After a short summer hiatus, Renew Our Rivers is picking up steam with two successful cleanups ahead of a series of planned fall events across the state.
Last month, 365 volunteers from across Jefferson County, including local residents, high school and college students and partner agencies, helped kick off the Renew Our Rivers fall season at the biannual Valley Creek Cleanup.
Valley Creek flows beneath Birmingham city center, emerging near the historic Rickwood Field baseball park before eventually emptying into the Black Warrior River. The creek’s 257 square mile watershed 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 tonnes of tires, as well as aluminum cans, plastic bags, bottles and shopping carts.
“When trash is on the side of the road, people don’t realize it can end up in our storm drains, which empty directly into our streams,” said Jonika Smith, environmental health specialist at the Department of Jefferson County Health. “Clean roads and clean streams and streams go hand in hand. This is why it is 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.
“Cleanings are a personal passion for me,” Tew said. “I’ve been a boater all my life, whether in a canoe or a pontoon, and I hate to see our waters filled with trash and trash. I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy our rivers and see them as something special and not a place where trash goes.
Brighton City Councilor Barbara Watkins said she continues to participate in cleanups because she loves her town and wants to keep it clean.
“The Valley Creek cleanup means a special day and time to engage with other community leaders and citizens to show and share concerns about keeping a community clean – not just in our city but in cities as well. surrounding areas,” Watkins said. “Meeting old and new friends is like a family reunion every year. The camaraderie is great. »
Valley Creek cleanups take place 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 Birmingham and Bessemer Stormwater Programs. The nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, Keep Birmingham Beautiful, the Jefferson County Commission and local municipalities are also involved. Since the first cleanup 12 years ago, volunteers have removed more than 80 tons of trash from Valley Creek and adjacent roads.
Smith said Alabama Power was a major partner from the start. In addition to providing volunteer help, the company provided gloves, shirts, bags and garbage clips.
“We are 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 out the bins.’ We couldn’t have run the cleanups 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 August 12, Alabama Power employees picked up approximately 1,500 pounds of trash along the banks of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River and West Jefferson Reservoir.
Marybeth Vines, Plant Miller’s 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 that 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 enjoyable for the public,” Vines said. “I just moved here, so it’s also my home, and keeping it clean is important to me.”
The cleanup ended with a lunch for the volunteers. Wes Brown, the Southern Company’s 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 of Alabama Power’s Gadsden plant who were concerned about litter along the Coosa River. It’s become a nationally recognized clean-up campaign, with thousands of volunteers removing litter and debris from rivers, lakes and streams in four southeastern states.
After a two-year lull due to the pandemic, Alabama Power Renew Our Rivers coordinator Mike Clelland said many volunteers are excited to get back to work.
Since the first cleanup of 2022 in March, more than 1,900 volunteers have removed approximately 55 tons of trash from Alabama’s waterways.
“It was great to come back and work with the community on these cleanups,” Clelland said. “As the year progresses, more and more people get excited, get out there and get involved. It’s now to the point where it seems we’ve never missed a beat and picked up where we left off during the pandemic.
Since Renew Our Rivers began in 2000, more than 127,000 volunteers have collected approximately 16.2 million pounds of litter from lakes, rivers and streams across the Southeast.
“It’s very important for Alabama Power to support Renew Our Rivers and continue to lead efforts to keep our waterways clean,” Clelland said. “As one of Alabama’s largest landowners and water managers, we have a responsibility to lead by example in all areas of conservation for our great state.”
With 11 cleanups underway through November, there’s still plenty of time to volunteer this fall. To find a cleanup near you, check out the Renew Our Rivers fall schedule below:
September 16: Smith Lake (Cullman County) – Contact: Jim Murphy, 205-529-5981.
September 20-21: Smith Lake (Walker County) – Contact: Roger Treglown, 205-300-5253.
September 22-23: Smith Lake (Winston County) – Contact: Jim Eason, [email protected].
September 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.
October 4: Dog River (Mobile County) – Contact: Catie Boss, 251-829-2146 or [email protected].
October 5-6: Mobile River (Plant Barry) – Contact: Jeff Reeves, 251-829-2746.
Oct. 13-14: Demopolis Lake – Contact person: Jason Arledge, [email protected].
October 15: Lake Mitchell (Coosa River) – Contact: Dale Vann, 205-910-3713.
October 25-27: Lake Harris (Tallapoosa River-Lake Wedowee) – Contact: Sheila Smith, 205-396-5093 or Marlin Glover, 770-445-0824.
November 4-5: Lake Martin (Tallapoosa River) – Contact: John Thompson, 334-399-3289 or [email protected].