More than three decades ago, a renewed and vibrant Chattanooga began to emerge from a declining population, declining economic base, and poor ecological footprint. Today, the city has been named as one of the best mid-sized cities in America to live in, one of America’s top family weekend getaways, one of America’s top vacation destinations, and one of the best towns for outdoor adventures. Its rock climbing, bike riding, and rafting are just a few of the outdoor activities that led Outside magazine to overwhelmingly vote Chattanooga as their ultimate dream town.
With the support of private and public groups, the community’s involvement, and individual leaders who executed ambitious, multi-faceted plans, Chattanooga has become a haven for outdoor enthusiasts looking for adventure in a historic natural setting. Notable leaders (among many) have included Jack Lupton, Rick Montague, Mai Bell Hurley, and Senator Bob Corker. Public and private organizations (among many) have included River City Company, the Lyndhurst Foundation, Chattanooga Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, Ruby Falls and Rock City.
But who will be the leaders for the future and how will they be given the opportunity to lead new and creative ideas to build on Chattanooga’s environmental and ecological successes?
Introducing the Rock City, Ruby Falls and Chattanooga Coca-Cola Environmental Summit
In 2012, the leaders of Rock City and Ruby Falls (Bill Chapin, Andrew Kean, Hugh Morrow and Karen Baker), and Chattanooga Coca- Cola (Rick Hansard) created the first Annual Environmental Summit, where area high school students presented their ideas for advancing Chattanooga’s natural beauty and the world’s ecological footprint while receiving guidance from a panel of experts.
Says Rick Hansard, director of marketing for Chattanooga Coca-Cola, “The Environmental Summit provides the forum to encourage our next generation of future leaders to dream big and pursue bold new ideas. Additionally, it provides the platform to support creative initiatives that will advance the legacy of Chattanooga and its green initiatives here and potentially around the world. This is very much in line with the ongoing initiatives of The Coca-Cola Company’s Live Positively campaign to advance sustainability and preserve our environment.”
For this year’s Environmental Summit, 33 high school students submitted essays to a panel of experts. Based on the criteria of “having the desire to make a difference and to lead change for the advancement of clean water initiatives,” the panel then selected 13 students to present their essays. Over the course of two days, one day held at Rock City and the other at Ruby Falls, the students presented their essays to the panel of experts who in turn provided specific feedback and suggestions for advancing their clean water initiatives. Each student also had the opportunity to observe and listen to the presentations of their peers.
At the end of the second day, Darby Schumacher, of Baylor School, was recognized by the panel as having the best opportunity to lead change and make a difference with clean water initiatives.
In fifth grade, after working as a stormwater pollutants volunteer in Monterey Beach, California, Darby designed a filter that fit inside or around storm drains to capture pollutants flowing directly into the Pacific Ocean. Since moving to Chattanooga, she has developed and tested a more advanced filter system that reduces stormwater pollutants by 72%. In her essay, she says, “It is my hope that after further refinements, my stormwater filter can be implemented in cities to significantly reduce the human effects of pollution on our waterways.”
Darby is working with the City of Chattanooga and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to further develop her filter system for commercial use.
Says Karen Baker, director of marketing for Ruby Falls and Rock City, “The summit reinforces to students that they can make a difference, and that they can impact the quality of life for people in Chattanooga and around the world. It also reinforces that preserving our natural resources is good for our economy. People want to live, work, and visit where the outdoors is a beautiful and vibrant part of life. Companies want to locate to areas where the brightest and most talented people want to live. This is about preserving our environment and it’s about advancing our local economy.”