Volkswagen Unveils Conservation-Inspired Mural In Chattanooga, First Results Of Community Grants With The Conservation Fund

Thursday, April 22, 2021
Volkswagen of America and The Conservation Fund revealed today the first tangible impacts from their community grants for environmental groups in eastern Tennessee. Along with those grants, the partnership also unveiled a new mural in downtown Chattanooga by artist Steffi Lynn that serves as a permanent motivational symbol for embracing the outdoors.
 
The mural – a colorful piece that takes up an entire exterior wall of a Chattanooga business and features the phrase “change begins in your own backyard,” was the product of Ms.
Lynn’s imagination and the Cherokee National Forest itself. Among the mural’s features are four flowers native to the area.
 
“Volkswagen is a brand that I'm proud to collaborate with because I think they really care about being accessible to everyone and sustainability,” said Ms. Lynn. “They care about the community and the world. And I care about the community and the world, which made a perfect collaboration.”
 
Last year, Volkswagen of America and The Conservation Fund awarded five charitable organizations located in eastern Tennessee grants of up to $50,000 each to advance efforts that will provide environmental learning and leadership opportunities for local youth, help keep rivers and waterways within the Cherokee National Forest clean, and provide current recreational access information for outdoor lovers in the region.
 
Two of those groups launched their programs this year. In February, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s first Cherokee National Forest River Cleanup Series saw 51 volunteers remove 15,355 pounds of trash from four different rivers in the forest – including 303 lbs. of metal, 148 tires and 1,433 lbs. of Styrofoam. The grant also allowed KTNRB to purchase equipment to support the use of their 5,000-pound, 25-foot work boat.
 
“This grant will continue to give back well past this river cleanup series by empowering our organization with support equipment so that we can easily host cleanups—and with additional staffing to boot,” said Kathleen Gibi, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful executive director. “This year, we have a goal to remove 100,000 lbs. of trash from our waterways, and we’ve already been able to remove 56,698 lbs. in 2021 thanks in large part to this grant.”
 
The Partners of the Cherokee National Forest have created an updated Outdoor Recreation Map for visitors to the region, covering more than two million acres of public forests, parks and scenic byways throughout East Tennessee and western North Carolina. The new printed map is the only comprehensive guide to the region’s many outdoor public lands, including the Cherokee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Pisgah National Forest.
 
Originally created in 2016, the map has been popular at welcome centers with visitors who do not have internet access in remote areas, and demand is expected to rise with more people vacationing outdoors.
 
“This is a perfect map for anyone traveling in this incredibly scenic part of the country,” said John Innes, project manager for the Partners of the Cherokee National Forest. “We view this map as an ‘owner’s manual' for public lands. It highlights the wide variety of public recreation opportunities in the area.” 
 
The Volkswagen Community Grant Program is part of an ongoing initiative to help protect and restore forestland in the United States, starting in eastern Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. A portion of Volkswagen’s $1.25 million donation to The Conservation Fund was awarded via the program. The remaining funds will be used by The Conservation Fund to buy, conserve and convey approximately 1,500 acres of land to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in the Cherokee National Forest, helping to protect wildlife habitat and cultural resources, improve water quality, and provide additional recreation access and environmental education. 
 
The other grants have been awarded to: 
•  Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for the expansion of a successful pilot program that provides a pathway of environmental learning, recreation and leadership experiences for underserved Knoxville youth;
•  WaterWays, for the development of an environmental educational program—including outdoor classroom and interpretive nature trail—for local K-12 students; and
•  National Forest Foundation, for a program that brings youth from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma to their ancestral homelands in the Cherokee National Forest for several weeks of learning, service and exploration.

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