Guardians of Our Troubled Waters

The Cherokee and the Long Man

The Cherokee had a sacred connection to all waterways and the practice of going to water for purification and other ceremonies was at one time very common. Today the river or any body of moving water is considered a sacred site and going to water is still a respected practice by many Cherokees.

Mountaineers and their Waterways

Before industrialization, most people living along the rivers and streams in the Southern Appalachians were self-sustaining farmers who knew that protecting their natural resources was essential for their continued existence. Good stewardship was as important as good citizenship and a deep connection to their faith.

Wilma Dykeman, Savior of the French Broad

Wilma Dykeman, the award-winning author and ardent mountain environmentalist was a passionate protector of the French Broad watershed, standing up to Champion Paper and other manufacturers that were killing the river. The growth of camps, outfitters and breweries are only possible today due to her heroism.

United We Stand, Divided We're Dammed

The Upper French Broad Defense Association was an organization of local farmers and conservationists who fought the TVA’s plans to build 14 dams along the French Broad and its tributaries which would have flooded over 18,000 acres of prime farmland and displaced thousands. Their success is a testament to what a determined community can do to protect its natural resources.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas- Grand Dame of the Everglades

Marjory was one of the first to give prominence to the “river of grass” clarifying that it wasn’t a swamp, but a critical ecosystem for hundreds of plants and animals and the source of drinking water for millions of people. First as an author, then as an advocate, she made Floridians, Americans and the world care about the Everglades.

Save The Dirty Bird!

Champion Paper brought good paying jobs into Haywood County, North Carolina but it also brought toxic pollution dumped directly into the Pigeon River. The poisonous dioxin they released killed the fish, the cows and resulted in high cancer rates in East Tennessee. The Dead Pigeon River Council along with other groups stood up to the paper mill demanding they stop their toxic ways.

Waterway Heroes of Today

Environmental watchdogs and water-connected businesses have picked up the gauntlet from the river heroes of yesterday, working to educate, monitor and advocate for clean waterways so that we all can live in a healthy, sustainable and protected ecosystem along with the other critters that call our region home.


Award-winning film director David Weintraub’s latest documentary Guardians of Our Troubled Waters, tells the story of our early communities and their deep connections to their rivers and streams as a source of spiritual sustenance, as their lifeblood and as a critical component of their livelihood, how that changed during the industrial era when paper mills, tanneries and other manufacturing plants turned clean, protected water into moving cesspools, and the heroes who rose to challenge the destruction. So much of our environmental consciousness and economic vitality sprung from the champions of our waterways of the past. So much of our future depends upon our ability to continue their legacy today.

Guardians focuses on three communities — Western North Carolina, East Tennessee and South Florida, the stewardship efforts that grew to protect the French Broad River, the Pigeon River and the Everglades and the lessons learned for today’s world.