Up the Alabama River … With a Paddle

By on 23 July, 2014 in Fun, Jesseca Cornelson, Outdoors with 0 Comments

I’ve previously written about Alabama’s many rivers and my love of kayaking on the Coosa here before, and last year Kate and Stephen interviewed Alabama River Alliance’s executive director Cindy Lowry about Rivers of Alabama Day 2013. Last week, I was lucky enough to participate in ARA’s Defend Rivers Paddle, launching the new Defend Rivers Campaign. In an ARA press release, Lowry described how the campaign helps, “people be involved in government and let their elected officials know that they care about our rivers and that they want legislators to vote to protect rivers.”

More than a hundred of us showed up here in Montgomery to paddle down our river “in a bright flotilla of boats” — our physical presence a manifestation of support for Alabama’s many wonderful rivers and hopefully a message to our legislators that they should protect Alabama rivers at both the state and national levels. According to my copy of Paddling Alabama, Alabama is seventh in the nation for stream miles; has a whopping 3,627,600 acres of wetlands and 563,000 acres of ponds, lakes, and reservoirs; and gets more than half of its drinking supply from those rivers, streams, and reservoirs. Moreover, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which is fed by so many of our waterways, is the second largest in the nation and so biologically diverse that it’s been described as “America’s Amazon.”

Clean waters throughout the state are crucial for the well-being of the delta. For those more concerned with economics, Alabama benefits from more than $1 billion each year from the water-based recreation industry. It would only make sense that we should protect this amazing natural resource; however, that has not always been the case.

According to “Pollution Plagues Our Water,” a recent piece from the editorial board of the Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama ranks fourth in the nation (wait before shouting “Yay!”) for total toxic discharge at 12.3 million pounds in 2013 — a whopping 25% increase over the previous year. According to the Southeast Environmental Law Blog, the 2012 budget of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) had been cut by 57% over its 2008 numbers. When budget cuts were proposed in 2011, ADEM director Lance LeFleur noted that the department’s budget was already, “at the same level it was 20 years ago while its regula­tory role has greatly in­creased.” So there is definitely more we could be doing to protect our treasured rivers.

Enough of the grim stuff, and back to the paddle. Representatives of more than 20 organizations attended, many in canoes and kayaks generously provided by the Coosa Outdoor CenterAlabama Scenic River Trail, and The Nature Conservancy. It took a while to get all of the hundred paddlers in the water and moving, but it was fun chatting with people in the middle of the Alabama River. Once we started paddling, it was a short jaunt to Riverfront Park, where Dreamland provided a barbeque lunch and Eartha McGoldrick, board president of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, led a drinking water toast to Alabama rivers. Then we were back on the water toward our final destination, Powder Magazine Park. On the way I saw a blue heron, a white egret, a couple of varieties of hibiscus — perhaps swamp-rose and wild cotton mallow, and a beautiful bird that was unfamiliar to me at first. This magnificent creature turned out to be an indigo bunting.

It was a lovely way to support a terrific cause with a distinctly local angle. If we, the residents of Montgomery, don’t protect the rivers upon which we live, nobody else is going to do it for us. Please consider going to the Defend Rivers website, taking the pledge to defend rivers, and participating in future events. The more people who sign, the stronger our voice will be.


Jesseca Cornelson is an Assistant Professor of English at Alabama State University and is a resident of Cloverdale. She grew up in Mobile and did her graduate studies in the Yankee North, earning degrees at The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati. She blogged about her visits to Montgomery to do research at her now-defunct blog, Difficult History, and was a Platte Clove Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.

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