Visitors check out one of the interpretive panels on the Watershed Path. (Photo: Contributed)

For thousands of years, the Tennessee River, like many major waterways around the world, has served as a cradle of civilization, with the area’s natural beauty and biological riches drawing people to its banks.

A new interpretive trail, the Watershed Path, was recently dedicated on the grounds of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, 175 Baylor School Road. The short walking trail offers visitors an opportunity to appreciate the region’s history while gaining a better understanding of its ecological and historical roots.

“While a team of archaeologists [was] conducting a comprehensive cultural assessment of this location, we recognized the opportunity to tell others about the site’s historic significance,” Dr. Anna George, the aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education, said in a prepared statement. “Although there was no evidence of a permanent settlement at the site, the team did find pottery shards and ancient fire pits that indicate people camped at this spot more than 3,000 years ago.”

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It is thought humans may have visited the riverside site as far back as 8,000 years ago. Clean water was plentiful, and the river’s surrounding woods and wetlands were an abundant resource for food, shelter and tool-making. However, archaeological evidence suggests this particular location was only used as a short-term campsite, with anywhere from a few months to possibly centuries passing before the next campers would come by.

Archaeology is just one focus of the Watershed Path. Five interpretive panels along the path trace the early history of “first terrace” communities, reveal how waterways shape our world, and demonstrate how today’s communities thrive along, and are dependent upon, healthy river systems.

The Chickamauga chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, citing a desire to educate future generations about the area’s historic and ecological significance, provided the aquarium with a $10,000 grant to research and produce the Watershed Path.

“Our members are happy that our organization could participate in the development of permanent educational materials relating to our local history,” said Barbie Standefer, special projects grants chairman for DAR’s Chickamauga chapter.

As a result of the grant, the conservation institute now serves not only as a hub of aquatic conservation efforts in the Southeast, but also as a place where visitors can better understand the area’s history and the long and intimate relationship humans have had with the Tennessee River.

George said:

We are grateful for such a generous donation from the NSDAR to help us celebrate the cultural significance of this site. Healthy rivers have always been essential—here in the Moccasin Bend/Williams Island area of the Tennessee River Gorge and around the world. Reflecting on our history helps us be mindful of our role as stewards of the incredible natural resources that surround us and how we all need to work together to ensure these treasures are protected for the future.

The Watershed Path is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s closed on major holidays. Because parking is limited, please contact [email protected] to schedule group visits to the Watershed Path.

If you want to tour the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, check the events and programs calendar on the aquarium’s website. Monthly tours are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Learn more about the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute here.

(From left to right) Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium vice president of conservation science and education; Carol Rogers, NSDAR former regent; Joyce Duke, NSDAR regent; Barbie Standefer, NSDAR special projects grants chair; and Aggie Stephenson, Tennessee Aquarium grants officer. (Photo: Contributed)
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