Gibi challenges: Adopt a drain

Sandra ClarkGet Up & Go

If you’re looking for a New Year’s project that makes an impact, Kathleen Gibi says “Adopt a Storm Drain.”

Gibi heads Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, a group that offers volunteer opportunities within the Tennessee River watershed, with support and sponsorship from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Kathleen Gibi

Gibi has just wrapped up her first year on the job after a 14-year stint in recreation and public affairs with the city of Knoxville. You might know her from Facebook. She’s the young mom with wild red hair who has a daughter with wild red hair and a husband, Joe, who seems pleasant.

“I had served under four mayors,” she said, including working as an intern when Victor Ashe was mayor. Realizing that Mayor Rogero’s term was ending, she started thinking about a career change. She was recruited for the new job after the previous executive director stepped down.

“The timing was perfect and it’s turned out to be a dream job,” she said.

Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful is the first river-based affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, but Gibi hopes to change that. She’s already networking to create other river initiatives and especially encourages volunteers on the waterways that feed into the Tennessee River – all 652 miles.

Already, the organization has rallied 1,332 volunteers to remove 96,542 pounds of trash in over a dozen cleanups, according to its website. It has acquired a 25-foot aluminum boat to assist in river cleanups. The boat was customed-designed and can operate in water just one-foot deep, Gibi said.

On river cleanups, the boat transports volunteers who collect trash along the shoreline. Gibi says it’s remarkable just how much trash can accumulate in river coves. What’s the source of all this trash? Gibi says most of it originates on land – trash that blows out of uncovered cans, litter from vehicles, etc.

And that’s where this new initiative comes in.

Adopt a Storm Drain: “It’s estimated that 80 percent of the litter in our waterways is originally littered on land, and heavy rain will wash that litter from our streets into our storm drains, which ultimately redirect the water into our creeks and rivers.

“Participants in our Adopt a Storm Drain program will help to protect our waterways from potential litter while also serving as ambassadors that educate passersby as they work,” said Gibi, “While litter removal is important, awareness is crucial to change the societal habits that cause litter in the first place.”

The program is completely free and participants will receive cleaning supplies, T-shirts, water bottles, and a marker for the storm drain declaring their good deed (with the municipality’s permission). Through their pledge, participants commit to cleaning the storm drain monthly. Volunteer here.

Adopt a River Mile: There are currently more than 20 river miles adopted on the Tennessee River. Like the storm drain program, individuals or groups can pledge to adopt a river mile by hosting two cleanups a year. Volunteer here.

Proud volunteers with a portion of their collected trash.

River Cleanups: Throughout the year, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful hosts organized river cleanups in which volunteers are taken out on the aluminum boat to do shoreline cleanups.

There are also six cleanups hosted each year in partnership with the national nonprofit Living Lands & Waters that brings additional boats to make a greater impact.

Through 17 cleanups hosted in 2019, 434 volunteers helped to remove over 48,000 pounds of trash from the Tennessee River watershed. This is a great way to make a difference and share camaraderie with friends and new faces. Volunteer here.

Sandra Clark writes a feature for Get Up & Go each Wednesday. To nominate a person who is making a difference or an organization with volunteer opportunities, email

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