Over 100 volunteers showed up to clean up the river bank, roadside and mountainside along the Ocoee River between the Whitewater Center and Powerhouse 2 on Highway 64 Saturday morning.
Ten rafting companies making up the Ocoee River Outfitters provided a majority of the volunteers. The river clean-up day was part of a nation-wide event hosted by American Rivers to protect the environment.
Blake McPherson, co-chairman of the 2013 River Cleanup, said people not associated with the companies helped out as well.
“I was surprised because we had folks from the Conasauga River area come out for the event to help out,” McPherson said. “That was pretty neat. That is the first time I remember that happening.”
Volunteers met at 9:30 Saturday morning in the parking lot by Dam 2. Each volunteer received clear plastic trash bags and gloves provided by American Rivers and McPherson. They were asked to sign in before being assigned an area to clean.
Groups headed out in cars and on foot to clean up the refuse found along Highway 64, the mountainside and riverside. Some volunteers walked through waist-high grass to find trash and avoid the cars driving down the road.
Volunteer Abigayle McClure from Sunburst Adventures and her group already had their bags halfway full after 30 minutes.
“This is what people do,” McClure said. “They just think they can throw their trash out and it will go away like it is nothing.”
McClure’s co-worker, Katie Phelps, said it is vital the area is kept clean.
“We are trying to keep this river beautiful,” Phelps said. “We bring so much money into the economy; we need our river to be gorgeous for the public.”
According to research by Dr. Steve Morse, an economist and associate professor at the University of Tennessee, a total of 622 jobs were generated due to visitors to the Ocoee River in 2012. These jobs included rafting outfitters, hotels and lodging, restaurants, retail and transportation businesses.
He also reported that “a total of $14.2 million dollars (for worker paychecks and income) was generated as a result of visitor spending on the Ocoee River whitewater rafting in 2012.”
This means a total of $3.57 million in state, federal and local taxes was generated in the 30 counties due to the spending of visitors on whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River in 2012, according to Morse.
He and his team also found the river was the most visited in the United States with 229,542 visitors in 2012.
McPherson said they would like to stay at the top of the list. A big part of staying at the top of the list means keeping the area clean and beautiful.
“We love this area; we love the river; we love the mountains,” McPherson said. “This is just an event that brings folks together with a common mission to keep the Ocoee River clean.”
“The guides and folks at the river companies are the ones who use the river most, and we want it to be pretty when people come to visit.”
Volunteers were later treated to free food and games.