for a round of actuarially justified rates for 2018 that are far higher than could be necessary as a result of uncertainty in Washington. On behalf of Tennessee consumers, I continue to urge Congress to take action to stabilize insurance markets. The Department stands ready to take action to aid consumers should stabilization measures be enacted.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must now review Tennessee’s approvals.

Companies will have until September 27 to sign agreements with CMS to participate in the marketplace.

On Oct. 5, the Department will hold a public meeting where insurance carriers will present their coverage plans to navigators.

Open Enrollment for 2018 is slated to begin Nov. 1 and last through Dec. 15.