Whether they’re burbling brooks, creeping creeks or the serpentine sprawl of the Tennessee River itself, the lacework of waterways in Southeast Tennessee teems with life and provides drinking water to more than 4 million people.
Despite their importance to native animals and as a natural resource, these same waters are also cluttered with occupants of a less-savory sort, from waylaid water bottles and forgotten furniture to abandoned appliances.
Since 1988, teams of citizens have joined forces each October for a cleaning blitz hoping to reverse course on the degradation of the Tennessee River and its tributaries.
This year, advocates for a cleaner river can take part in the annual Tennessee River Rescue from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5.
“Some of these locations are more dumping sites, but they all need help,” says Hayley Wise, watershed coordinator at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. “We use water for a lot of things as well, so it’s important to keep it clean. Ultimately, the more trash that’s in our water, the more it costs, the longer it takes and the more difficult it is to treat before it gets to us.”
The River Rescue encompasses 17 zones throughout Hamilton, Bradley and Marion counties. Cleanup locations are listed at tennesseeriverrescue.org. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the River Rescue and attracted about 900 participants, a marked increase from the annual average of 800 volunteers,
Those interested in participating this year do not need to pre-register but can report to the zone captains listed on the website the day of the cleanup. However, large groups are encouraged to contact the zone leader at their desired location before arrival.
Participants are encouraged to wear clothes they don’t mind getting dirty and to bring a reusable water bottle (water coolers will be available at most locations). Cleanup equipment, including gloves, refuse bags and trash pickers will be provided.
Participants in the Rescue will receive a commemorative t-shirt and the satisfaction of doing their part to unsully a vital natural resource, Ms. Wise says.
“Obviously, these cleanups don’t remove everything from the river, but they do help,” Ms. Wise says. “Seeing the trash, first hand, also brings awareness to the problem.
“That can really change how people think about the river and its impact on them. While we would love for the River Rescue to be so successful we no longer need to host it, we continue to see trash in the water, so it’s still important that people participate in efforts to clean it up.”
For a map of cleanup locations and contact information for Tennessee River Rescue zone leaders, visit tennesseeriverrescue.org