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Local leaders say they can't regulate Little River tubing

After the county began researching what they could do to help, they learned they can't do anything.

Neighbors in Townsend have voiced concerns for years about the tubers that flock to a stretch of the Little River in the summertime, but those residents face a setback in the fight after learning the city and county can't help them regulate river traffic.

"The biggest problem we see is the nuisance," said Pat Jenkins, who has owned property along the river for 25 years. "The river is supposed to be enjoyed by everyone, not just tubers."

Jenkins said trespassing, littering and noise are all problems he deals with every summer.

"They come up on our property to change their kids' diapers, and the diapers we find along the shore," he said.

Jenkins and dozens of neighbors have been asking the Townsend and Blount County governments to step in and regulate commercial tubing on the Little River.

Tubers float down Little River in Townsend.

But after the county began researching what they could do to help, they learned they can't do anything.

"After addressing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that is deemed a navigable water, and for that reason it falls under the guidelines and the oversight of the federal government," Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell said.

Since it's "navigable," the river can be used for recreational and commercial use.

Mitchell and Townsend Mayor Mike Talley both said legally their hands are tied, and they can't advocate on behalf of the residents or the tubing companies.

"I don't think that's what they wanted to hear, but it is what it is, and the law is the law," Mitchell said.

Jenkins said he's disappointed.

"Leadership of the county and the city just don't seem to want to take on their responsibility, which in my mind is helping out their citizens," he said.

Mitchell said the county government can step in with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation if environmental issues arise regarding upkeep of the river.

The most recent testing shows no environmental impacts from tubing.

Otherwise, its up to the citizens to form a committee and take action into their own hands.

10News attempted to contact the tubing companies on the Little River, but many of them had disconnected phone numbers.

The only one to respond, Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing, released this statement on Thursday:

Over the past few months the City of Townsend has allowed a minority of property owners to potentially limit or restrict the public’s ability to use the Little River. The Federal Government controls the river for the use and enjoyment of all the public, not just river front owners. Being river front owners ourselves, we acknowledge the property owners’ rights and share in the same struggles. However, the rights of the public citizens AND business owners are equally important.

We commend Blount County and its agents for their due diligence in researching the topics protecting the public’s rights to the Little River, and for their professional approach to diffuse the situation. These issues are taken seriously and are used to better the Smoky Mountain River Rat brand and the tubing Industry as a whole.

Sincerely,

Shannon & Shannan Skidmore

Smoky Mountain River Rat