For the river

Watershed gala gathers ‘green’ to keep river flowing ‘blue’

The supporters of the Little River Watershed Association who spent a gala evening at the Hilton recently gave a lot of “green” to support more “blue.”

The Little River Watershed Association’s annual gala brought more than 170 people to the gala at the Airport Hilton. With approximately $20,000 grossed before expenses, executive director Mark Whited said there will be money to work toward becoming a “Blue Way.”

“It was a very successful event for us,” he said. “One of the initiatives we want to establish this year is the idea of a Blue Way. A Blue Way is a river trail with a designation with signage at places like Coulter’s Bridge and River Johns,” he said.

The designation could be a way to educate the public and protect the waterway. “This is an opportunity to use the river as an education tool by putting signage at the access points for places like Perry’s Mill. You could put in a kiosk with education resources,” he said.

Whited said it would probably cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to purchase signage and kiosks to mark the Little River as a Blue Way. “We could continue to build onto it over the years.”

Whited said there was a “great energy” at the gala. “Everyone seemed to be having a good time,” he said. “We’ve been given fine compliments for all the auction items, the food, the atmosphere and the music. People liked our band, Abbe’s Equation.”

Whited was impressed with the response to the gala. “I am amazed at the turnout. Having this kind of support for the organization is unbelievable. Without their support, nothing would happen,” he said.

The executive director praised the board members, gala committee members and other volunteers who planned the event. “Kathy Wilbanks has almost independently headed up the committee for the event and was instrumental in acquiring all the donations. They really work extremely hard,” he said.

State Sen. Doug Overbey praised the event organizers. “This is a great event, and it is wonderful to see people from all over the county turn out to support keeping our water supply clean,” he said.

State Rep. Dr. Bob Ramsey said he always appreciates citizens who support the work of Little River Watershed Association. “The quality of the support is an inspiration to us all,” he said.

Blount County Chamber Partnership CEO Fred Forster said, “This is a great crowd, and it’s good to see so many people concerned about the condition of the watershed.”

Former Gov. Don Sundquist said the quality of the Little River is critical to everything Blount County residents hold dear. “We have to protect it. The number of people here is indicative of how important it is,” he said.

Board member Kathy Wilbanks said it appeared to be largest crowd they had ever had. “The new band Abbe’s Equation electrified the crowd, and they got excited. I think the success of this organization is because of the support from these people,” she said. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”

Wilbanks praised Whited for his leadership. “We’ve got a new director, and we’re excited about him. He’s a biologist and a great people person,” she said.

Dan Lawson said the audience was one of the largest crowds ever to show for the gala. “I think the diversity of the crowd represents the variety support for what LRWA is trying to do,” he said.

Blount County commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves said nothing is more important than a community’s drinking water. “That’s about as basic as it gets. If we don’t protect the drinking water, we don’t have much of anything else,” she said. “This organization is really important.”

Blount County commissioner Peggy Lambert said the Little River Watershed Association is a cause she believes in. “It’s a worthwhile organization,” she said. “The people who work with LRWA are truly dedicated to their cause.”

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