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Little Pigeon River cleaner than ever thanks to people fighting to keep it that way

People fighting to keep the Pigeon River clean have won an initial step in their battle.
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 6:48 PM EST
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HARTFORD, Tenn. (WVLT) -- People fighting to keep the Pigeon River clean have won an initial step in their battle. A North Carolina regulatory group has put a meeting originally scheduled for Wednesday on hold.

Johnny Fenwick has worked on the Pigeon River in Hartford for 10 years. For him, fishing and rafting are a way of life.

“People rely on this waterway for their living. There’s 500 river guides that work right here in Hartford in the small town here for about a dozen companies,” said Fenwick. “People come in from all over the country, they bring a lot of revenue to the area whereas Sevier County and Cocke County are the ones that get most of those people.”

Work on the river is Cocke County’s biggest business as 200,000 people raft the East Tennessee waters each year.

Longtime locals say they remember when this river was called the “Dead Pigeon,” and they don’t want to go back to a time where they have to call it that again.

“Back in the early 90s, this river was really, really bad. As you can see it’s cleared up quite a bit,” said James Huskey, a Sevierville fisherman.

James Huskey is glad to hear a meeting about a “color variant request” by Blue Ridge Paper is put on hold.

He says that gives more time to figure out what could change – and how it could impact the future of the river and Douglas Lake -- where it empties into.

It’s already taken years to get this river back to where it needs to be.

“They cleaned it up, to their credit, they cleaned it up. It’s the best shape of my lifetime. We can’t let it go back,” said Huskey.

Fenwick plans for the rafting season to open in March and hopes the water stays clean for his guests.

“Just from rafting they get $2 per head that goes down the river, so just from rafting if you got 200,000 people that’s a big number plus their 2.7 percent sales tax that they get off of our sales. Which includes a rafting trip or t-shirt they buy in the shop,” he added.

The meeting is postponed until April.

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