The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surrounding cities are a source of beauty, relaxation, and recreation for thousands each year. One of the many highlights of this region, the Little River, attracts campers, fishermen, and canoers alike. This waterway, beginning in the Clingman’s Dome area of the national park and traveling through the cities of Townsend, Maryville, Alcoa, and Rockford, flows into the Tennessee River. The river exhibits a diverse aquatic population, housing a variety of fish and insects including some endangered species such as the dustytail darter fish. The biological uniqueness of the Little River attracts fishermen and scientists as well as simple onlookers.
These waters and their surroundings also provide resources such as energy and drinking water for private landowners, farmers, businesses and industry. So, while residents and visitors enjoy the Little River for its recreational purposes (swimming, fishing, kayaking, etc.), they also rely on the watershed–the area drained by the river and its tributaries–as an ecological and economical resource. Some signs of degradation in the river caused by development, poor agricultural practices, and failing septic tanks in the watershed have been observed in recent years. The importance of the Little River watershed is such that analysis and elimination of potential problems is essential for the maintenance of the economic, biological, and scenic value of the area.
The Little River watershed drains 380 square miles including most of Blount County as well as portions of Sevier and Knox counties in eastern Tennessee, an area visited by 1,600,000 tourists annually. Two hundred thousand of these visitors make overnight stays in popular tourist areas such as Townsend. In addition to tourism, the watershed is the home for and supports most of the business and industrial economy of Blount County, Tennessee.
A source of drinking water for over 85,000 residents in the County, the Little River has recently been classified as a “threatened stream” by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The classification change is a result of deteriorating water quality primarily in the lower area of the stream.
The river is a vital life support system and we recognize that the entire community benefits if the Little River remains healthy. We also acknowledge that local residents have the greatest direct impact on the river especially downstream. We, the people of the area, are the primary source of problems as well as solutions for the Little River’s future.