On Earth Day 2021, Volkswagen of America and The Conservation Fund released its first tangible impacts from its community grants awarded to environmental groups in eastern Tennessee.
Last year, Volkswagen and The Conservation Fund awarded five charitable organizations grants of up to $50,000 each to advance environmental learning and leadership opportunities for local youth, to help keep waterways and rivers within the Cherokee National Forest clean and provide recreational access information to residents in the region.
Two of those groups, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and The Partners of the Cherokee National Forest launched their programs this year.
The Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful held its first Cherokee National Forest River Cleanup Series, which saw 51 volunteers remove 15,355 pounds of trash from four different rivers in the forest — including 303 pounds of metal, 148 tires and 1,433 pounds of Styrofoam. The grant also allowed KTNRB to purchase equipment to support the use of their 25-foot work boat.
“This grant will continue to give back well past this river cleanup series by empowering our organization with support equipment so that we can easily host cleanups — and with additional staffing to boot,” said Kathleen Gibi, executive director of KTNRB. “This year, we have a goal to remove 100,000 pounds of trash from our waterways, and we’ve already been able to remove 56,698 pounds in 2021 thanks in large part to this grant.”
The Partners of the Cherokee National Forest have created and updated an outdoor recreational map for visitors to the region, covering more than 2 million acres of public forests, parks and scenic byways throughout East Tennessee and western North Carolina. The printed map is the only comprehensive guide to the region’s many outdoor public lands, including Cherokee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest.
“We view this map as an ‘owner’s manual’ for public lands. It highlights the wide variety of public recreation opportunities in the area,” said John Innes, project manager for The Partners of Cherokee National Forest.
Other grants have been awarded to:
- Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont for the expansion of a successful pilot program that provides environmental learning, recreation and leadership experiences for Knoxville youth.
- WaterWays, for the development of an environmental education program for local K-12 students.
- National Forest Foundation for a program that brings youth from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma to their ancestral homelands in the Cherokee National Forest for several weeks.
In addition to the grants, Volkswagen of America unveiled a new mural in downtown Chattanooga by artist Steffi Lynn that serves as a motivational symbol for embracing the outdoors. Lynn drew upon the Cherokee National Forest as her inspiration for the mural that includes the phrase “change starts in your own backyard.”