One of the great assets that the Tennessee River Valley enjoys is an abundance of public lands and waterways. The Tennessee River and its tributaries stretch from the headwaters in Virginia, through east Tennessee and North Georgia, crossing Northern Alabama and Mississippi, before turning north back into Tennessee and Kentucky. The miles of water serve as a habitat for aquatic wildlife; a recreational resource for paddling, boating, rafting, sailing, and fishing; an economic corridor for transportation and movement of goods, businesses dependent on water resources, commercial fisheries, agriculture; and the demand for homes and businesses with an address along the waterways.
The challenge of keeping the river and the shorelines clean is a labor of love for groups and people who play, work, and live in the watersheds. While most efforts are local grass roots projects, the net impact is regional. “What happens upstream impacts the conditions of the watershed downstream,” said Keith Montgomery, Big Ridge State Park Ranger and volunteer with the Norris Project. "Our islands and lake are popular with campers, boaters, and fishermen. The Norris Project celebrates Public Lands Day by hosting an Island Invasion clean up. This year, our volunteers launched from 7 locations and collected 52,000 pounds of trash." The Norris Project was recognized at the 2017 annual Awards of Excellence for the work they are doing to improve the Clinch and Powell Rivers in East Tennessee. Since 2009, this group has removed over 100 tons of litter from the waterways and planted 2000 plus trees to improve wildlife habitat. Keep the Shoals Beautiful in Decatur, Alabama holds an annual competition to keep the city river banks and boat launches clean.
Further down river, the Pickwick Parrot Heads are invested stewards of the river near Pickwick Dam. Along the waterways of Land Between the Lakes, paddlers join in to collect debris that collects in coves.
In August 2017, the newly chartered non-profit Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful Board met to talk about aligning these types of projects to grow the miles of shorelines and waterways that are “adopted” and improve downstream water quality. The Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council applauds the work of these groups. Conservation of the river is a core priority for the Council and community groups are encouraged to nominate their projects and events dates to the mapguide. “Our goal for the TRV mapguide project is to build great communities where people want to live. Clean water and open green spaces are attractive to families and businesses and will lead to greater economic opportunities for our region,” says spokesman, Julie Graham.