The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Doing good deeds for the Tennessee River, and enjoying it, too

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Suttree LandingRacers of all stripes assembled Saturday for Cheers to Clean Water boat races on the Tennessee River. Keenan Thomas/Hellbender Press

Cheers to Clean Water celebrants race, learn and scrub the river at Suttree Landing Park

KNOXVILLE — Beneath the sound of a beckoning banjo, partiers and athletes alike paddled the shores of Suttree Landing Park, picking up trash as they floated down the Tennessee River.

The fifth Cheers to Clean Water Celebration on Saturday (June 11) featured 4k- and 8k-kayak races, a cleanup in and around the Tennessee River, and a central gathering area punctuated by booths for land- and water-based advocacy organizations.

“It’s both on water and on land, cleaning up this section of the Tennessee River,” AmeriCorps member Madison Moore said on Saturday from the park. “After the boating is over, they’ll come down here for the celebration, where we have a whole bunch of other vendors that are helping us make this day a possibility.”

The celebration promotes the importance of maintaining and cleaning major waterways like the Tennessee River.

“It’s really just to both help clean the river and also celebrate that we have worked so hard and made the Tennessee River a lot cleaner than it was 20 years ago, with all the work that’s done through Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Ijams, Adopt-a-Stream, all of those programs,” Moore said.

“I know today they had to make sure that other groups who do river cleanups didn’t do one right before this event to make sure that there was actually something that they could clean up, which is a great problem to have, being difficult to find trash.”

The Water Quality Forum hosted the event. The forum is a nonprofit comprised of several organizations that hosts events to educate schools and the public on water quality. Some of the organizational partners include Knox County Engineering and Public Works, the University of Tennessee and Keep Knoxville Beautiful. The  celebration took place concurrent with SoKno Pride on Sevier Avenue, but the events were run by separate organizers.

The events on the water took place on the east side of the park. These were led by Jerry Weaver, Ijams Nature Center’s river captain. 

“What I hope that they take away from this is how important the river is to us in so many different ways, whether that’s our drinking water, whether it’s our sewage treatment,” Weaver said. “We need to take care of it, keep it clean and respect it, and take advantage of the beautiful recreational opportunities that are provided, whether it’s fishing or canoeing or kayaking, but not turn our back on our lifeline. We need the water for everything.”

Participants collected 18 bags of trash in about an hour. Weaver helps clean the river regularly for Ijams, but he wanted to show that caring for the river can be fun, too, by going out in kayaks and boats to collect trash, and running the races on the water.

This is the case for participants Josh and Hanh Cox, who moved to Knoxville about a year ago. They’ve gotten involved with cleanup efforts in Knoxville to better connect with the city and the community.

“I just recently felt like we haven’t gotten out to explore Knoxville that much, so I started seeing these Keep Knoxville Beautiful events online and just thinking, “Yeah, this would be a good way for us to get out and get to know the city more, but also help with environmental cleanup,’” Hanh Cox said.

Hanh Cox thinks such events are great, especially because it promotes cleaning the environment on a local level. But it can be a sad endeavor because of the amount of trash.

“It’s so good to have an event like this to help with the river cleanup, but at the same time it’s hard not to be a little sad about it because you just see how much trash there is,” Hanh Cox said. “It’s nice to pick up trash, but sometimes disheartening.”

The races were split between kayaks, paddle boards and canoes, with the first two divided based on gender and distance.

The list of winners includes Stephen Barto in first place for the men’s 4k kayak race. Miah Weaver placed first in the women’s 4K race. Gail Calloway won the women’s 4K paddle board race. Steve Dittner placed first in the men’s 4K paddle board race; the 8K race was won by Greg Crane.

Outside of the water events, a large area of Suttree Landing Park was sectioned off on the west end of the park. This area featured a beer booth provided by Alliance, Printshop and Hi-Wire breweries, as well as a band that played throughout the day. Booths surrounding the area promoted organizations and businesses involved with landscaping, land and plant conservation, and water.

Exhibitors included Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply; Foothills Land Conservancy; Tennessee Smart Yards; Native Plant Rescue Squad; Erosion Supply; and the title sponsor, Earthadelic Landscape Construction

Josh Formont was one of the representatives at the Earthadelic booth.

“We had heard about it for quite a while and saw that they were looking for a title sponsor, and felt like it aligned with our philanthropy goals as a company, so it made perfect sense,” Formont said.

Madison Moore talked about how sponsors and vendors matched with the celebration.

“All of our vendors are furthering water quality,” Moore said. 

The event included food truck vendors, and two rain barrels from Battlefield Farms and the gardens at the Tennessee School for the Deaf that were painted in the kid’s activities area, which also bubbled with arts and crafts.

Volunteer Amy Albers helped coordinate the children’s area and talked about the importance of weaving information about water conservation into the activities.

“The goal of this really is to take all of this information about clean water, and children are stakeholders in this ... and take it down to their level,” Albers said. “The food that they grow; the turtles that they like; going out in the boat with their grandparents; or even what we drink is important. We just need to take it down to their level. They learn best through play, so that’s what this is for.”

With the strums of a guitar and the banjo in the air, the celebration continued in Suttree Landing Park until late afternoon.

“Have fun on the water, but take care of the water,” Weaver said. “It’s everybody’s to take care of it. It’s everybody’s responsibility to come out and keep the water clean, and they might as well enjoy it, too.”

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