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TDEC’s 25 for 25

25 High Impact Events and Achievements from 1991 to Today

There have been many important people, places and dates that mark the timeline of the past 25 years of TDEC history, from 1991 to today.  The “25 for 25” list below reflects the 25 most important, impactful TDEC events, happenings or actions since 1991 as voted on by current and former TDEC employees. 

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Duck River designated as State Scenic River in 2001, and highlighted by National Geographic in February 2010 as North America’s richest river in variety of freshwater animals.  The Duck is the longest free-flowing river in Tennessee and also provides drinking water to 250,000 people and recreation for many, including guests at Henry Horton State Park.


Campsite reservation system started in state parks and online reservations made available in 2012. Campsite reservation activity and camping revenue are up more than 35% since implementation.


VW opens new manufacturing plant in Chattanooga on a brownfield site, former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant, in 2011.  TDEC assisted with a variety of complex permitting issues, including remediation, wetlands, solid and hazardous waste, that produced a better, more sustainable project.


Sept. 11, 2001. National and state responses to 9/11 produce significant new rules and regulations to strengthen safety and security measures.  Tennessee water systems and utilities now conduct regular vulnerability assessments, resiliency exercises, contingency planning and enhanced source water protection.


Department launched first TDEC and TN State Parks websites in 1996.  We’ve moved from static web pages to responsive web platforms that allow Tennesseans to conduct a variety of business transactions with the department.


Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund established in 2005 to permanently conserve critical lands and working landscapes, including $6 million for the state’s contribution toward the acquisition of what would become Rocky Fork State Park (below) in Unicoi County.  The Trust Fund has approved more than $30 million dollars in grants to leverage for a total of $117 million in conservation purchases to protect approximately 42,600 acres of priority land, including the historic 127,000-acre “Connecting the Cumberlands” initiative in 2007.


TDEC administered more than $85 million from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka “stimulus.”  Department responded by executing with historic velocity to deploy clean water and drinking water projects and clean-up activities at leaking underground storage tank sites.


Chiefs of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes met at Red Clay State Historic Park in August 2015 for the first time in more than 175 years.  State Parks hosted the first time all three tribes have met at Red Clay since Chief John Ross announced passage of the Indian Removal Act and the tragic change in destiny for the Cherokee who remained in their homeland.


Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennessensis) was delisted from the Federal Endangered Species Act in 2011.  Tennessee coneflower was one of the first species listed on the ESA in 1979 and is only one of five plant species to be delisted. A major reason for its delisting is because colonies from sustainable populations are protected in 10 State Natural Areas.


Department responds to historic flooding in West and Middle Tennessee in May 2010.  TDEC worked with water systems through emergency response and recovery, boil water advisories, conservation measures for nonessential uses to mitigate and minimize impacts from a 500-year event.



General Assembly authorized a real estate transfer tax in 1991 to support four dedicated land conservation funds: Wetlands, Local Parks, State Lands and Agricultural.  Since 1991, TDEC has invested more than $90 million in communities through the Local Parks and Recreation Fund and more than $75 million through State Lands Acquisition Funds to conserve important public lands in Tennessee.  These funds also leverage other dollars (local, state and federal) to maximize impact for recreation and conservation.  Read more by Commissioner J.W. Luna in The Tennessee Conservationist magazine from 1991.


Federal Facilities Agreement signed in 1991 between the State, DOE and EPA to support cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation.  State and DOE also sign Tennessee Oversight Agreement in 1991 to support TDEC's office in Oak Ridge.


In 2015, Tennessee had the fewest number of leaking petroleum underground storage tanks and smallest cleanup inventory since the program began in 1989.  Tennessee’s petroleum underground storage tank (UST) program is now a model for Region 4 and the rest of the nation in operational performance.


Ocoee River (Hiwassee-Ocoee Rivers State Park) hosted 16 whitewater sporting events for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, including slalom canoeing and sprint canoeing; it’s the only in-river course to ever be used for an Olympic slalom competition.  What was once one of the best kept secrets in the Southeast has now been named the one of the best whitewater rafting destination in the entire United States. Hundreds of thousands of eager adventurers visit the Ocoee River each year.


