The Tennessee River between Knoxville and Paris Landing State Marina in Buchanan, Tennessee, isn’t something you’d want to traverse in a PWC (personal watercraft) by yourself. Beginning at mile post 652, where the French Broad River meets the Holston River in east Knoxville, this river courses through three states for 652 miles before it flows into the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky. Even going 600 miles along this river from Knoxville to Paris Landing might test your skills…but if you were traveling with a group of individuals for charity, this expedition could be a blast.
For sixteen years, people from across the U.S. have gathered annually for the Tennessee River 600 event. The ride has become an annual mission for people from at least nineteen states, complete with assistance from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. The 2012 excursion, which ended this past weekend, raised approximately $11,000 for The Children’s Hospital in Huntsville, Alabama, a member of the Children’s Miracle Network, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Jason Noble, an event coordinator for this charity event, began his affiliation with this group as a webmaster. Then, he joined the group for a day or two on the river for two years. Now, he’s hooked. He has committed to the entire 600 miles for the past seven years, and he doesn’t intend to quit. “My goal is to raise $250,000 total within the next three years,” he stated. “The kids [at the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals] deserve it.”
But, the trip hasn’t always been smooth sailing. The first year, in 1997, the participants began at Paris Landing and pushed upstream to Knoxville. They quickly learned that it might be easier to go with the flow, and the PWC group began to cruise downstream from Knoxville to Paris Landing. Along the way, they stop at various favorite spots to swim, eat, and lodge, such as Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville and Florence Harbor Marina, both located in Alabama.
Granted, this group doesn’t pull in as much money as a telethon, but the charitable focus is gathering steam. Jason stated that they intend to add a “donation button” to their website, so that people can donate throughout the year. Jason also takes photographs and updates the Tennessee River Facebook page, which also pushes out to their Twitter account. The feedback they’ve received from his social networking has been tremendous, as comments from onlookers often express wishes that they “wish they were there.”
Jason encourages new participants. Although the majority of individuals within the group this year own their PWCs, at least three people rented. “One person from California rented, and a person who joined the group at the last minute rented, too,” Jason said. “One person borrowed a craft, but the majority of the participants do own their own vehicles.” So, the possibility of flying into Knoxville to participate in 2013 becomes more inviting for individuals outside Tennessee.
Plus, the push is on for more sponsors. Some sponsors this year included Southern Burger Company and Life on the Water, both commercial interests. But, the group also receives assistance from organizations like Alabama State Parks, Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Tennessee Valley Authority. While some sponsors provide water, food, and other necessities, other sponsors provide cash — and the surplus is siphoned into the charity fund for the hospitals.
Event participants are responsible for raising cash, too, and they hand their donations over to hospital coordinators when they check in. This year, 81 individuals attended the send-off dinner, and 49 PWC were in the river. Is there room for more participants, so they can raise more money?
Jason stated that about 120 participants and 80 PWC participated one year, and that number seemed to push the limits for the infrastructures used along the route. But, according to Jason, the sky’s the limit — to the point where they may consider two separate runs. But, you don’t have to attend to donate, and “watching” the event through Facebook and Twitter can be just as cool as the Tennessee River on a hot summer’s day.
Over the past 16 years, the Tennessee River 600 raised over $180,000 for the hospitals, and the total this year pushes the goal close to $191,000 — a sum that’s much closer to the $250,000 on Jason’s wish list. If you want to sponsor this event for their 17th annual event in 2013, or if you want to join in on the fun by cruising down the Tennessee River for 600 miles, contact the organization through their website.
2011 Tennessee River 600 (video)
Photos used by permission, courtesy of Jason Noble, 2012, gathered from the Tennessee River 600 Facebook Page.