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The Phoenix cruises the river

A fisherman stood on the muddy bank Friday afternoon as the Phoenix floated back from the wood dock, lurched forward and slipped out of the Selma City Marina into the Alabama River.

The man gave a passing glance to the riverboat, threw up his right hand and then went back to fishing.

On board the riverboat, about 23 city and county elected and economic officials ate peanuts and popcorn, snapped photographs and discussed future development along the river.

Capt. Randy Thompson and two crewmembers piloted the boat upriver past the Edmund Pettus Bridge and back to the marina.

Alabama River Cruises will offer two-hour cruises for private parties and groups on the 50-foot-long riverboat. While no cruises have been booked yet, many people have contacted Thompson about Selma’s newest tourist attraction, which has operated out of Montgomery for the last four years.

Mayor George Evans said the addition of Alabama River Cruises is an integral part of the city’s plan to develop the riverfront. Evans hopes the cruises will bring more boaters to the area, and in turn, encourage landowners along the river to beautify their property.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Evans said as he looked out the windows toward the riverbank. “Another piece to the puzzle.”

The Phoenix churned against a slow current, dodging driftwood and stirring a great blue heron from its perch atop a partially submerged tree.

“The water is so soothing,” Councilwoman Angela Benjamin said.

Benjamin said Selma should continue to use its natural resources and beauty to improve the city. She could hardly wait to tell people about the Phoenix’s maiden voyage.

“I’m glad we’re taking advantage of it,” she said.

For some on board, coasting back down river between the steep, vine-tangled banks was a brand new experience. But it reminded councilwoman Susan Keith of the days she spent on the river years ago with her husband, Austin.

“Wonderful. I love it,” she said. “People have enjoyed the river as long as it’s been here.”

Thompson is banking that people will continue to enjoy it, too. Alabama River Cruises will operate year round, and eventually, Thompson hopes to offer dinner cruises in conjunction with a local restaurant or caterer.

Thompson was pleased with the things he heard as he milled about the room speaking with passengers. He thanked them for their support as the boat docked at the marina, and the passengers burst into applause before stepping off the boat.

Probate Judge Kim Ballard could already imagine a line of passengers waiting to board the boat on a warm, summer evening. Ballard said Thompson made the right bringing his company to Selma.

“I enjoyed our 30-minute cruse, but can you imagine a two-hour dinner cruise?” he said. “They’re going to be amazed at how much Selma supports them.”