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Build a New Year’s Green Routine

TVA Experts’ Top Tips for an Earth-Friendly Lifestyle

Looking to green up your routines in the new year?

Tennessee Valley Authority experts have some ideas to help, whether it’s caring for your own yard, adopting new ways to think green, or adventuring year-round across the Valley region.

Enjoy the Outdoors – Right Outside Your Door

Adam Dattilo, TVA biodiversity program manager, recommends people look to their own yards to connect with family and nature in the coming year.

“Focus on (creating an) outdoor living space for the household,” he said.

Dattilo has created these spaces at his own home. In addition to creating a pollinator paradise – a mosaic of native flowers and trees – he’s left grassy spaces for play and built a patio for relaxing.

There’s no wrong way to build it, and no effort is too small.

“(It) could be a native plant garden, a covered deck so you can sit outside in the rain, a small fire pit, wood-fired hot tub, or a vegetable garden,” Dattilo said.

No matter what people decide on, these features mean more joy outside.

“This connection is great for our emotional and physical well-being,” Dattilo said. “It allows us to connect with neighbors and acclimates us to the real world.”

Native plants and pollinator plants in the front yard of a Tennessee home

Be a Conscientious Consumer

Brian Ross, TVA recreation agreements specialist, considers the big picture of his own actions. Shopping, transportation, heating and food choices all contribute to your carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is how much fossil fuel emissions come from your everyday activities. Instead of buying online and waiting for an item to be shipped across the country – or the world – Ross and his family made a switch.

“We've made the decision to cancel our annual online delivery membership and donate the total to local (viewer- and listener-supported TV and radio stations) PBS and WDVX instead,” he said.

Small changes in shopping habits can help cut carbon and boost local economies.

“Be more mindful to buy from local shops,” Ross said.

An adult and two children shop in downtown Knoxville

Get Out and Build

Clay Guerry, TVA recreation strategy specialist, sculpts trails for a living and in his free time. He encourages others to volunteer building trails for the rewards it brings.

Guerry volunteers in east Tennessee to build and maintain multi-use trails on city, state and federal lands. It’s satisfying work.

“If you’ve got your blood, sweat and tears in a project, you’re just going to appreciate it more when you use it,” he said.

TVA hosts public trail volunteer events for National Trails Day. It also partners with the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club and REI at the Loyston trails system on National Public Lands Day.

Can’t make it?

“People can sign up to adopt a trail or a spot as well,” Guerry said. “You can do monitoring or lone trail work, whatever fits your interest or your expertise.”

For those looking for group volunteering, Guerry recommends the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association and International Mountain Bicycling Association.

People can also search for local hiking clubs to help map, build, or maintain trails. 

There’s no wrong way to help, and the rewards are long-lasting.

“It feels good when you know you were part of something,” Guerry said. “Building sustainable trails helps build sustainable communities.”

TVA team members clear a trail during National Public Lands Day

Look To the Land

TVA fisheries biologist Justin Wolbert and his family rely on the land for food and other resources. And they create systems to feed nutrients back in.

In his yard, Wolbert leaves a buffer of grass along waterways – rather than mowing to the bank – to reduce erosion and runoff. To cut down on lawn care altogether, he grows nitrogen-fixing clover and fertilizes with his chickens’ manure.

His family just moved and Wolbert has plans for the new place already. He’ll keep mowing to a minimum.

“I’ll be putting my new property back into native grasses and forbs and allowing the seed base to flourish,” he said.

He’ll also use micro-irrigation to water native shrubs and trees with less waste.

And Wolbert saves what most people haul away. He keeps leaves in place or uses them as mulch or plant insulation alongside wood chips delivered from tree-trimming companies. His family collects downed wood on their property to heat their home.

Workdays find Wolbert on the water with food from his own land packed in reusable containers.

And it’s a family affair. “My wife and I, we grow food in our garden and hunt our own meat,” Wolbert said.

Native plants grow in an unmown section of a Tennessee yard

Skip the Straw

Melinda Watson, TVA Partnerships and Strategic Integration Program manager, refuses a straw when eating out. It’s a little action that people can adopt to make a big difference in local rivers and reservoirs.

“Every time I participate in a cleanup, no matter where I am, I always find plastic straws,” Watson said.

Many of the billions of straws Americans use each year end up as litter. Straws are hazards to birds and animals in the short term. And things get worse over time.

“After they have been out in the environment for a year or so, (the straws) become brittle and fall apart,” Watson said. “The smaller pieces add to the microplastic issue in our river.”

That makes them invisible pollution that animals and humans may drink.

To help prevent this, people can refuse a straw and drink straight from the glass. Or they can come prepared with their own alternatives to plastic straws.

The no-plastic-straw movement is growing. Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful’s #Pledge4Rivers program encourages people to give up certain items – straws and other single-use plastic items – for a year.

And in February, everyone can join in on National Skip the Straw Day.

Volunteers place litter into a trash bag while cleaning a river in the Valley region

Join a Coalition

Shannon O’Quinn, TVA senior water resource specialist, protects aquatic systems as his job. But he has a yard like many people do and he knows it’s hard to adopt sustainable actions in everyday life.

That’s why his goal is to work on a University of Tennessee Smart Yards Certification.

“It's focused on planting native plants and reducing pollutants,” O’Quinn said.

The program limits flooding and erosion by encouraging rain gardens, rain barrels or natural filtration systems, too. That means cleaner water flowing into rivers.

“There’s a lot of urban pollution … and people don’t realize it,” O’Quinn said.

Fertilizer washes into rivers from city storm drains, feeding aquatic algae. The algae can form a mat over the stream like a blanket, blocking light for native plants and making the water too warm. As the plants die, bacteria break them down and use up oxygen that fish need. Plus, the water can turn green and smelly.

“It has a huge impact on aquatic life,” O’Quinn said.

On a larger scale, O’Quinn recommends joining a local watershed coalition, which hosts river cleanups and advocates for watershed protection.

“It’s one thing to talk about conservation work, but what we’ve got to do is spread the word, help people recognize the opportunities out there,” O’Quinn said.

A butterfly garden is hemmed in by a small fence in the yard of a Tennessee home

Become a Connoisseur of the Seasons

Suzanne Fisher, TVA senior program manager of TVA Special Projects and Land Use Initiatives, finds joy in cycles of seasons. She encourages the public to join year-round TVA activities, too.

Spring means hikes with friends and family, and “noting when wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and my garden plantings emerge.”

“(TVA) hosts (public) Wildflower Walks in March,” Fisher said. “And on nature walks in April, we may … see when eagle and osprey nesting starts.”

Summer brings abundance. “Summer flowers, gardens … and canning like my granny used to do,” Fisher said. “And all the pollinators and dragonflies, mayflies and certain fish spawning.”

Summer means recreation on TVA lands, campgrounds and rivers, paddlers racing on whitewater.

Fall and winter aren’t any quieter.

“We wrap up Bee Atlas monitoring (because bumblebees) hibernate in October,” Fisher said. “Our reservoirs are on their drawdown.” This means birdwatching on mudflats and hunting season.

And Fisher winds down her yard. “I plant seeds … and celebrate greens and root vegetables. I notice … animals trying to fatten up.”

That’s when people can prepare, too, by checking for efficiency tips to save money and energy.

By celebrating seasons, “we can appreciate the normal rhythm and reaction of our planet as it takes a turn around the sun,” Fisher said.

An adult and two children walk along a Chatuge Reservoir trail

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Learn how you can help with stewardship of the region’s natural resources at the Volunteer with TVA page.

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