Frank Hensley - 2006 River Hero

Anyone who paddles with Frank Hensley learns very quickly that our streams are not to be taken for granted, and that if we are to continue to enjoy those streams we must fight to protect them.

Frank’s love for rivers is wildly contagious. No one who has paddled a wild river or hiked a trail with Frank has done so without hearing the saga of its recovery from mining pollution, its narrow escape from being dammed or clear-cut or developed, or the vulnerability it still faces without secured protection.

Frank has played an active role for over thirty years in protecting the watersheds of the Cumberland Plateau. As a result of Frank’s great passion for rivers, future generations will be able to enjoy truly untouched wilderness.

In Pickett and Fentress Counties alone Frank played a key role in preserving 10,000 acres of land that hold the headwaters and drainage areas of the Little South Fork and the Big South Fork of the Cumberland and the Wolf River. These areas possess great ecological significance and stand as a priceless legacy for future generations to enjoy.

When Frank heard the Obed Wild and Scenic River was rapidly losing aquatic habitat, he joined with TCWP to put a plan in place that would breathe life back into in the Obed.

The source of pollution to the Obed is stormwater runoff from the City of Crossville. Frank assisted TCWP with requesting that Crossville be added to the EPA Phase II Stormwater Mandate to reduce pollutants entering the Obed. The request was successful and should help restore biodiversity to the Obed.

In addition to working to protect lands and waters through acquiring land, Frank also addresses some of the most severe threats to water quality in the Cumberlands, namely, coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and clear-cutting.

Frank has testified convincingly and eloquently at public hearings for coal mining permits, oil and gas drilling requirements, and proposed rule changes for mining buffer zones.

Frank helped organize a public hearing, performed research, and spearheaded comment development groups on the TVA Watts Bar Reservoir Land Management Plan with the aim of protecting sensitive riparian zones and water quality.

Frank Hensley’s love of whitewater paddling and of whitewater rivers seems to be infectious for the scores of individuals that he has introduced to the activity. One of his most significant contributions to the protection of Tennessee’s streams is the degree to which he has been successful in instilling a heightened appreciation of our aquatic resources in others.

Frank inspires others to love wild places and act to keep them wild and clean. With his inspirational enthusiasm and energy Frank is undoubtedly one of the most effective ambassadors that the streams of the Cumberland Plateau have ever known.

Frank is Vice President for Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, Treasurer of Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation, Advisor to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, and an active member of the Nature Conservancy.

Chester McConnell - 2005 River Hero

Chester McConnell has worked on river issues in Tennessee and around the country for over 30 years. He is responsible for initiating, running and reinvigorating some of the most important river saving campaigns in West Tennessee history.

In the 1970’s Mr. McConnell was responsible for saving the Wolf River in Fayette County from a channelization, clearing and snagging project that would have drained the Ghost River and likely changed the course of the ensuing next 20 years of river protection on the Wolf River. The Wolf River Conservancy raised over a million dollars to buy the Ghost River swamp in 1997, the target of the drainage project. If Mr. McConnell had not intervened there would have been no swamp to save!

Beginning in the late ’s and continuing well into the 1990’s Mr. McConnell proves to be an unwavering champion of wetlands protection in West Tennessee. He opposed two parallel projects jointly called the West Tennessee Tributaries Project. This project called for the dredging and enlarging of hundreds of miles of river in West Tennessee and the potential drainage of tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. The Forked Deer and Obion Rivers of West Tennessee would be ripped apart by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a State Agency known as the Obion Forked Deer Basin Authority. These two agencies together would leave virtually no part of these river systems untouched. This one campaign lasted over 20 years and is potentially still not over, but it changed the course of history in West Tennessee and began to reverse over 150 years of river abuse.

Mr. McConnell efforts are well documented in the press locally, regionally and even at the national level. He has been on television and radio shows and is not averse to utilizing the legal system when necessary to halt a project. He has been involved in several federal cases and state court cases. Mr. McConnell has successfully appealed several water quality certifications before the Water Quality Control Board.

Helping others in need typifies Mr. McConnell’s attitude of helping and advising others when asked. He has always freely shared his wealth of knowledge and experience and helped create a network of wetland and clean water advocates across the region. His unselfish sharing of his time, money and resources to help make the world a better place for people he may never know.

“I want to say many thanks again for the tremendous honor that I received from TCWN. One often believes that few know about or care of the efforts one makes in the conservation arena. On many of my efforts it has been a lonely job. But the TCWN proved me wrong by selecting me for the River Hero Award. Thanks.” -Chester McConnell

Many thanks to our sponsors: John Noel and Melinda Welton * Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association * Mid-South Fly Fishers * Sierra Club-Chickasaw Group * Wolf River Conservancy * Reelfoot Lake Watch Group * Swan Conservation Trust

Dr. David A. Etnier - 2004 River Hero

On April 7, 2004, Dr. David A. Etnier received the first Bill Russell River Hero Award at a reception to honor his outstanding contributions to the conservation of our state’s waters. Dr. Etnier, Emeritus Professor with the University of Tennessee, taught Ichthyology and Aquatic Insects and has inspired thousands of future aquatic resource professionals since joining the University in 1965.

For nearly 40 years, he has worked to better understand Tennessee’s rivers and streams through his unparalleled research. In 1973, while surveying the lower Little Tennessee River, Etnier discovered the Snail Darter, an accomplishment that delayed the construction of the Tellico Dam. There are few watersheds in the Southeast that have not been sampled by Etnier-guided field surveys.

In 1993, from research conducted over 25 years, Dr. Etnier published a sentinel work encompassing 681 pages, The Fishes of Tennessee, with co-author Dr. Wayne C. Starnes, a former student. The text filled the huge void in fisheries literature in the state, providing both a taxonomic source and a natural history reference for one of the most biologically rich regions in the country.

Dr. Etnier was selected as the 2004 River Hero after a nomination and vote held by TCWN’s staff and Board of Directors. We received many nominations from citizens across the state that wanted to honor outstanding environmentalists - it proved to be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about amazing individuals working for healthier waters in Tennessee. As the inaugural River Hero, Dr. Etnier has set the bar high for future candidates. We look forward to meeting those candidates and honoring those striving to fulfill the TCWN mission: protect, restore, and enhance our waters and the communities that depend on them.