Appalachia and Ozarks - Development Programs
Like coal, Appalachia's rivers have been a mixed blessing to the region. Some of the streams have been important transportation routeways, and water power was used by the earliest gristmills and sawmills. These rivers also had a darker side, for they frequently flooded their narrow valleys during periods of heavy rain. The southern highlands are the moistest area of the country east of the Pacific coast.
Out of a desire to control one of these rivers, the Tennessee, the largest and perhaps most successful regional development plan in American history was implemented. In the 1930s, a plan was conceived to harness the river and to use it to improve the economic conditions of the entire Tennessee Valley. As a result, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was first given the charge to develop the Tennessee River for navigation. Today, a three-meter barge channel exists as far upstream as Knoxville, Tennessee.
Most of the other activities of the TVA can be viewed as logical extensions of the initial commitment. Navigation development included the construction or purchase of a series of dams to guarantee stream flow and reduce flooding. As long as the dams were there, it was natural to include water-power facilities with them. Today, most of the more than 30 dams controlled by the TVA on the Tennessee and Kentucky Rivers have power-generating facilities. About 80 percent of the electricity produced at TVA facilities comes from thermal plants, including 10 that burn coal, and several nuclear-powered facilities. The TVA uses nearly 50 million tons of coal annually and is Appalachia's largest coal user.
The inexpensive electricity attracted to the valley a few industries that are heavy users of power, including a large aluminum-processing facility south of Knoxville. The country's first atomic research facility was placed at Oak Ridge, west of Knoxville, partly because of the availability of large amounts of power there. Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities of Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport are all substantial manufacturing centers. The TVA also became a principal developer and producer of artificial fertilizers, another heavy power-consuming industry.
Above the dams, the TVA initiated a major program to help valley farmers control erosion at the farm. The goal was to hold part of the floodwaters at the farm and to slow the rate at which the lakes were filling with silt.
In addition to the water itself, the Authority owned 520,000 hectares of land along parts of the rivers. Major public recreation areas were developed on some of this land, and the area is now a substantial recreation facility.
In 1965, Congress passed the Appalachian Redevelopment Act, which created the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Responsible for an area that extends from New York to Alabama, the commission has spent several billion dollars in a program to improve the region's economy. Its primary thrust is to improve highways in Appalachia in the hope that this will decrease isolation and encourage manufacturers to locate in the region.
An additional government activity, the Arkansas River Navigation System constructed during the 1960s and 1970s and dedicated in 1971, established a three-meter navigation canal up the Arkansas River from its confluence with the Mississippi River to Catoosa, Oklahoma, just downstream from Tulsa. The result has been an increase in barge traffic and the production of hydroelectric power from the many dams constructed to stabilize the river's flow.
What of the region's future? Certainly Appalachia and the Ozarks are not likely to become part of America's Manufacturing Core, and few in these regions really want that. Still, there is a sense of change. Parts of the southern highlands in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee have witnessed a boom in recreational and second-home construction. Havens for the well-to-do are found in North Carolina, Virginia, and the Ozarks and Ouachita Mountains. The long-term pattern of out-migration from the region, while not ended entirely, has been reduced, and the gap between per capita income levels in the regions and the United States has narrowed.
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