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The Cumberland River, Clarksville’s ‘Focal Point’

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Most American cities have something they’re known for and Clarksville, Tennessee happens to have several things. Clarksville natives are very familiar with places like Dunbar Cave, Fort Defiance, the Customs House Museum, and the most well recognized of all being the Cumberland River. Even though it runs through multiple cities in Kentucky and Tennessee, Clarksville has strong historical ties to the river and has made it a focal point.

When asked about his best childhood memories at the Cumberland River, Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said, “I’ve skied in that river, swam in the river, and fished. I used to watch speed boat racing on the banks of the Cumberland.”

Many people have fond memories of fishing along the river, including Candy Johnson who was the youngest person to ever be elected to Clarksville’s City Council at only 25 years old.

“My grandmother always loved taking me and my cousins there and we’d sit outside and watch the water. She would often take us fishing because that was something fun that we did,” she said.

Even in off season, many people still fish across the Marina and McGregor Park. Catfish are commonly found and consumed. There’s a lot of talk about water pollution in general and what is found in the fish, which are primarily micro plastics. The biggest issues with the Cumberland River seem to be micro plastics and sewage pollution.

The Tennessee Riverkeepers is an organization that tries to preserve and monitor the cleanliness of local bodies of water. They host cleanups but even with all they do, David Whiteside (the founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper) still believes there’s more that can be done.

“Clean ups only do so much. We need to join together as citizens to reduce our plastic usage and demand that city and public officials fix these problems and clean up the pollution as quickly as possible. Litter is a complicated issue but it goes back to the bigger problem of single use plastics and we’re making and using more plastics now than ever,” he said.

Last year, Clarksville reached a settlement regarding the lawsuit that claimed the city dumped pollutants into the river. The lawsuit was filed by the Tennessee Riverkeepers and since then, Mayor Pitts said they’re continuously upgrading and improving the wastewater treatment plant.

“We’re paying closer attention to the cleanliness of the river in the section that we control,” he said.

Kim Schofinski of Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) said that the public can get more involved in a multitude of ways which includes looking into their collection of story maps.

“They are meant to help inform and clarify how waters are assessed in the state, how causes of pollution are determined, and what is being done to protect, improve, and restore our valuable water resources,” she said.

Hopefully there will continue to be vast improvements on the condition of the river because even with these concerns, the city is continuing to increase in population which is causing further expansion. There are a lot of plans for the expansion of attractions along the Cumberland River. Some of these expansions dating back to over twenty years ago when the then-Mayor Johnny Piper was very instrumental in the visionary planning of the Cumberland River and downtown area.

Candy Johnson said that Johnny Piper’s master plan included some high-rise apartments, and even a water park at one time.

“There needs to be a continuous flow of action along that downtown corridor. We need to invest in the infrastructure of the river in order to accentuate it,” Johnny Piper said.

He also mentioned that the Riverwalk needs to be extended and tied into the Marina for a continuous walkway because that was the original plan for that area.

Charles Hand was also a part of the original visionary planning and donated $250,000 to the city for the expansion of the Clarksville Greenway.

“Along the river should be the focal point of the city. We also gave money to build a larger bridge that’s out in the North Clarksville part of the greenway,” he said.

As a Clarksville native, donating money towards these expansions was his way of giving back to the community he’s known all his life. He also mentioned that Johnny Piper and all the people before him got highly criticized while the riverwalk was under construction but the community started to come around once it was built.

Mayor Pitts said that evidence of expansion is happening all around and that there are things they’re budgeted to do for the community around the Cumberland River within the next 5-10 years.

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