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Pitt to Port Paddle Sparks Interest in Trail System

Posted on Tuesday, September 5, 2023 at 2:59 pm



Paddling down the river from South Pittsburg to Bridgeport, the 3rd Annual Pitt to Port Paddle event took place on Saturday, July 29.
The free event was for the South Pittsburg Area Revitalization Quest (SPARQ). Pronounced ‘spark’ for short, it is spearheaded by the vice president, Walker Henley. The nonprofit is based in South Pittsburg and is joined with the Tennessee River Town program. Their initiative is to develop navigable trail systems around the river. The team includes six people and a network of 20 volunteers. The program’s mission is to create accessible events to support their work. Henley stated they want “no barriers to accessing our events.”
Over the last three years they have seen a substantial surge in participation. The first year they had 45 people, then the next year 48 and for their third year over 120 participants showed up for the event this past Saturday. Many people returned from years past and brought friends and family with them. Henley explained that most new people hear about SPARQ on Facebook or word of mouth but they can also see updates and future events on their website. This is the first part of their plan to connect with the community and raise awareness and recognition for their program.
The second phase of their plans are already in motion. According to Henley they have received several grants to develop a river front park. On their website they have a dedicated page to this initiative called, ‘Connect SP (South Pittsburg) Plan.’ Their end goal is a 16 and a half acre multi use trail system for all citizen access, whether on land or the water.
The sponsor for the event is Erlanger. Henley stated that they were looking for sponsors for the next event and the nonprofit hospital was looking for a campaign to support health and wellness. “Our missions really aligned and came together,” Henley said. Henley further explained that SPARQ completely relies on donations and sponsorships. They held a raffle during the event to drum up more support and donations though the event itself was free to all participants.
The biggest struggle for the organizers is the heat. “Many people newer to kayaking don’t understand just how much they can get dehydrated.” Henley stated.
They stress the importance of safety and hydration through a safety demonstration conducted before taking off into the water. They go over life jackets, water safety, sunscreen, and hydration. Henley assures future partakers, “We keep our participants safe.” The waters are calm and they are a straight shot on the route from South Pittsburg to Bridgeport. It’s a perfect starter for beginner kayakers and a relaxed pace for experts.
“This year was a huge success.” Henley proclaimed. They take surveys and incorporate feedback from participants. Every year they have more people and improve based on their success.
They are adding different and more diverse events in the future. Next month they will host a fashion show and are looking into adding more rooted in nature and history along the river. They partner with Tennessee River Towns and are connecting with the community to present history and nature in a unique way so people from all over will learn something new.
They encourage everyone to check out their website and to stay tuned for more information on their website and Facebook page. People are also advised that they can donate on the website to help them keep supporting the community and nature.