The name of the old gospel song "Shall We Gather by the River" is what Tennessee River Rescue organizers hope will happen on Oct. 5.
This will be the 25th year that hundreds of volunteers will comb the banks of the river in southeastern Tennessee, plus several feeder creeks and streams, to remove trash.
A total of 22 zones selected by the organizers will be walked, canoed or reached by motorboat in Bradley, Hamilton, Rhea and Marion counties. There are five boat and three canoe zones with the other 14 to be cleared by foot.
Starting at 9 a.m., each volunteer is asked to spend at least two hours removing items that are not natural to the shores.
"Last year it rained, so we did not have as many people," said coordinator Nancy Brice, noting that about 700 volunteers turned out anyway.
"We average between 700 and 900 people each year," she said, acknowledging that she's hoping for more this year.
"We have ordered 1,000 T-shirts [for participants], and we would like to give them all out," she said.
Volunteers will be supplied with trash bags, gloves and grabbers.
"We need people with boats to come out and help clean up the islands in the middle of the river," Brice said. "A lot of people go out there and camp and then leave the trash."
Brice, a retired animal rehabilitation specialist, reported that 23 dumpster loads of trash along with 209 tires were removed from the waterways last year.
"What I love about this event is that it is such a cooperative event. Everybody is pitching in," said Christine Bock, another one of the organizers and the lead horticulturist at the Tennessee Aquarium.
"I think a lot of people are out of touch with nature," added Bock, hopeful that when children see the trash they are not as likely to become part of the problem in future years.
As with any project there are costs involved, and Bock said many area entities find ways to contribute.
TVA lowers the river to help with the cleanup, and the dumpsters and other supplies are provided at a discounted rate.
"Many companies in town give us $300 to help, and then we put those donors' names on the back of the T-shirts, " Bock said.
The volunteers represent a wide range of people wanting to make a difference.
"Our largest group is probably high school students," Bock said. "A lot of high school students need community service, and this project qualifies for that."
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and a number of TVA employees also are among those expected to help, she added.
Jim Ledbetter, the owner of Gordon Cleaners in Chattanooga and a member of the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club, is the zone captain for West Chickamauga Creek near Camp Jordan Park and will direct canoe volunteers there. He said that area is unique because of its watershed.
"There is no telling what is going to be down there. It is always full of surprises," Ledbetter said.
"Our biggest unknown is how much stuff has washed down since last year," he added, noting that the unusually wet year almost certainly has brought more trash through area streams than usual. "A lot of stuff comes off parking lots."
Sarah Quattrochi, the zone captain for the Suck Creek boat ramp, said more water transportation would be helpful in her area.
"We usually only have two or three boats. We can definitely use more boats in that zone," said Quattrochi, who works for The Trust for Public Land. "We also have cars go down the River Canyon and Suck Creek roads. What I do is go out ahead of time and flag ... so people will know where to pull off. We don't go on private property."
She said her zone usually has 35 to 50 volunteers for the annual cleanup.
"The Tennessee River Rescue is a great way to get the community involved and help people to become aware of the need. It is a way to connect people to the river," she said. "It is a great way to get children involved. The kids are always amazed what they find along the river."
To help kick off this year's river rescue, a party will be held at Outdoor Chattanooga on Sept. 21 from 1 to 3 p.m.
The Drew Sterchi & Blues Tribe will perform during the party, along with Denver Attaway.
Contact Gary Petty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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