November 3, 2011

Boord finds relaxation and adventure paddling Tennessee's rivers

by Kara Fulong

Ever want to get away from city noise, traffic and the daily commute? What about work deadlines, emails and the hustle and bustle of modern life? When Beth Boord wants to escape, she heads to the water.

Boord, assistant vice chancellor for Children’s Health at Vanderbilt, has paddled Tennessee’s rivers for nearly 25 years. She first got “hooked” on rivers when a friend invited her along for a paddling trip sponsored by the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association. Since then, she has been a TSRA volunteer instructor, led trips for the organization and even served on its board.

Tennessee has more than 1,000 miles of navigable waterways. “There are beautiful, beautiful places in this state that you can only get to by getting on the water,” Boord said. “I find a great sense of peace and relaxation when I’m out there.”

But it’s not all gently rolling streams. For those seeking more of an adrenaline rush, Tennessee is home to miles of white water rapids within easy driving distance of Middle Tennessee.

“When you’re on white water, the question is, ‘How can I safely paddle in this more challenging rapid?’” Boord explained. “But you are there with friends, you support one another, and you’re there to help each other get down the river. It’s a team effort, and that’s what makes it fun.

“I’ve been on trips where there were 14-year-olds and 80-year-olds going down the river together, just enjoying our wonderful, natural environment,” she said.

The Nashville-based, nearly all-volunteer TSRA’s mission is three-fold: to help people take advantage of Tennessee’s rivers through paddling excursions, to educate them in water safety and boating best practices, and to protect waterways through conservation efforts and advocacy.

One of the philosophies of TSRA is that if you get people hooked on rivers, then they will want to protect them,” Boord said.

Founded in 1966, the organization’s early conservation efforts led to the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Act of 1969, the first such comprehensive act in the nation. TSRA currently has about 1,000 members across Tennessee and the South who conduct river clean up, serve as watchdogs against pollution and other environmental threats, and raise money to award small grants to like-minded organizations for their own conservation efforts. Giving financially to TSRA helps to extend this reach.

Even if you have no interest in getting on the water, river conservation should concern us all, Boord said.

“If our rivers are polluted, that endangers the animals that live in them. It impacts the biodiversity of those waters,” she said. “If they’re polluted, that adds to the challenge of our drinking water. It is so important that we protect our free-flowing rivers. They are a treasure for today and for future generations.

“There are a lot of people in TSRA who don’t boat but get involved because they love the rivers and want to protect our natural environment,” she said.

The Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association is one of many agencies comprising Community Shares, a federation dedicated to supporting Tennessee social change organizations in order to promote a more just and caring community. You may designate TSRA or any Community Shares member organization when you give to the community through Vanderbilt Gives.

“At its core, Community Shares member agencies address the root causes of problems by involving those affected to create a long-lasting foundation for a just and peaceful community. In short, we find solutions that work,” said Tracey Hawk, Middle Tennessee director of Community Shares. “The common thread is a commitment to personal responsibility and community action. Our member groups address a range of issues, including animal welfare, unemployment, racism, sexism, homelessness, access to clean air and water, urban violence, civil liberties, child abuse prevention, the education of our children, access to health care and supporting strong communities.”

Giving to TSRA means you are strengthening the community by investing in one of Tennessee’s most valuable natural resources.

“Tennessee is a beautiful state rich in resources such as our rivers. We just can’t take them for granted,” Boord said. “They’re a gift to us all that we should treasure.”

Gifts can be made to this and other community agencies through Dec. 31, at http://vanderbi.lt/community.