Float to learn

Little River Watershed Association puts community leaders in water for river lessons

A group of 24 community leaders recently spent the day paddling down the Little River exploring the tributary that flows from the Great Smoky Mountains and provides drinking water for the City of Maryville.

The Little River Watershed Association organized the inaugural Little River Flotilla as a float trip by canoe and kayak down the Little River. Along the way participants got to enjoy the beauty of the Little River as naturalists told them about the plants, fish, macro invertebrates and animals found in the river.

The June 8 flotilla started at Ailor’s Farm in Walland at about 8:30 a.m., said Mark Whited, executive director of the Little River Watershed Association.

“We had a great opportunity to get everyone out. We had great turnout, with 24 folks who went down the river with us in the morning,” Whited said.

The float wasn’t just to enjoy the beauty of the river.

“We had professor John Buchanan at University of Tennessee talk about erosion control and different issues along the Little River. We jumped in the river at Ailor’s Farm and canoed 3-and-a-half miles,” he said.

At the Sevierville Road bridge near the Chester Franklin property, the flotilla participants got out and toured the water treatment plant. “That is where water comes out of the Little River for Maryville. It is a fascinating operation,” Whited said. “It is a top-of-the-line process and produces some of the best water in the state.”

The flotilla participants then canoed down to River John’s Island off Wildwood Road, got out and had a lunch provided by Tomato Head. They met staff from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, including Jonathan Burr, Larry Everett, Bart Carter, Rick Blevins and Carl Williams from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agencies and Joyce Coombs and her research staff from the Fisheries Wildlife Department at the University of Tennessee, he said.

“We broke up into different groups and stations, and they could go through and participate in fish shocking, sorting out fish species into buckets and coolers and looking at them,” he said. “We had people collecting invertebrates and people catching dragon flies. It was a great hands-on experience for everyone involved.”

Whited said it was a fun day for everyone. “We didn’t have any trouble getting down the river. Everyone seemed to have a great time,” he said.

Whited was named executive director of the Little River Watershed Association in November, 2009. “It was a new opportunity for me. I had as much fun as anyone did,” he said.

The association’s executive director said a wide variety of people went on the flotilla. “We had good folks from Alcoa, Inc., Denso, county engineers and both candidates who are running for county mayor participate and have a good time,” he said. “I think it was an opportunity to show community leaders what a beautiful resource our Little River is.”

Whited said River John’s Outfitters was an in-kind sponsor for the event. They provided canoes for the flotilla.

According the association’s website, the Little River originates in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingman’s Dome at over 6,600 feet in elevation and flows 60 miles through Townsend, Alcoa, and Maryville and portions of Blount, Knox and Sevier counties. It drains a 380-square-mile area eventually draining into Fort Loudoun Reservoir. It is the main influence contributing the Fort Loudoun Reservoir. The majority of the Little River Watershed is within Blount County.

The portion of the Little River within the Great Smoky Mountains is classified by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) as an Outstanding National Resource Water and an ecoregion reference site. The Outstanding National Resource Water designation means it has the highest degree of protection and no new discharges, expansions of existing discharges or other regulated activities that would cause degradation are permitted in the waters. The Little River supplies drinking water to 100,000 residents in Blount County and adds millions of dollars in recreation tourism to the local economy.

For more information about the Little River Watershed Association, call 865-980-2130 or visit the web at www.littleriverwatershed.org.

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