Ten canoes drifted through the morning mist as volunteers from nearby neighborhoods, Ivy Academy and North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy paddled through the waterway at Longview Drive near Hixson Pike Saturday.
Experienced paddlers traversed easily as others sat sputtering helplessly through North Chickamauga Creek, frustrated, trying to play their part in cleaning local waterways during the 30th Anniversary of Tennessee River Rescue — an annual community-wide cleanup effort on area waterways. The volunteers were fanning across the popular paddling creek to clear litter that had piled up over the last year.
"This is one of the most accessible areas for both whitewater and flatwater paddling," NCCC board member Lee Friedlander said. "People are familiar with it and identify with it. This is a great way for people to give back to that. Many don't realize how bad this is until you see every piece of trash."
About 900 people spread across more than 20 hubs in Chattanooga, Cleveland, Soddy-Daisy, Harrison, East Ridge and Jasper. Residents young and old, black and white, from church groups, local schools and large corporations united to remove tons of trash from the Tennessee River and its tributaries.
Further up North Chickamauga Creek, students gathered in Soddy-Daisy after recent flooding swept through the community, killing one, and leaving trash along the shorelines.
Trojan senior Gabrielle Beckett attended the event with her mom, Kim, after a morning run. The two volunteer at local races and events, Kim Beckett said. However, the trash cleanup brought a different kind of volunteer experience for the two, and it was one that helped the mother teach her daughter important life lessons.
"I encourage her to volunteer, and we usually do it together," the mother said while wheeling a tire from the woods. "It's our environment, this is our community. Our kids and families live here, and it's good to take care of it. It's good for Gabrielle to see why you don't throw things out the window."
Improperly disposed tires have been a theme for the event throughout its three decades. They quickly fill with bacteria and disease after trapping rainwater. Two hundred were recovered Saturday.
The cleanup effort has grown drasticly through the years. It started with about 20 people who saw a growing problem with trash in waterways. They organized the event and several continue to help to this day. It's now overseen by the Tennessee Aquarium, but one of the event founders, Nancy Brice, helped coordinate and led a group at Harrison Bay State Park.
"It's great, but it would be even greater if it didn't need to be done," she said. "We do it every year, and we're getting less tires, but our goal is to have it clean and keep it clean."