2023 has been a year of records and awards for Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB), thanks to 994 volunteers as well as dozens of partners and sponsors. Those records include the nonprofit’s new record of most trash removed from the Tennessee River watershed in one year with a whopping 218,729 lbs. removed.

The nonprofit was able to hold several cleanup series this year thanks to title sponsorships from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation (TDOT)’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee,” AFTCO, and Oris Watches. They also had two record-breaking single cleanups—one that broke the other’s record—with Clayton Homes employees.

“It’s truly been remarkable to see so many people step up for our river, and it’s an honor to get to be a part of this momentum,” said Kathleen Gibi, Executive Director for Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful.

Other new records and milestones set with KTNRB this year include:

  • Most volunteers in one year: 994
  • Most volunteers at a single cleanup: 172
  • Most trash removed at a single cleanup: 31,115 lbs.
  • Nonprofit lifetime milestone of 600,000 lbs. of trash removed from the river
  • Nonprofit milestone of 210 river miles adopted
  • Nonprofit lifetime milestone of plastic recycled from over 500,000 cigarette butts
  • Most trash removed at a cleanup organized by an Adopt a River Mile adoptee (stretch of multiple miles): 120,000 lbs. on Fonatna Lake


Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful also received four state awards this year for their collaborative work. They were named ‘Tennessee Nonprofit Recycler of the Year’ by the Tennessee Recycling Coalition and were also honored with several awards from the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation.

“In addition to the tremendous, record-breaking progress made by our volunteers and partners this year, we were most excited to see lasting change after returning to a site we had cleaned four years prior,” Gibi said.

Gibi said they had not held a cleanup launching from Harrison Bay State Park on Chickamauga Lake since October 2019. Four years ago, Gibi recounted that they had cleaned a cove camp site that had so much legacy litter, or old litter that had accumulated over decades, that it made up a large part of the cleanup totals that day.

When volunteers returned this October, the site was spotless. That doesn’t mean litter hasn’t been floating onto shore in the last four years, Gibi says. It means that others are now picking up the trash before it becomes too daunting to clean again.

“This is the kind of cultural shift we’re aiming for in how we respond to litter,” said Gibi. “Our mission is to inspire others to take action for the Tennessee River and it’s thrilling to see that happening in more and more parts of the Tennessee River watershed—we’re the ones who are more and more inspired everyday!”

Chickamauga Lake isn’t the only place where such progress is being made. An Adopt a River Mile participant in Fontana Dam, North Carolina has been organizing cleanups on Fontana Lake of the Little Tennessee River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, and has had to move their cleanups upriver after several years of removing trash because there isn’t enough trash where they started.

Added to that, 2023 was the first after several years of hosting cleanups on the Tennessee River in Clifton, Tenn. for the nonprofit to forego a cleanup in the area. After a few years of hosting cleanups and an astonishing 40 consecutive river mile adoptions in the area, KTNRB crews had difficulty finding enough trash for a group cleanup last year.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, new places from which to launch our cleanups, and the education is always the true difference maker,” Gibi said. “All that being said, this kind of progress means something’s really working and it just fuels us with more passion to go after the rest of it on the river!”

With all of this progress, KTNRB has been able to expand internally. This year, they moved into their first office headquarters located at Duncan Boat Dock in Knoxville, Tenn. They also added a truck to their fleet to haul their second boat, hired their first-ever Programs Manager and are now accepting applications for their first-ever Operations Manager.

For a video recap of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s achievements in 2023, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4v2nqQv_UM

KTNRB is able to move forward with grants from two entities that have been with the nonprofit from the start: TVA and TDOT. They also have several corporate sponsors who continue to support their efforts such as Yamaha Rightwaters, AFTCO, and Oris. They are still seeking title sponsors of some of their cleanup series for 2024.

For information on Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s ongoing programs or to view their river cleanup schedule, visit www.KeepTNRiverBeautiful.org.

Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful is the 1st Keep America Beautiful affiliate in the nation to focus solely on a river. The 501c3 nonprofit aims to rally communities along the river and its tributaries to preserve, improve, and protect the river for generations to come. Since forming in 2016, approximately 4,000 volunteers have helped the organization to remove 633,822 lbs. of trash along the 652-mile Tennessee River and its tributaries. Additionally, over 200 river miles have been adopted on the Tennessee River watershed, with river mile adoptees reporting over 100,000 lbs. of trash removed on their own.