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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
OAK RIDGE - Excuse Jim Rogers if he feels a little like a teenager who just got his first credit card.
"The eighth lane is sweet," said Rogers, regatta chairman for the Oak Ridge Rowing Association.
The $598,000 project to add an eighth lane to the rowing venue at Melton Hill Lake, completed March 1, opens up a lot of options.
The water surface on the lake has long been recognized as among the best in the United States for rowing. The Tennessee Valley Authority controls water flow to the lake and, being surrounded by hills, the surface can be almost mirror-like at times.
Though Milton Hill has hosted numerous events through the years and serves as a training venue for a legion of college and club rowing teams, the venue has been held back on getting some major events because it hasn't offer eight lanes.
Rogers said bigger races like to have eight lanes available in order to use a seven-lane format with an eighth lane available for race support.
"(Before construction) We could run six-lanes all day, but the seventh was tricky," he said. "The construction allows us to run seven-lane progressions at all times."
Which means ORRA can now make much stronger bid for such events as the NCAA Championships, the Club Nationals and the US. Rowing Southeast Regional Championships. None of those races are coming to Oak Ridge this year, but perhaps one could the next or in 2019.
The big event this year is the USRowing Masters Nationals on Aug. 17-20. Melton Hill has been the venue for that event before, in 2004 and 2007. The eight-lane set-up will make it much better.
"We can now run full eight-lane progressions for the 1,000-meter Masters Spring course," Rogers said.
Other races that could use all of the lanes this year are the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta on April 14-15 and the Dogwood Junior Championship Regatta on April 29-30.
Getting that lane wasn't easy. It required making a cut about 500-feet long into the shoreline on the Oak Ridge side of the lake.
Funding sources included the state of Tennessee, $250,000; Oak Ridge, $150,000; Tennessee tourism, $40,000; Oak Ridge Rowing Association; Explore Oak Ridge: and Visit Knoxville.
First Place Finish Inc. was awarded the contract in September 2016 and began work in mid-November.
Several hundred dump-truck loads of dirt needed to be removed, a retaining wall installed and gravel back filled. The last step was installing a greenway path and rail fencing.
The new lanes were installed in mid-February. The improved course is accessible to rowers including local clubs and visiting teams.
The first event of the rowing season, the Louisville Cardinal Invitational Regatta, was held March 10-12.
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