Forum discussed methods to increase recreational river use

Published 8:55pm Saturday, February 23, 2013

MONTGOMERY — Every state has a state seal and anyone who has ever taken the time to look at the state seal of Alabama will notice that it’s not a famous battle scene or person, state bird, state flower or building that is featured within the seal, but rather a simple map of the state outlined with labels of all the major river systems.

The obvious importance of Alabama’s rivers and improvement efforts to keep them viable was the topic of discussion at the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association’s annual meeting in Montgomery last Thursday and Friday.

The meeting touched on the Alabama River’s locks level of service and the lack of recreational access, as stakeholders listened to presentations on what types of activity is happening on the river systems and what they can do to help promote river usage.

“If you look at the Great Seal of the state of Alabama, you’ll see that our first governor recognized that our rivers are our highways. This was an advertisement to the rest of the world, not just a seal of office,” Jim Felder, executive director of the Alabama Scenic River Trail said. “We’re always trying to reach out and leverage what we’re doing outside of the state’s borders. We [have to find] a way to reconnect the community with the rivers.”

Felder explained that along with an aging population and general dwindling of the use of boats and waterways, Alabama has become, as a state, a more urban civilization.

“We’ve got to get people in these cities who don’t own boats — we’ve got to get them out to the rural communities, because that’s where the rivers run. And we can say it’s a proven way to bring tourism back to life to the forgotten reaches of these rivers,” Felder said. “We’re creating a positive national brand of the state. We potentially have over 5,000 miles of rivers and streams to enjoy.”

Felder said that in order to get more people on the rivers and potentially using the locks, “You’ve got to have the guidance and the access.”

Felder said he is working on a project to create signage for the rivers and streams that could be put up with information that would include nearby attractions, safety tips, a trip narrative, skill level, put ins, take outs, camping options, nearby roads, obstacles and places to be aware of.

“This allows trip planning,” he said, which is extremely beneficial, especially for people out of state. “When you put [these signs] up you give people the knowledge and security to sensibly and responsibly recreate on our rivers.”

Felder said there is tremendous opportunity with what can be done with Alabama’s rivers and streams.

Diane Hite of Auburn University and CARIA President Jerry Sailors agreed and said bringing in recreational river traffic will also bring a boost to the economy.

“The idea of having support facilities on any of our active waterways,” Jerry Sailors, said, “is going to increase the possibility of more people participating, therefore, a bigger economic impact.

After Thursday’s recreational meeting, Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said he’d like to encourage all those in Dallas County to get out and use the Alabama River.

“It’s extremely important to keep the river open for recreational navigation,” Ballard said. “We need to urge all boaters and people that engage in sport fishing to use the locks as often as possible to justify the future operation of them, because if we don’t show more volume then we’ve got now, they’re going to close those locks to recreational boating.”

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