Want a better economy? Stop trashing NE Tennessee.

Johnson City Press • Oct 20, 2019 at 8:00 AM

We are blessed to live in one of the world’s most beautiful places, yet we can’t seem to respect the gifts afforded us by our mountains, forests and streams.

Volunteers spend thousands of hours cleaning up after careless and downright destructive neighbors who discard their garbage along our highways and backroads and into our woods, lakes and rivers. What comes out of Boone Lake alone each year is a disgrace.

And our economy suffers for it.

That was never more evident than in the letter a frequent visitor recently sent to Carter County officials about the conditions in the Watauga River she found on a fishing trip.

“The Watauga Dam Campground is by far one of our most favorite places in America as we love to fly fish for trout,” Florida resident Cindy McClure wrote to Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett. “We have been coming to your area for about four years now and really really love ending the summer there. Your river is so spectacular, so clear, so loaded with trout and unfortunately so loaded with trash.”

McClure’s letter got the attention of Ed Jordan, founder and chairman of Keep Carter County Beautiful, an organization dedicated to protecting the county’s environment. Jordan agreed with McClure’s assessment that enforcement of Tennessee’s litter laws is lacking in the area. In a response he penned to McClure, Jordan called enforcement the region’s “weakest link.”

While stricter enforcement is in order, particularly as a deterrent, we would argue that our local law enforcement agencies are up against a societal deficiency. They would find themselves becoming solely the trash police given the level of the problem.

We are our own worst enemy when it comes to our image. If the region is ever to dump its backwater image, we have to stop treating our home like one massive landfill.

If a regular visitor who loves to fish here is concerned enough to write the mayor about the old tires and other refuse dumped in the river, imagine the impression the junk must make on a first-time guest. Imagine the impression it would make on a family considering relocation. Worse, think of how it might look to an executive considering a business or industrial development here.

It’s another hurdle in the recent initiative to better market this region to tourists, potential residents and employers. If our outdoor recreational opportunities are a linchpin in that equation, the beauty must be less sullied.

Yes, getting tougher on offenders will be key, but fixing the problem will mean a grassroots cultural shift.

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