Tennessee River 600 riders have local impact

Bill Barkley ties up his watercraft to get lunch at Lighthouse Pointe in Loudon.

Dozens of watercraft enthusiasts spent five days in late July on area waterways as part of the annual Tennessee River 600.

Each year participants representing as many as 20 states and Canada get on personal watercraft and raise funds for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Riders began at Pickwick Landing State Park and ended in Knoxville.

About 90 participants pulled their watercrafts alongside Lighthouse Pointe subdivision in Loudon on July 26 for a free lunch co-sponsored by Visit Loudon County and the Loudon Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s our opportunity to show off,” Rachel Baker, LCVB executive director, said. “I mean these people get to ride across the whole state of Tennessee, they go through parts of Alabama and Mississippi and we’re just, again, delighted to show off Loudon County, and Lighthouse Pointe gives us the opportunity to meet them and hopefully they’ll return again.”

The Tennessee River 600 began in 1997 as a pleasure event and has become a yearly experience many look forward to, including Bill Barkley and his wife, Pat Rule.

The Knoxville couple has made the trip for 20 years.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Barkley said. “I mean that’s the plain and simple reason. And it’s a good thing, too, in the children’s hospital as well that benefits. TWRA benefits for boater education.”

Barkley jokingly said the Tennessee River 600 was a way to be with “91 other friends.”

Dale Owens traveled from Normandy.

“I’m like a lot of people that just like to ride the skis,” he said. “Then I’ve made new friends and we get to hang out together. Some of the places we stay are really beautiful, stuff like this, it’s really interesting.”

Hopes are to possibly make the stop at Lighthouse Pointe an annual occurrence, Patrick Morris, Lighthouse Pointe homeowners association president, said.

“We’ve seen them the last couple of years, we didn’t know anything about it, and they approached us this year and I thought it’d be a great thing for the community to just get a little publicity but at the same time it’s for a good cause,” Morris said.

Mark Harrell, Loudon Parks and Recreation director, said being involved is a great opportunity for the community.

“They wanted us to be involved so we could do this as an annual thing and we can do more events with them,” Harrell said. “... That’s our job is to provide events.”

Dennis Beckley, director for Tennessee River 600, estimated at least $10,000 would be raised from the ride.

“Everybody has their own reason, but I think it’s just the draw of the challenge to get up and ride every day,” he said.