Today marks the 4th day of the historic TenneSwim. As Dr. Fath swims through East Tennessee, I hope he is having a good experience in our waters.

As the Education Director at Ijams Nature Center, I lead a team of amazing naturalists that are all focused on helping people make better choices about how they live on the land. We hope that people leave our programs or our park feeling empowered to become better stewards of our natural resources.

And caring for our waterways is truly a team effort. Nowhere is this more evident than our annual River Rescue event. For almost three decades Ijams Nature Center has been at the helm of this amazing stewardship effort. Each year hundreds of volunteers line the waterways at between 30-40 public sites along the Tennessee River and tributary streams to make our East Tennessee home more beautiful. Folks come in boats, canoes and trucks. They bring wheelbarrows, rakes and a steely-eyed resolve to “do the right thing.”

River Rescue volunteers include families, scout groups, college students, and other dedicated do-gooders.

AND it is making a difference! In the mid-1990s Ijams Nature Center’s River Rescue volunteers were finding large items like chairs, old TVs and tires. With each passing year the amount of tonnage collected gets smaller and smaller.

During the 2017 River Rescue event, almost 11 tons of garbage and debris were removed from the Tennessee River.

We like to say that this is one event that we do with the hopes that one day we won’t have to anymore. We would love to put ourselves out of business. And it’s just a matter of time. One person can make a difference. Hundreds of people make a movement.

In Knoxville, most Volunteers wear orange. At Ijams, they wear bright green! The 2017 River Rescue t-shirt featured a tree frog illustration by Ijams Nature Center Senior Naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales.

Had Dr. Fath conducted this historic swim thirty years ago, he may have had to weave through refrigerators, sofas, and the remnants of old cars. So, thank you, East Tennessee, for showing up year after year to clean up our River. Thank you, Dr. Fath and TenneSwim for choosing the Tennessee River to bring awareness to water quality. I would like to think that we have played a role improving our aquatic resources for residents, visitors, wildlife… and German endurance-swimming chemists!