Waterways Presents Inaugural Big Splash Awards

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Chattanooga non-profit Waterways celebrated their work and the people who make a difference last weekend at a gathering at Crabtree Farms. The organization’s annual event, Save Water, Drink Wine, introduced a Big Splash Award acknowledging area water champions for bringing awareness and stewardship to local watersheds.

Waterways Executive Director Mary Beth Sutton presented the accolades and handblown glass dotty cups created by local artists Prentice Hicks and Maryon Wright from Wauhatchie Glassworks.  Attendees snacked on food from Fud Vybez, Lupis, and Conga Latin Food and charcuterie from Pruetts Market and cheered with wines provided by Athens Distributing and Empire Distributing and local beers from Wanderlinger, Naked River, Odd Story, and Chattanooga Brewing. 

Ms. Sutton explained the reason for the awards, “While many people only hear the bad things that corporations and others do, we decided to celebrate the good things. Around our region are so many corporations and community citizens who do good work for our environment, for our waterways, that go unnoticed, so we decided to recognize them with our first ever Big Splash awards for area water champions."

About the inaugural awardees:

Volunteer Water Champions
Local water rat and member of TN Valley Canoe Club and South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance, Jim Ledbetter received one of two prestigious “Volunteer Water Champion” awards. Mr. Ledbetter is one of those folks who is always willing to help out and provides guidance in protecting our creeks and rivers. He is always on the water, is amazing at white water canoeing and simply loves our rivers and streams.  As a longtime member of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance, he coordinated the removal of a huge debris jam/ snag on South Chickamauga Creek which was severely eroding the streambank around the edges and also helped create the blueway paddling trails.  He has also volunteered with the Gear Closet and outdoor classroom projects as well as the Bonnaroo Cleanup.

Fellow volunteer Corinne Giagnorio, an ignition switch when it comes to getting kids and communities to participate in their environments, took home the other Big Splash award in the category. Ms. Giagnorio quietly goes about protecting her environment in everything she does.  Not only does she assist with education programs, she started the Thrasher Elementary Environmental Club and the Signal Mountain Stewards environmental group. She recently helped lead the Weed Wrangle at a park on Signal Mountain.  She is distressed by folks who litter and so will always join us for creek clean ups and has been to nearly every Bonnaroo Clean up we have had.   She is a true environmental champion.

Citizen Water Champion 
Major General Bill Raines is a commercial realtor by trade, but we like to think of him as our tree hugger in training.  Our unlikely partnership came about because of our green infrastructure grant, lots of education from landscape architect, Joe Sawyer, and also the Skyuka Hall students. The Stormwater wetlands Mr. Raines installed at Four Squares were designed in part by students at Skyuka Hall, which was located in Four Squares at that time. Those students also monitored the amazing numbers of species that rapidly colonized those wetlands.  He was amazed.  At the grand opening of the wetland, Mr. Raines provided monarch and fritillary butterflies for the kids to release. He also was one of the geniuses behind the My Tennessee Award program to reward homeowners for protecting waterways by what they do in their yards. He continues to help through volunteer work as well.

Corporate Water Champion 
Barge Design Solutions
The leadership of Barge Design, Joe Sawyer and Matt Stovall, are some of those folks who will help others in whatever way they can.  It’s in their DNA. Mr. Sawyer was the one to teach Mr. Raines the most about green infrastructure.  Barge has also designed many of the Riverwalk and greenway sections, bringing people to nature and ensuring they are accessible for all people.  Barge has also adopted a section of Mountain Creek and are actively stewarding their segment.  They are making an impact both through their paid work and through their volunteer work to make an incredibly positive impact on our waterways and in helping reconnect people with nature.

Waterways works with communities across the Southeastern US to bring awareness and stewardship to their watershed. Originated in St. Lucia in 2004, the organization has since evolved from a small student environmental group to an international organization focused on watershed health and restoration. Waterways will be expanding the Big Splash awards in 2022 to include a People’s Choice award. Sign up for their email list via the website, learn how to nominate a water champion and get involved in Waterways. www.mywaterways.org

Contact: Mary Beth H. Sutton , Executive Director

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