The people gathered to bid on auction items at the Airport Hilton Saturday night were having fun but it was with a purpose - preserving the Little River, Blount County’s source of drinking water.
The Little River Watershed Association’s fifth annual auction drew more than 250 participants. The proceeds from the auction of everything from wine to weekend cabin rentals went to underwrite the organization’s efforts to protect the Little River Watershed.
Executive director Cathy Rhodes said they were happy with the turnout.
“We’ve had a great response from our host couples,” she said. “We have host couples who help pay the costs of everything, and we also make money on the auction.”
Rhodes said the event started out small five years ago. “We had 120 people two years ago and 185 people last year and this year we have 250. It continues to grow each year.”
Little River Watershed Association president Bob Eby said the auction is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the group. “We get grants, but this is our biggest fundraiser,” he said. “With the economy the way it is, we all depend more on citizens. Industry funding is sort of scaling back.”
Eby said the auction is also a great time for volunteers to get involved. “If you don’t have funding in a large scale, you need to get people involved,” he said.
Ernie Blankenship said the first auction was five years ago at Dancing Bear Lodge. “We had about 80 people and nine host couples. This is our fifth year, and we’ve got 31 host couples and over 200 people here,” he said. “We’ve done well.”
Blankenship praised Kathy Wilbanks for her work in organizing the event. “Kathy Wilbanks has been a human dynamo,” he said.
Blankenship said the auction gives the organization financial stability. “We’re fortunate we’ve got this base of support,” he said.
State Sen. Doug Overbey said the drought two years ago showed Blount County how important the Little River is to the entire community. “We drink the best quality drinking water every day of every year,” he said.
Dale Huddleston said the Little River Watershed Association is fortunate residents in Blount County support environmental issues. While those gathered were helping a good cause, they having fun. “This is a great evening, and everyone is enjoying themselves,” he said.
Rhodes said more and more people are becoming interested in maintaining the quality of the Little River. “We want to get out as much information about the Little River as we can. Every year more and more people show up at the auction and at the Little River Round up,” Rhodes said. “It’s indicative of increased awareness and concern.”
Rhodes said she hoped more people became involved in the Little River Watershed Association and in turn help maintain the quality of the water. Often sediment runoff contaminates the water and thousands of dollars are spent annually to clean the water and make it good for drinking.
“It’s our drinking water source. A lot of people don’t understand how sediment can be considered a pollutant.”
Rhodes said residents should know how good the drinking water is in Blount County. “We have Evian-quality water to wash our cars, water our lawns and flush our toilets,” she said.