Twenty years ago, Gene Phifer approached his supervisor at Alabama Power with a simple idea: clean trash out of the Coosa River near Plant Gadsden.
“He really backed the program in a tremendous way,” Phifer said. “Not only him, but the executives got involved, too. They were staunchly behind it.”
The program was named Renew The Coosa and quickly evolved into Alabama’s largest river cleanup and one of the largest in the country before being renamed Renew Our Rivers. The company honored Phifer and dozens of other volunteers Tuesday for their efforts during a luncheon in Montgomery.
“Thank you for what you do to build a better Alabama,” said Zeke Smith, vice president of External Affairs for Alabama Power. “It’s just fabulous. It makes a difference.”
During the last two decades, more than 120,000 volunteers have collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from waterways across the Southeast. The program has earned numerous awards including the 2019 Water Conservationist of the Year award from the Alabama Wildlife Federation.
“The waterways are so important to us and to the state of Alabama,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “Your dedication and your effort to see that they stay that way is an investment in all of our futures.”
Lynn Martin has volunteered 19 of the 20 years at cleanups around Alabama. She said her goal is to get more young people involved.
“I’ve got my 21-year-old daughter now involved,” Martin said. “We love it. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
Jim Eason leads cleanup efforts on the Winston County side of Smith Lake. He said the team effort is rewarding.
“I’m proud of the people I work with,” Eason said. “It’s sometimes daunting to see all the trash out there just a year or two after you cleaned it up, but they keep coming back and we keep picking up and cleaning.”
Phifer says he hopes the next 20 years will be even more fruitful.
“I hope it’s continuing on the same pace 20 years from now,” Phifer said. “I hope the educational component grows as fast as the other part does. I think that’s the part that we need to focus on going forward.”
Five more river cleanups are scheduled across Alabama this fall, including the final cleanup on Lake Martin Nov 1-2.
Remaining 2019 Renew Our River cleanups
Oct. 15: Dog River (Mobile County)
Contact: Catie Boss at 251-829-2146 or [email protected]
Oct. 22-24: R.L. Harris Lake (Tallapoosa River-Lake Wedowee)
Contact: Sheila Smith at 205-396-5093 or Marlin Glover at 770-445-0824
Oct. 26: Lake Mitchell (Coosa River)
Contact: Dale Vann at 205-910-3713
Oct. 28-Nov. 2: Neely Henry Lake (Coosa River)
Contact: Lisa Dover at 256-549-0900
Nov. 1-2: Lake Martin (Tallapoosa River)
Contact: John Thompson 334-399-3289 or [email protected]