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River Rats point out need for marinas

By Laura Fenton

Selma Times-Journal

Rats took over the marina Wednesday. As the they crept at 12 miles an hour into the marina, the group of 17 men, self-named River Rats, tied up their four pontoon boats to dock for the evening before continuing the four-day trip from Millbrook to Bay Minette.

“On pontoon boats you have time to enjoy the river and see what is out there,” said Frank Overton, trip coordinator.

The group, mainly members of the American Legion from Millbrook, starts planning the trip in January for the end of May or beginning of June. Once a date is set, the trip is going to happen.

“The only thing that is going to stop this trip is a hurricane coming,” Overton said. “Other than that, the trip is going to take place.”

For 15 years, the group has traveled along the Alabama, Mobile and Tensaw rivers, but each trip is a new experience.

“Every year, we take the same route, but every year something else happens,” said participant Dave Kowalski. “It’s always an adventure.”

In his 10 years of travels, the group has boated during flooding, rain, sunshine, and has run out of gas a few times.

This is the first year Dan Lawless has joined the trip. The friendships have been the best part of his experience thus far.

“With the boats or without the boats, I love these guys,” said Dan Lawless. “We love being a part of each other’s lives and sharing each others experiences and respecting each other’s experiences.”

The group planned four stops along the way: Selma, Millers Ferry, north of Stockton near Alabama River mile marker 27 and end in Cliffs Landing in Bay Minette.

At each of the stops, the men sleep on the boats, lowering covers on the sides and top to keep bugs and rain off of them.

Along their route, only two of the stops, Montgomery and Millers Ferry, have gas pumps for boats.

Because Selma is not one of these places, Glenn Dean, honorary member, brought containers filled with gasoline to the marina.

Dean and the group are using these trips to bring attention to the lack of marinas for fueling along the Alabama River.

“One thing we’re trying to do is get tourism up the river,” Dean said. “But without marinas, there’s no one that’s going to come to them because no one can get here. It’s like no gas stations along the highway.”

Dean loaded up 100 gallons of gasoline and trucked it into Selma to provide the boaters.

Recently, the Selma City Council accepted a grant to install a gas pump at the marina for boaters.

However, it might be later in the year before the pumps are available to boaters because plans are under way for construction of a new marina building, according to council president Cecil Williamson.

Dean worked for three years with the Alabama Scenic River Trail of the state Bureau of Tourism, and although he is retired, this issue is his passion.

The River Rats will leave Selma at 8 a.m. today.

Leesha Faulkner contributed to this article.