Fossil Site discovered at Gray during TDOT Construction Project in 2000. The Miocene-epoch assemblage site was determined to have been the location of a sinkhole that once harbored a pond environment over a long period of time.  Gov. Sundquist was personally involved in helping TDEC’s Division of Archaeology preserve the site. Finds from the site include a saber-tooted cat, short-faced bear, ground sloth, rhinoceros, alligator, camel, elephant, tapirs, red panda and more. ETSU now maintains the Natural History Museum at Gray Fossil Site.


Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park opened on July 1, 1996.  Bicentennial Capitol Mall was a catalyst for rejuvenation of the Jefferson Street and Germantown corridors.


Solid Waste Management Act of 1991 passed by general assembly led to a major modernization, rationalization and regionalization of Tennessee’s solid waste collection system.  Source reduction, reuse, composting, recycling and other methods have diverted more than 50 million tons of Class I waste from Tennessee landfills over the past 25 years.  Read more by Commissioner J.W. Luna in The Tennessee Conservationist magazine from 1991.


Fourteen state parks were closed in 2001 and these parks were re-opened in 2003.

# 7

Access fees to 22 state parks were established in 2001, and access fees to enter any state park were eliminated in 2006.



On December 22, 2008, a dike failed at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County.  More than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled from an on-site landfill, covering more than 300 acres of surrounding land and water.  While there were no immediate injuries, local citizens and the area's physical and natural environment were all greatly impacted.   In June 2015, EPA announced the formal completion of the third and final phase of the comprehensive cleanup of the 2008 TVA Kingston coal ash spill, the largest corrective action in Tennessee history.  The cleanup was completed years ahead of schedule and $44 million under budget. Long term monitoring will continue, but the first five years of monitoring indicate the river ecosystem has returned to pre-spill conditions, faster than the 10-15 years predicted. 


Tennessee State Parks awarded the national Gold Medal for Excellence “Best State Park System in the Nation” in 2007 by the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration. It was the first and only time Tennessee State Parks received this recognition.


Environmental Protection Fund established by the General Assembly in 1991 required business and industry to pay fees at a proportional rate for required regulatory services. Operating the department on a combination of federal funds, state appropriations and environmental fees reflects Tennessee’s common sense approach and has been a hallmark of TDEC’s first 25 years.  Read more by Commissioner J.W. Luna in The Tennessee Conservationist magazine from 1991.


Bald eagles have now been sighted in 40 different state parks, up from just one in 1983.  State Parks – beginning with Reelfoot Lake – have played a key role in the bald eagle’s comeback across Tennessee.


Air quality across Tennessee meets all federal health standards for ozone and fine particulate matter standards in 2016. This is the first time in almost two decades that the entire state’s population lives in areas attaining federal air quality standards.


With Executive Orders 41 and 42, Gov. McWherter transferred Environment programs from Department Health and Environment to the Department of Conservation in February 1991. On July 1, 1991, the Department of Environment and Conservation became official. For the past 25 years and under four governors, TDEC has followed the same mission: Enhance the quality of life for Tennesseans while being a good steward of our natural resources.  

Other significant event achievements receiving votes in the online survey included:

  • Cleanup of the Pigeon River involving Tennessee, North Carolina and EPA.
  • Establishing the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park in 1998, a one-of-a-kind 300-mile linear state park from TN-AL-GA border to the TN-KY border at Cumberland Gap
  • Oracle databases pioneered by Vojin Janjic and David Brewer became backbone of BOE division databases, e.g. WaterLog, SmogLog, WasteBin. Vojin and David received a $10,000 Employee Suggestion Award in 2008.
  • Lands Unsuitable for Mining (LUMs) Petition for Northern Cumberland Mountain Ridgetops filed with Department of Interior in 2010.
  • Multi-State Clean Air Act Settlement with TVA in 2011.
  • TDEC moves from the L&C Building to the TN Tower in 2013.
  • Bear Trace at Harrison Bay and Superintendent Paul Carter recognized with national environmental awards in multiple years.
  • Dual Career Track (Technical Track) implemented in the BOE in 2014.
  • Pickett CCC Memorial State Park designated as International Dark Sky Park in 2015.