Watts Bar Lake

The Tennessee Valley Authority [TVA] recently announced it had picked up nearly two tons, or 4,000 pounds, of garbage from Jackson Island on Watts Bar Lake since the beginning of 2021.

TVA officials said they even had to close the area for cleanup and are encouraging visitors to camping sites and other recreational land to “Leave No Trace” and clean up when leaving.

The principles of “Leave No Trace” have been available to campers and visitors for a long time, officials said, and just following these simple principles makes a world of difference in how campsites and other public lands appear to their visitors. Littering and illegal dumping don’t just look bad, they create health hazards for both animals and people.

“This is our tenth year to partner with Leave No Trace,” said Clay Guerry, TVA recreation strategy specialist who is also a Leave No Trace master educator. “Leave No Trace Principles are imperative for outdoor enthusiasts because when they are not followed, there are serious consequences,” Guerry said.

For example, wandering off the beaten path — not traveling on durable surface s— can lead to barren areas and eventually to eroded trails. Not disposing of waste properly is hazardous to wildlife, people and the environment. Obviously, it’s also offensive to campers who want to enjoy the outdoors.

“When you Leave No Trace, you have a positive impact on the environment,” Guerry said. “The second impact is social. When you leave a clean camping area, you positively impact the next user.”

As bad as these situations may be, TVA continues to spread the Leave No Trace message because it works, officials said.

“We educate the public with signage at our dispersed campsites on TVA public lands, and when we do that, the bad behavior decreases,” said Guerry.

When TVA began using the Leave No Trace signage across the Tennessee Valley, Guerry conducted his own experiment at the islands on Norris Lake where there was a lot of trash.

“I wasn’t sure if signage would create a measurable difference in the way people treated these sites, but it did make a difference, and other research proves it,” he said.

Not surprisingly, psychology plays an important part in this situation.

“If you go to a site and there are nine soda cans, there’s a great likelihood that you may toss your drink can in, too. But if there’s only one can, you’ll be less likely to throw yours down,” said Guerry, a staunch believer in the public lands adage, “Clean areas stay cleaner, and dirty areas get dirtier.”

Illegal dumping is a crime punishable by law.

“We have littering or dumping calls every week,” said Cpt. Jeff Johnson, TVA Police. “It’s a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $2,500. Folks are lots better off just taking their trash with them.”

To report illegal dumping, theft, or vandalism, Johnson urges individuals to call 1-800 TVA LANDS or TVA Police at toll-free at (855) 476-2489. Email them at tvap@tva.gov.