Kathleen Gibi, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s executive director, emphasized the economic importance of keeping the lake and the Tennessee River watershed clean.
She said the river system, including national fishing tournaments, generates $12 billion per year for the recreation industry. Tourism, she said, is the second largest industry in Tennessee.
“People are coming to see this river because of its beauty, and that beauty is dependent on an incredibly delicate ecosystem, so that’s why it’s so important to take care of it,” Gibi said.
Gibi told Hellbender Press Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful is the first Keep America Beautiful affiliate to focus solely on a river. She said the Tennessee River is one of the most diverse river systems in North America and is home to 230 species of fish.
“It’s why we’re here. It’s why our towns were founded,” Gibi said of the river and the cities along it. “Most importantly, it’s our beautiful backyard.”
Her organization has two 26-foot boats that regularly take volunteers to clean up shorelines. The organization removed more than 65,000 pounds of trash so far in 2023, Gibi said. Since Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful put its first boat in the water in 2019, she has overseen the removal of more than 500,000 pounds of trash. The organization works across the Tennessee River watershed in seven states.
She said the March 22 cleanup was not just an opportunity to pick up litter, but also an opportunity to educate on how it got there. She said 80 percent of litter that ends up in the river started out on land. Sometimes she said it blows out of trucks or trash cans or was thrown intentionally as litter on the land before getting washed or blown into the water system. Even when people properly dispose trash, natural disasters like floods or tornadoes can lead to it reaching the river.
She encouraged people to reduce use of single use items.
“I just challenge people to give up one single use item this year, whether it be a plastic straw, a plastic cup, a Styrofoam cup. That’s really going to make a difference in the long run,” she said.
She also encouraged people to attend cleanups, and adopt river miles or drains.
Gibi thanked Yamaha Rightwaters for the motors it donated, along with Nobody Trashes Tennessee and TVA for their contributions, among others.
“The litter in our water came from all parts of our community so it’s great to see everyone here from individual to business,” she said.
Yamaha Right Waters is a conservation and stewardship initiative by Yamaha Motor Co. John O’Keefe with Yamaha Marine Government Relations told Hellbender Press during Tuesday’s event he wanted “to clean the Tennessee River, but more importantly provide a positive example of what a group of people can accomplish in a small amount of time. Basically trying to reinforce the positive aspects of volunteering when it comes to conservation.”
Anglers help out
“We’ve found that anglers, whether they’re recreational anglers or professional anglers, are some of our front line when it comes to being stewards of the river. They’re always pointing areas out that need help,” Gibi said. While the competitors for this year weren’t allowed to be out on the water yet, some other professional anglers came to help out at the cleanup.
Among them was Bassmaster Elite professional angler Ish Monroe from Hughson, California, who is also a member of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s board, said he hoped to use his influence to tell people not to litter.
“There’s a future for these rivers, and fishing with cleaner waters makes fishing better,” he said.
He said he’d like to take what he’d learned from Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful back to California.
“Tennessee right now is leading the way. I mean, I don’t know of a lot of other states doing the same programs Tennessee is,” he said. “The whole Tennessee River is beautiful and one of the best places to fish in the country.”
Another Bassmaster Elite pro angler, Bill Lowen, came from Indiana for the Bassmaster Classic to work at the event’s expo, although he is not competing this year.
Lowen called the Bassmaster Classic “the Super Bowl of bass fishing.” Yet before going to the expo, he made sure to help with the cleanup.
“You know I make my living on the water, whether it’s hunting or fishing, whatever that may be,” he said, adding he saw the effect of trash on waterways. He called Yamaha Rightwaters “our conservation effort to keep everything good for our future generations.”
“I think a lot of people don’t see what we see as professional anglers on the water,” he said, adding he had been involved in many cleanups before this one. He has observed much of the litter is at the high-water mark, meaning the level bodies of water reach at their highest flooding levels.
“If everybody just pitches in and does a little bit, it makes a huge difference,” he said. He also recommended people keep better track of their trash.
“If you bring it in with you, make sure you take it out,” Lowen said regarding people going out for trips on the water.
More on the Bassmaster Classic
This year marks the tournament’s return to Knoxville. With daily takeoffs from Volunteer Landing, located downtown at the head of the Tennessee River. The 2019 Classic drew a record crowd of 153,809 spectators and generated an economic impact of $32.2 million for Knoxville and East Tennessee, according to a report released by the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission.
According to the same study, the Classic provided a direct economic impact of $17.7 million and an indirect boost in business sales of $14.5 million. The event generated $2.75 million in state and local tax revenue, including taxes on sales, restaurant purchases and lodging. Classic attendees, who traveled to Knoxville from almost every state and foreign countries as far away as Australia, Japan and Italy, paid for 29,232 room nights in local hotels, the Bassmaster news release stated.
Daily weigh-ins for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic will be held at Thompson-Boling Arena and the annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo will take place at the Knoxville Convention Center and the adjacent World’s Fair Exhibition Hall.