Article Authors: Christine Doka & Randall Eaker (CAC AmeriCorps 2018-2019)
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has been a cornerstone in East Tennessee since the 1930s. The TVA Act, which created TVA, was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to help residents of East Tennessee recover from the Great Depression through employment, access to electricity, and otherwise generally improving the quality of life in the region. Since then, TVA has grown to serve over 10 million people in 7 southeastern states. If you ask a local about TVA, you may hear about the noticeable steam plants that overlook our rivers, or the large dams that were built to control flooding in the area. However, TVA does much more than providing electricity and controlling flooding; TVA also offers outdoor recreation spaces and economic development opportunities.
This is the first year that TVA has hosted a CAC AmeriCorps member, Randall Eaker. Christine recently had the opportunity to meet with Randall at the Douglas Dam reservoir in Sevier County to see what he was up to…
What is your motivation for serving in AmeriCorps?
I wanted to gain an appreciation and understanding of what it means to work through service, connect with the community, and connect to the greater good. I ultimately want a meaningful career and saw AmeriCorps as a way to explore what that could mean in terms of environmental service.
Why was TVA appealing to you for a service site?
I grew up in the Tennessee Valley, Chattanooga to be exact, and always saw and heard about TVA but didn’t really know what it was all about. I quickly learned that TVA is much more than just an energy provider, they provide services to the public in the forms of recreational areas and other forms of environmental stewardship.
What is your role as an AmeriCorps member serving at TVA?
I help with behind the scenes work to keep the recreational areas fun and safe spaces for the public to enjoy. I do everything from trail maintenance, to litter pickup, to taking inventory, which is what we’re doing today. Every day is something different, which makes it sometimes difficult to describe what I do, but I enjoy the thrill of it all!
What is your connection to the community you serve?
TVA covers a very large area, I don’t cover all of it, but we do a lot of travelling between sites. I spend most of my time at Douglas, Cherokee, and Norris reservoirs. Unfortunately I don’t get to have much direct interaction with the community, but each time I go out I see evidence that the spaces are being used and enjoyed which keeps me motivated. Since beginning service at TVA, I have learned a lot about the East Tennessee region and culture, which helps me feel connected as well.
What activities or projects have you worked on so far this year?
One notable project that I really enjoyed was maintaining the 4.7 mile Loyston Mountain Bike Trail located at the Norris Reservoir. Earlier in the year I also had the opportunity to collaborate with the Cherokee Lake Users Association, Carson Newman students, and the Grainger County volunteer fire department in cleaning up islands in the lake. We filled up 5-6 pontoon boats with trash, which was pretty crazy to see!
What skills have you gained through your service?
Flexibility and adaptation, I learn something new every week. There are a lot of things that need to be done so I am exposed to a variety of tasks, such as vegetation and wildlife control, talking to homeowners, outreach, picking up debris, etc. You would be surprised at all that goes into maintaining natural resources.
What are we doing today?
Taking inventory of some of TVA’s resources. TVA wants to get a tangible count of all of the assets, mapping them on an ipad so that they can be better known and maintained by TVA staff. Prior to this project, most assets and their condition/maintenance schedule are stored in the brains of employees, so there is a big push to map out this information. They are on the second year of this project, and are slated to complete sometime next year. This work might not seem exciting, but it is a piece of the puzzle that the general public might not ever think about in terms of what goes on behind the scenes to ensure they have access to these resources.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.
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