Benders open river home to kayakers, canoers

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, August 6, 2015


Lee and Babs Bender’s home on the Alabama River has become a camping site and home away from home for people kayaking and canoeing the Alabama Scenic River Trail. 

When Lee and Babs Bender built their house on the bank of the Alabama River nearly two decades ago, they had no idea what they would be getting themselves into years later.

The couple, who ran the Selma City Marina for 13 years, has been opening up their home to people kayaking and canoeing the Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT) for the last three years.


Babs Bender looks through a photo album of visitors stopping by on the Alabama Scenic River Trail. 

“This just happened really by fluke back in 2012,” Babs said. “My sister and I were going out one afternoon to get on the pontoon boat and take an afternoon sunset cruise, and when we went to get out on the dock, there were a bunch of kayaks and canoes coming by.”

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Babs said the trip for the group of about 25 people was quickly going south, but her and her sister, Mitzi Rollins, came to the rescue.

“There was supposed to be a pontoon boat going with them to take all of their gear, but they cancelled out, so this canoe was carrying most of their gear,” Babs said. “We got hooked up into pulling part of them and their gear down to Six-Mile Creek and getting them situated there that night. The next morning my sister and I went back and retrieved their equipment and the professional photographer and rode along with them. We followed them to Cahawba, and from there we got them to Till’s Landing, which is another campsite.”

Babs said she told the canoers that her and her husband wouldn’t mind helping people that were making the trip down the 631-mile trail of rivers and creeks.

That’s when the ASRT campsite sign went up at their dock.

“We’ve gone from entertaining boaters at the City Marina to now entertaining kayakers and canoers, but we love it,” Babs said. “It is not that they come and you have a steady stream all week long, but whenever they come it is quite an adventure. There are quite some interesting and well-accomplished individuals.”

Since the Benders became trail angels, they have hosted around 25 people at their riverfront home, which has become the Bender Plantation.

“When we first got in contact with the Alabama Scenic River Trail they needed latitude and longitude and all of that to get it on their map, and my sister put the name out there as Bender Plantation,” Babs said. “It has kind of been a joke around here because we don’t even have the first plantation shutter in our house.”

The Benders keep a book of everyone that visits to look back on each adventure they took part in.

“The people that do these trails have got different stories,” Babs said. “They’re all different characters and meeting them all is my favorite part.”

A couple named Laura and Nate were the first to camp at the Bender’s after it became a designated ASRT campsite.

“She was the first woman that completed the trail, the whole 631 miles, plus they were the first couple that completed the trail,” Babs said. “The one thing about all of it that really sticks out is the friendliness that is shown up and down the Alabama River to these people.”

Lee said one of his favorite memories was two women that were trying to prove their husbands wrong.

“They were characters. They went on it because their husbands said they couldn’t do it. So they bought the kayaks for it all, but they wouldn’t stay in the house,” Lee laughed. “They ate breakfast the next morning, but they camped out because they wanted to show their husbands they could camp out. After four days of being on the trail they got off.”

While it is hard for Babs to put her finger on her favorite visitor, she shared memories of two older women that came through.

“What I remember about them is that when they called me and told me that they were almost to the marina, I went up there to meet them, and when I went up there nothing was there but their two canoes,” Babs sad. “I went inside and asked if they knew where the two ladies went and they said they rode off with some guys.”

Babs said the two of them finally showed back up when a pickup truck dropped them back off at the marina.

“These two guys, which I knew them, took them to the Downtowner and gave them a tour of Selma, which I thought was real neat again,” Babs said.

Their most recent visitor was Trevor Clark, a naturopathic medicine student in Washington state.

Lee and Babs sometimes get weird looks when they tell people they let strangers into their home on occasion, but they love every minute of it.

“The river has been our life, and we trust the people on the river. Back in the olden days, the front of the houses would face the rivers so they could see the soldiers coming home on boats, but now there are very few houses up and down the river that the front of the house actually faces the river,” Babs said. “This house faces the river. That’s our front yard. We built it that way, and I guess instead of seeing the soldiers and the ships, we’re facing the river so we can face the kayakers and canoers.”