Rotary Club begins two-phase Calfkiller River project in Sparta
By Kim Swindell Wood | July 15, 2019 12:06 pm
Last Updated: July 15, 2019 at 8:12 am
By Rachel Auberger
The Rotary Club of Sparta has begun a two-phase project on Calfkiller River that is designed to make the waterway both safer and more enjoyable for residents and tourists alike.
“The ultimate goal for this project is safety,” Donna Fare, a representative of the Rotary Club, said. “We are doing that through two things: signage and clean up.”
The first phase of the project is underway, with approximately $2,000 worth of signs having been purchased. According to Fare, the Rotary Club was able to secure a matching grant through Rotary International that helped them pay for signs that will mark each mile along the 42-mile stretch of the Calfkiller River, starting at the mouth, located on the Caney Fork River at Hodges Bridge, and extending to the headwater, in Putnam County.
In addition to the blue signs with reflective writing that will mark every mile, there will also be large signs at bridges and warning of dangers at Webb’s Mill. The Rotary Club has also had signs designed to warn of the dangers both above and below both low-head dams on the Calfkiller River.
“There have been four deaths at the low head dams since 2000,” Fare said. “People don’t realize they are there, and they get sucked into the current. We just need to warn them of the danger far enough ahead that they can get out of the water before it’s too late.”
She said the mile markers are being placed on trees well above the flood lines so that they will remain visible even with rising waters. Fare also said the Tennessee Department of Transportation has agreed to help with attaching signs to the bridges along state highways, but the challenge remains as to how to best mark the low-head dams.
“We want to be sure that they are marked at a spot where boaters will have ample time to adjust or get out of the water,” John Downs, another Rotarian who has been instrumental in implementing this project, said. “So, we can’t simply go mark the dam. We have to determine how to get those four signs mounted.”
Downs said the group hopes to have all of the signs, which have been made by Robinson Racing Products, in White County, in place by mid-August. According to Downs, it is going to take several more hours of donated time and a lot of effort to finish this stage of the project.
“Members of the Rotary Club are donating their time, and we have been contacted by both a local Boy Scout troop and the JROTC about them possibly joining us and lending a hand,” he said.
Once the signs are in place, Downs said they will share the exact latitude and longitude coordinates with E-911 and rescue units.
“The idea is that if you are on the river and get in distress, you can call for help and tell them what the last sign was that you saw,” he explained. “Right now, there is no way of identifying where you are, and saying ‘I just passed a field full of cows’ isn’t going to be very helpful to a rescue unit trying to find you. People don’t always realize just how far it is between access points and it gets dark and they get lost.”
Downs said another goal is to identify areas where rescue units can access the water. He said this may mean gaining permission to use private property for emergency rescues, but, if landowners granted that permission, their locations would only be available to rescue workers and would not be made known to the public. According to Downs, the goal is to find ways to get onto the water quickly so as to reach distressed boaters in time to give the aid they need.
“McMinnville has a great system, and we hope to do something similar,” he explained. “They have a four-tier set up where they have identified their points and put them in a tier based on whether they are accessible by foot, ATV, ambulance, or helicopter.”
The second phase of the project, according to Fare, is a cleanup phase.
“The ultimate goal with this phase would be to get businesses involved,” she said. “We would like it to be an ‘adopt-a-mile’ thing, similar to how they do with roadways.”
Fare said the Rotary Club would also like to organize an annual River Cleanup Day, which would include a countywide effort to get garbage and debris out of the river. She said they are going to try to borrow resources from Warren County, which already has a similar program in place.
“They have mesh bags and floating barges they use,” she explained. “Boaters drag the bags through the water catching trash. When they are full, they can just toss them up on the barge, which floats along until it reaches an access point designated for removing it from the water.”
According to both Fare and Downs, tires are the number one item cluttering up the river.
“There are hundreds of tires pulled from the river each year,” Fare said. “We have to have a way of removing them and disposing of them in order to keep our river both clean and safe.”
Fare said that tire disposal is one of the two obstacles they foresee with the cleanup phase of the project. According to Fare, Bridgestone has taken care of the tire disposal for Warren County, but the Rotary Club is looking into seeing if they can find a partner to help with disposal of the tires pulled from the White County river.
The second obstacle is if the barges were to get full before reaching their designated dock.
“We may have to talk to people who have private property along the river and see if they will allow us to unload there as long we make a promise to get the trash removed by a designated time,” Downs added.
Any individuals who would like to donate their time to work on either of the phases of this project are encouraged to contact Sparta Rotary Club through its Facebook page, or they can stop by White County Public Library and speak with either Cathy Farley or Michael Hale, both of whom are Rotary Club members.