Florida woman complains of trash in Watauga River

John Thompson • Oct 18, 2019 at 10:38 AM

ELIZABETHTON — A Florida resident who has come to love the Watauga River sounded an alarm on Thursday about trash, old tires and other refuse she said are being dumped into the river.

Cindy McClure described her frustration with the litter in a letter she wrote to Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett. She wrote that she and her family take a motorhome trip every summer, and they always end up with a stop in Carter County.

“The Watauga Dam Campground is by far one of our most favorite places in America as we love to fly fish for trout. We have been coming to your area for about 4 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 said this summer seemed to be especially bad. “We do take out what we can and also pick up the launch areas, but we only have kayaks. I call myself the garbage scow sometimes as a joke.”

She said the Trophy Trout Zone was especially bad, with layers of garbage. She said picking up the trash was “like an archeology dig.” She said the bottom of the river near the East Tennessee Sports Complex was covered in old tires.

She said trout fishermen are paying $450 per day to fish in the county, but she predicted the litter problem was going to turn many of them away.

McClure thought a lack of law enforcement was the key to the problem.

“Get your law enforcement agencies to really enforce your litter laws! I mean with tickets that cost a lot of fine money. Make the litterbugs come out and pick up the shorelines as part of the punishment/fine solution. The shore fishing folks are no exception to the litter problem either. Beer cans, worm containers, food wrappers, and fishing line are what we pick up most from the shoreline. It’s going to take divers and air bags to get your 100’s of tires off the bottom with a barge to load them on, on some stretches. You need to enforce your Keep Carter county beautiful campaign.”

Some of Carter County’s most committed environmentalists concurred with McClure’s statements.

Ed Jordan, chairman of Keep Carter County Beautiful, wrote McClure that “It is unfortunate that you have to write such a letter but it’s very true and so sad. Thank you for taking the time and passion to care enough about our community and environment to speak out.

“Unfortunately, our weakest link in the chain is enforcement throughout our area. This issue has been brought up many times. Tennessee State has strong litter laws, but sadly they are not being enforced in our area.”

Gary Barriger, a member of the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Boone Watershed Partnership. He said those organizations and several others work to clear trash from the river and its tributaries and have been doing so for many years.

Charles Von Cannon is a member of the Carter County Commission and has been active in trying to keep some of the tributaries clean, including Sinking Creek and Buffalo Creek. He is also outspoken on keeping a new Watauga River access point on Blevins Road clean. 

Von Cannon said part of the problem that McClure described with litter in the Trophy Trout Zone is not coming from fishermen. He said drainage lines from the highways empty into the Watauga River. He said a big part of the problem is people buying foam cups of coffee at breakfast and throwing the empty cups out the window of the car. He said those cups collect in the drainage lines when it rains and end up in the river.

Mayor Barnett said he had just received the letter on Thursday afternoon. He said he will discuss the matter with Carter County attorney Joshua Hardin. The matter will probably be an item of discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Carter County Commission.