Clean is key word

Combined Air Fest and Little River Round Up celebrations draw 800

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By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

The partnership worked.

Little River Round Up and Air Fest didn’t plan a joint event in 2007, but what the weather dictated seemed to be a win-win for both groups as they celebrated cleaner air and cleaner rivers on Saturday, April 28, in the front of Maryville College campus.

For Air Fest, what started out two years ago as an hour-long mid-week event in Greenbelt Park drawing business people on their lunch hour became a family celebration with children, lots of them, playing with their parents, listening to live music and learning about how to create clean air.

Little River Round Up volunteers did their work early in the day, gathering at 8 a.m. to be assigned different areas of Blount County to clean up. They then moved their traditional early evening celebration from Thompson-Brown House to the college for a combined event with Air Fest. Air Fest 2007 initially was scheduled for April 14 on the front campus of Maryville College, but rain forced organizers to postpone the event.

Little River Round Up is an event sponsored by the Little River Watershed Association and Keep Blount Beautiful. The event organizes volunteers who spend the day cleaning up trash and planting on the banks of the Little River and other waterways.

Not everything went as planned on April 28. While winds prevented hot air balloon operator Roy Smith from giving tethered rides in the balloon, he still inflated the balloon for the appreciative on-lookers. Children and their parents engaged in some low-tech fun, playing with flying disks, watching the remote control airplanes, making and flying balsa wood and paper airplanes or going from booth to booth getting information or toys related to clean air and clean rivers. One booth gave away kites and another had balsa wood airplanes. The tie-dye T-shirt booth, sponsored by the Maryville College Environmental Action Team, was very popular.

"Kids loved that booth," said Bob Booker, Denso manager of legal and environmental engineering services and chair of the Chamber of Commerce Air Quality Committee.

Denso had a big day, not only with many of their personnel being involved in the planning and implementation of Air Fest, but with a team of 90 showing up Saturday morning to participate in Little River Round Up, garnering the designation for most participation in the Round Up for 2007.

The youngsters also checked out a bio-diesel truck from the Blount County Highway Department. Children clamored to sit in hybrid vehicles from Denso, West Chevrolet and Alcoa, Inc.

Throughout the event, local group Pistol Creek Catch of the Day kept the music lively. Keep Blount Beautiful coordinator Kristi Falco was pleased with the turnout.

"My estimate was over 800," she said. "They were very spread out."

Little River Watershed Association Executive Director Cathy Rhodes said that volunteers collected more than 5,000 pounds of trash. "We had over 400 volunteers, which was our biggest turnout ever," she said.

In a special project, Alcoa, Inc., employees planted more than 6,000 sedge plants along Pistol Creek in the Springbrook Park.

Falco said history was made as this was the first ever zero-waste event in the county. There were no garbage containers, only cardboard recycling bins. In addition, everything used at the event could be recycled, reused or composted, she said.

"That’s not a plate you’re eating on," she told the crowd as they enjoyed their barbecue dinners. "It’s a Frisbee."

State Rep. Doug Overbey referred to the old Tennessee Trash public service commercials that ran on television stations throughout the state during the 1970s. The commercial showed a man in a convertible throwing trash from his vehicle and said "There ain’t no lower class than Tennessee trash."

"I think today shows there’s no better class than the people of this county to clean up our rivers and protect our water and air, too," Overbey said.

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham announced the winners of the billboard competition. Students at William Blount and Maryville Middle Schools competed to create the best billboard with the theme of creating cleaner air.

Kyle Bumpus, a seventh grader from Maryville Middle School, took first place and won a bicycle from the Metropolitan Airport Authority and a $50 Wal-Mart gift card from Alcoa, Inc. Bumpus’ design was placed on a billboard on Alcoa Highway and Topside Road on May 1.

Jayson Alexander, a Maryville Middle School seventh grader, placed second. Seventh grader Taylor Soles from Maryville Middle School was third and Maryville Middle School art teacher Julie Drake was given a $50 gift card for art supplies.

William Blount Middle School student Leighton Smith won first place from his school and received a $50 gift card.

Booker said the large turnout for the combined events made him optimistic about the future of clean area in the region. "Seeing all the participants gives you a lot of hope for the environment," he said.

Billboard winner Kyle Bumpus stood with his family enjoying his new bicycle. His dad, Larry Bumpus, said they enjoyed Air Fest. "This is stuff we believe in," he said.

Kyle, who wants to become a commercial artist, said he was surprised he won. "I didn’t really think I’d win," he said.

Beth Lazar, an administrative assistant to the Fine Arts Department at Maryville College, helped plant sedge plants along the creek in Springbrook Park during the morning’s Round Up. Sedge is a native grass that helps prevent erosion, she said.

Her daughters, Hannah, a Maryville High School student, and Malerie, helped as well, she said "It’s a lot of fun," said Hannah. "You get to talk to people and you feel like you’re helping the community."

Days after Air Fest wrapped, Booker said that having to postpone the event turned out to be a blessing. "The combined
synergistic effect of the events was outstanding," he said. "Due to the weather delay, we combined and made it bigger and better. That really made it better for everybody."

Falco said she couldn’t have dreamed of a better turnout. "I thought it was awesome. The weather cooperated and was
great," she said. "Next year I’d love to see us work together. I’ve heard nothing but good things."

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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