By Emma Castleberry
A 27-mile stretch of the Tuckasegee River will be getting a makeover on Saturday, April 14, as volunteers mobilize for the 34th annual Tuck River Cleanup. The day-long event, hosted by Western Carolina University’s (WCU’s) Base Camp Cullowhee, is self-guided and completely volunteer-driven. “The event started small when some WCU students and staff decided to pull trash and debris out of the river in 1984,” says Geoff Cantrell, WCU public relations spokesman. “Others pitched in, and now with the leadership of WCU’s Base Camp Cullowhee, it has grown every year, especially when the weather is decent.” More than 550 volunteers participated in last year’s clean-up.
The Tuckasegee River begins its course in Jackson County and winds for 60 miles through Western North Carolina before entering Fontana Lake and ultimately becoming part of the Tennessee River. The stretch targeted during the Tuck River Cleanup is in Jackson County around the WCU campus. Affectionately known by residents as “The Tuck,” the Tuckasegee River is the major waterway in Jackson County, often used for recreation like fishing, canoeing and rafting. The river also acts as a source for drinking water and irrigation for local farms. “The Tuck is a point of pride for Jackson County and we want to keep it beautiful,” says Cantrell.
Kay Tufts, assistant director of WCU Outdoor Programs, has been out enjoying the river in the recent warm weather. While doing so, she noticed an increase in debris being pushed downstream, likely because of recent high-water events and heavy rain. “Seeing trash on the river normally gets me upset,” she says. “However, after experiencing my first Tuck River Cleanup last year and seeing the success and excitement from all of the volunteers, I am motivated and thrilled for this year’s event. We have a big job ahead of us this year and there is no doubt in my mind that this year will be a record-breaking year for trash collection on the Tuckasegee River.”
Registration starts at 10 a.m. on the day of the event. Volunteers will meet on the UC Lawn by the Alumni Tower on the WCU campus. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., volunteers will be transported to the river and outfitted with a paddle, life jacket and trash bags and assigned to a raft. Volunteers must be at least forty pounds and have appropriate footwear (sneakers or sandals with a backstrap) in order to board a raft. There will be alternative walking routes available at various locations, including along the Tuckasegee River Greenway between the Cullowhee Dam and Locust Creek, for those who prefer not to float the river.
Return transportation from the river to the UC Lawn will be available between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. From 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., volunteers can enjoy a party on the lawn with free food and live music from bluegrass band Ol’ Dirty Bathtub. There will also be prizes awarded to those who collected the most trash.
WCU is located at 1 University Way in Cullowhee. For more information, email Kay Tufts at firstname.lastname@example.org.