From invasive plant removal to trash pickups and landscaping projects, a lot goes into keeping Blount beautiful.

Just ask Brittney Whipple, executive director for Keep Blount Beautiful, who has wrapped up a busy 2019.

This nonprofit affiliate of Keep America Beautiful held trash pickups in communities like Alcoa, Maryville, Townsend, Friendsville, Louisville and Rockford in 2019, and also asked the community to help with invasive plant removal on Dec. 7 at the Townsend River Walk. Pistol Creek was the cleanup focus back in October. They also hold an America Recycles Day to dispose of things like old computers, TVs and oil properly.

In 2019, KBB also held its inaugural Little River 5K, and more than 130 runners took part. The event was a fundraiser for KBB but also put the spotlight on Little River and the need to keep it healthy.

Partnerships have been forged with Little River Watershed Association, Blount County Master Gardeners, Blount County Soil Conservation District, Tuckaleechee Garden Club, Blount County Landfill and others as KBB seeks to provide educational programs and ways for this community to take ownership of its landscape.

Each year, KBB rewards businesses and individuals who seek to make their buildings and surroundings standouts for their environmental improvements and beauty. The Bravo! awards have been handed out for 26 years.

A big part of what KBB does is reach out to students, Whipple said. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from Keep America Beautiful through the UPS Foundation, KBB was able to work with two schools last year to improve their campuses.

Benefit to schools

“For the 2019 grant, we worked with a landscaping class at William Blount High School and elementary/high schoolers at Clayton-Bradley Academy,” Whipple explained. “At both schools, we wanted the trees to beautify the campus, give the students a sense of pride and provide outdoor education opportunities.”

Whipple said she reached out to high schools here in Blount County and William Blount responded. “I had never worked with a high school before,” she said.

The landscaping class at that school helped plant 30 trees, including redbud, oakleaf hydrangea, fringetree and American holly.

Whipple said KBB always plants native trees and explains to students the benefits over invasive plants that are not native to the area.

At Clayton-Bradley, Whipple and her volunteers got to work with elementary and high school students who planted 21 trees — red mulberry, pecan, redbud, fringetree, sweet crabapple, chicksaw plum, silky dogwood, serviceberry, buttonbush and elderberry.

This was done during Pistol Creek Day, Whipple said. “The main goal for this school was to provide outdoor education opportunities for the students,” she said.

In addition, KBB wanted to support the campus ecologically, so for each of the three sections of campus, trees were selected based on history, biology and environment, along with pollinator support and edible components. At Clayton-Bradley, they do something called snack-scaping to encourage eating healthy foods.

In one area, trees were planted to support the neighboring wetland.

KBB has received the $5,000 grant from the UPS Foundation in multiple years.

Last year, Carpenters Middle School campus was improved with tree plantings.

Field trips offered

Now that we have entered a slower, dormant period, Whipple said KBB is ready to schedule field trips to places like the Alcoa/Maryville/Blount County Landfill, the Blount County Recycling Convenience Center on Levi Street in Maryville and the EcoCenter on the campus of DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee. Schools can sign up now.

Whipple said the tours are open to anyone in the community.

The intent, she said, is to teach people about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling, along with litter prevention and water quality.

It certainly isn’t glamorous to traverse the landfill landscape and that’s the point.

“It is eye opening for sure,” Whipple said. “A lot of students have never seen a landfill before. It is shocking how much trash we produce, but it’s also shocking how safe and effective our landfill is at the same time. They get to see it all.”

With 2019 behind them and lots being added to the 2020 calendar, Whipple welcomes the challenges and work that lies ahead.

“January is our slow month when we aren’t outside,” Whipple said. “I am doing a lot of things behind the desk right now.”

Like so many others, she’s already looking to spring.

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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