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Renew Our Rivers revs up for fall cleanups across Alabama

After a short summer break, Renew Our Rivers is gaining steam again with two successful cleanups ahead of a spate of fall events planned across the state.

Last month, 365 volunteers from across Jefferson County, including local residents, high school and college students and agency partners, helped kick off the fall Renew Our Rivers season at the biannual Valley Creek cleanup.

Valley Creek flows under downtown Birmingham, emerging near the historic Rickwood Field baseball park before eventually emptying into the Black Warrior River. The 257-square-mile watershed for the creek includes Bessemer, Birmingham, Brighton, Fairfield, Hueytown, Lipscomb, Maytown, Midfield, North Johns, Pleasant Grove and Sylvan Springs.

During the morning event, volunteers picked up nearly 2 tons of trash and debris. Among the items were nearly 1.5 tons of tires, along with aluminum cans, plastic bags, bottles and shopping carts.

“When litter is on the side of the road, individuals don’t realize that it can end up in our storm drains, which flow directly into our creeks,” said Jonika Smith, environmental health specialist with the Jefferson County Department of Health. “Clean roadways and clean creeks and streams go hand in hand. That’s why it’s so important that we, in the community, protect our waterways and other natural resources.”

Ronnie Tew said he lives on the Black Warrior River and understands how “garbage” can harm its water quality as well as wildlife.

“Cleanups are a personal passion for me,” Tew said. “I have been a boater all of my life, whether in a canoe or pontoon boat, and hate to see our waters filled with litter and trash. I want my grandkids to be able to enjoy our rivers and see them as something special and not a place that trash goes.”

Volunteers from Fairfield get ready for the Valley Creek cleanup. (contributed)

Brighton City Councilor Barbara Watkins said she continues to participate in the cleanups because she loves her city and wants to keep it clean.

“The Valley Creek cleanup means a special day and time to get involved with other community leaders and citizens to show and share concern about maintaining a clean community – not only in our city but also in surrounding cities,” Watkins said. “Getting to meet old and new friends, it’s like a family reunion every year. The fellowship is awesome.”

The Valley Creek cleanups are held in March and August. They are coordinated by the Valley Creek cleanup committee, Storm Water Management Authority Inc., Jefferson County Department of Health,  Renew Our Rivers, and the Birmingham and Bessemer storm water programs. The nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, Keep Birmingham Beautiful, the Jefferson County Commission and local municipalities also are involved. Since the first cleanup 12 years ago, volunteers have removed more than 80 tons of trash from Valley Creek and adjacent roadways.

Smith said Alabama Power has been a major partner from the beginning. Along with providing volunteer assistance, the company has supplied gloves, shirts, bags and trash grabbers.

“We are ever so grateful that Renew Our Rivers has been part of our cleanup since Day One,” Smith said. “They said, ‘We’re not just going to send you materials, but we’re going to get involved and help you clean up the trash.’ We couldn’t have hosted the cleanups for all these years without the support of Alabama Power.”

The first Renew Our Rivers cleanup of the fall season was hosted by Alabama Power’s Plant Miller. On Aug. 12, Alabama Power employees picked up about 1,500 pounds of trash along the banks of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River and West Jefferson Reservoir.

Plant Miller employees support Renew Our Rivers. (contributed)

Marybeth Vines, Plant Miller environmental compliance specialist who coordinated the cleanup, said the volunteers mostly found household trash, like bottles and bags, discarded clothing, fishing supplies, metal debris and tires.

“I feel we are much more than a power generation company. We also do our best to have a positive impact by protecting our natural resources and keeping the community nice for the public,” Vines said. “I just relocated here, so this is my home, too, and it’s important to me to keep it clean.”

The cleanup was topped off with lunch for volunteers. Wes Brown, Southern Company Safety and Health coordinator, cooked chicken, green beans and macaroni and cheese on his smoker, and even added his homemade white sauce for the meat.

Renew Our Rivers began in 2000 as a community river cleanup organized by employees at Alabama Power’s Plant Gadsden who were concerned about litter along the Coosa River. It has become a nationally recognized cleanup campaign, with thousands of volunteers removing trash and debris from rivers, lakes and creeks in four Southeastern states.

After a two-year lull due to the pandemic, Alabama Power Renew Our Rivers Coordinator Mike Clelland said many volunteers were excited to get back to work.

Renew Our Rivers volunteers were ready to go in Midfield. (contributed)

Since the first 2022 cleanup in March, more than 1,900 volunteers have removed about 55 tons of trash from Alabama waterways.

“It has been great to get back out and work with the community on these cleanups,” said Clelland. “As the year has gone on, more and more people are enthusiastic and coming out and getting involved. It is at the point now where it seems like we never missed a beat and have picked up right where we left off during the pandemic.”

Since Renew Our Rivers began in 2000, more than 127,000 volunteers have collected about 16.2 million pounds of trash from lakes, rivers and streams across the Southeast.

“It is very important for Alabama Power to support Renew Our Rivers and continue to lead the effort in raising awareness about keeping our waterways clean,” Clelland said. “As one of the largest landowners and water managers in Alabama, we have a responsibility to lead by example in all areas of conservation throughout our great state.”

With 11 cleanups on tap through November, there’s still plenty of time to volunteer this fall. To find a cleanup near you, check out the fall Renew Our Rivers schedule below:

Sept. 16: Smith Lake (Cullman County) – Contact: Jim Murphy, 205-529-5981.

Sept. 20-21: Smith Lake (Walker County) – Contact: Roger Treglown, 205-300-5253.

Sept. 22-23: Smith Lake (Winston County) – Contact: Jim Eason, msgjeason@yahoo.com.

Sept. 23-24: Village Creek (Jefferson County) – Contact: Yohance Owens, 205-798-0087.

Sept. 26-Oct. 1: Neely Henry Lake (Coosa River) – Contact: Lisa Dover, 256-549-0900.

Oct. 4: Dog River (Mobile County) – Contact: Catie Boss, 251-829-2146 or clboss@southernco.com.

Oct. 5-6: Mobile River (Plant Barry) – Contact: Jeff Reeves, 251-829-2746.

Oct. 13-14: Lake Demopolis – Contact: Jason Arledge, cjarledg@southernco.com.

Oct. 15: Lake Mitchell (Coosa River) – Contact: Dale Vann, 205-910-3713.

Oct. 25-27: Harris Lake (Tallapoosa River-Lake Wedowee) – Contact: Sheila Smith, 205-396-5093 or Marlin Glover, 770-445-0824.

Nov. 4-5: Lake Martin (Tallapoosa River) – Contact: John Thompson, 334-399-3289 or www.lmra@lmra.info.