Five organizations have been awarded funding to address environmental priorities in East Tennessee, according to Volkswagen of America and The Conservation Fund.

Grants of up to $50,000 will advance local efforts to help improve water quality, enhance outdoor recreation, and provide environmental education, the entities said on Wednesday.

As winners of the Volkswagen Community Grant Program, five charitable organizations located in East Tennessee received grants of up to $50,000 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, the organizations aid.


The awards go to:

* Keep The Tennessee River Beautiful for river cleanups with volunteers that raise awareness for conservation of waterways and showcase the vastness of the Cherokee National Forest spanning from Ocoee River to Watauga Lake.

* Partners of Cherokee National Forest for the update of a popular regional outdoor recreation map that shows access locations to all federal and state public land near the Cherokee National Forest.

* WaterWays for the development of an environmental educational program, including outdoor classroom and interpretive nature trail for local K-12 students.

* 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.

* Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont for the expansion of a pilot program that provides a pathway of environmental learning, recreation and leadership experiences for underserved Knoxville youth.

"We are committed to being good stewards of the environment especially in our production home of Tennessee," said Duncan Movassaghi, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Volkswagen of America, in a statement. "Working with The Conservation Fund, we are proud to help these great organizations improve access and education related to our greatest natural resources."

The Volkswagen Community Grant Program is part of an ongoing initiative to help protect and restore forest land in the United States, starting in East 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 fund to buy, conserve and donate approximately 1,500 acres of land to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in the Cherokee National Forest later this year, helping to protect wildlife habitat and cultural resources, improve water quality, and provide additional recreation access and environmental education.

"We applaud these exemplary organizations for their expanded efforts to maintain and enhance access to the Cherokee National Forest's many recreational, educational and inspiring offerings," said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. "We are honored to support their efforts and are grateful for Volkswagen's commitment to help protect the environment and support the communities in which they work."

Tennessee Valley Authority, a steward of natural resources in Tennessee since 1933, also contributed by providing administrative support to the program.

Volkswagen operates an assembly plant in Chattanooga that employs about 3,800 people building the Atlas SUV, Atlas Cross Sport SUV and the Passat sedan. The company also is investing about $800 million in an expansion to build electric vehicles by 2022.