September 14, 2020 Tennessee RiverLine Team Earns National Recognition for Community Engagement Program

tip of a kayak over the water with orange sky


A team with the Tennessee RiverLine, the region’s vision for a continuous 652-mile system of paddle-hike-bike trails along the Tennessee River founded at UT Knoxville earned a national award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The team received an ASLA Student Honor Award recognizing the Tennessee RiverLine’s Pilot Community Program, a comprehensive communications and public engagement strategy in 2019-2020 that raised awareness of the Tennessee RiverLine vision and empowered the public as a critical participant in the vision’s development locally and regionally. It was the first immersive community engagement program conducted by the Tennessee RiverLine that brought together early supporters of the vision.

Members of the award-winning team were Dustin Toothman (M.Arch, ’18, L.Arch ’20), Wes Lamberson (L.Arch, ’20), and Whitney Brothers (B.Comm., ‘19). The award submission, titled “652 to YOU | An Approach for a Collective Voice,” chronicles their roles in developing and offering the pilot program in collaboration with members of the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership.

The Pilot Community Program’s system of events and activities allowed leaders, residents, neighbors and friends of Tennessee River communities to share their feedback and ideas for the transformative vision. While discovering new ideas for the river’s economic resilience, public health opportunities and environmental stewardship, the pilot program also built a regional dialogue around the project, creating a robust and engaged foundation of grassroots supporters invested in the Tennessee RiverLine.

In all, 35 awards were given from 560 submissions. The ASLA awards are the highest honor in the profession of landscape architecture, and the student awards represent the future of the profession, according to the ASLA website. The competition was open to all students studying or affiliated with landscape architecture.

“Since its inception, students have and will continue to play an essential role in the Tennessee RiverLine as the engine that drives its creative and critical initiatives,” said Brad Collett, associate professor in Landscape Architecture and director of the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership.  “It gives me great pride to see their efforts recognized by ASLA’s prestigious student award program.”

According to the ASLA awards jury, “The Tennessee RiverLine project touches an enormous number of stakeholders and community members along 652 miles of waterway, and yet the students behind this communication effort developed meaningful ways to engage with multiple publics. These interactions showcase the range of landscape architects for rural audiences, who may not have understood the field prior to these exercises, but now feel empowered to voice how their communities will use the river.”

“Often as students, we do not get to see the impact our designs have on communities,” Toothman stated.  “But because of the way our team designed the pilot program, we were able to go into the communities, speak with residents and learn about why they love the Tennessee RiverLine as much as we do.”


Called North America’s next great regional trail system, the Tennessee RiverLine originated in 2016 in the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Architecture and Design and UT Herbert College of Agriculture. Today, it is conducted by the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership with ongoing financial support from UT Knoxville and Tennessee Valley Authority.

Since the Tennessee RiverLine’s inception, the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership was founded as a diverse group of river advocates, including UT, TVA, the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program and several others, to achieve the Tennessee RiverLine vision.

To learn more about the Tennessee RiverLine, follow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram (@tnriverline) and visit frequently.