At recent public appearances, Mayor Karl Dean has called Nashville the “poster child for volunteerism,” a title he says the city earned following its well-documented philanthropic response to May’s historic floods.
That slogan is about to be tested.
In partnership with several environmental organizations, the mayor’s office this week is kicking off a citywide effort in which it hopes to mobilize upwards of 400 volunteers to put behind some not-so-minor unfinished business that remains on the to-do list after The Great Flood of 2010: canvass Davidson County’s streams and creeks to clean up large amounts of debris still littering waterways more than eight months after the record rainfall.
“There’s just a ton of debris out there that is near the waterways or in them,” Dean said. “And if it’s not taken out, what’s going to happen is that the next time we get — hopefully nothing like what we had before — but the next time we get rising water, we’ll have the possibility of dams being created that could create more flooding.”
Dubbed the Nashville Waterways Recovery Project, the new initiative comes from the mayor’s office volunteer arm known as Impact Nashville, launched this year after the city became a member of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Cities of Service.
Nashville’s participation in the coalition — a bipartisan alliance of 17 mayors across the nation — nabbed the city $200,000 in grant dollars from Cities of Service and The Rockefeller Foundation to create a new chief service officer’s position. Former Lightning 100 “Team Green” organizer Laurel Creech leads the new wing. Appropriately, she assumed her new role the weekend of the flood.
“In midsummer, when we started getting a hold of some of the immediate humanitarian and social services, it was acutely visible that there was a need to clean up some of our waterways,” Creech said. “Not only could you see construction trash and trash in general, there was also a lot of wooded debris and natural debris blocking the natural [water] flow.
“Given the rainy season coming in the spring time, all that’s going to be washed down and disrupt the natural flow even further if we don’t get volunteers in there,” she added.
Impact Nashville has teamed up with organizers of the Cumberland River Compact, Richland Creek Watershed, Harpeth River Watershed and Hands on Nashville. The hope is to begin cleanup efforts in February, with a focus on seven locations determined to be safe for volunteers. After several volunteer outings, the project is set to conclude in April. High-priority spots, stretching between 25 and 50 miles, include stretches of Richland Creek, most notably near The Nations neighborhood in West Nashville; Mill Creek in Antioch; Browns Creek in South Nashville; Whites Creek in North Nashville; the Harpeth River in Bellevue; and Dry Creek.
“We think if we bring in somewhere around 400 volunteers, and get about 1,600 hours of volunteer work, we’ll be able to make a significant impact on cleaning up our creeks and waterways,” Dean said. “We also want to get the public interested in our waterways and to take ownership of the issue of keeping them clean.”
Monette Rebecca, executive director of the Richland Creek Watershed, will be directing volunteer efforts near The Nations, one the city’s hardest-hit areas. She said debris left in the watershed by the flood runs the gamut — things like barrels, tires, bathtubs, trash cans, gas cans and furniture.
“Each cleanup will be a little different because of different logistic problems,” Rebecca said. “This particular one [Richland Creek near The Nations] has a very tight area, there’s fencing, maneuvering problems due to the way the development is laid out along the stream. So it’s hard to get in and out. We’re going to need to do a preliminary event there to just make trails and an access point for removal, a staging area, to make it safe.
“The problem is, people don’t see this [debris],” she said. “You don’t see it when you turn on the TV or when people go to dead-end streets. It’s back behind all the houses.”
Doug Hausken, executive director of the Cumberland River Compact, said there are plenty of reasons for Nashvillians to help out with the cleanup. They begin, however, with the obvious.
“People should get involved, because one of the greatest assets our community has is our rivers,” Hausken said. “Everyone drinks water. All these tributaries run into our water supply. This garbage and debris isn’t good for the overall water quality of the water we drink.”
To participate, volunteers are encouraged to visit www.impactnashville.net