By Samuel Still, Staff Writer –
Outdoor Chattanooga, located on River Street in Coolidge Park, seeks to connect Chattanoogans with nature through free recreational and educational programs throughout the year.
A division of the City of Chattanooga’s Department of Economic and Community Development, Outdoor Chattanooga was founded on a mission to get people outdoors so they can learn to care for and enjoy Chattanooga’s natural areas. They enact this mission by providing activities such as biking, kayaking and hiking, as well as providing educational sessions on being environmentally conscious and caring for nature.
Currently, Outdoor Chattanooga is hosting winter workshops, which are programs that provide attendees valuable knowledge and training about being in and protecting nature. Past workshops have covered topics from basic survival skills to introductory spelunking.
One of their latest workshops was put on by WaterWays, a community-driven organization that focuses on maintaining clean watersheds in and around the Chattanooga area through service projects and informational training.
“If people don’t love the outdoors, if they’re not connected to the outdoors, they’re not going to take care of it,” WaterWays Founder Mary Beth Sutton said in an introductory video, “…and that’s our job is to get them back outside.”
WaterWays Program Coordinator Brooke Fleeman and AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Lillian Moore hosted the WaterWays presentation, and taught attendees about the issues impacting Chattanooga’s water sources and natural environment.
In 1969, Chattanooga was considered the dirtiest city in America due to rampant pollution in the air and water caused by local industrialization. According to Fleeman and Moore, the city still experiences environmental problems from industrialization due to the topography of the region, which causes pollutants to remain trapped in the air and the water.
“Industries were pumping their wastewater directly into the streams in the Tennessee River, and that’s where a lot of issues come from,” Fleeman said.
The waste in water sources like Chattanooga Creek can be harmful to humans, animals and plants in high concentrations, but through cleanup and restoration projects by WaterWays and other environmental groups, these sites have seen gradual improvements over the years.
One point that Fleeman and Moore stressed was that every person can do their part to help the environment.
Moore said that the best way for college students to make a positive impact on the environment is to reduce the amount of water they use, clean up trash and choose to walk instead of drive if possible. Additionally, Moore said that encouraging others to be environmentally conscious is beneficial.
For people who want to help care for Chattanooga’s environment and connect to nature, both Outdoor Chattanooga and WaterWays have programs and information on how to participate in and contribute to their organizations on their respective websites and social media pages.