Logan Martin Lake and its waters have held a bit of magic for David “Bama” Smith since his teenage years.
Smith spent his summers off from Woodlawn High School skiing and swimming with friends. Part of “the golden years before life responsibilities set in,” he never forgot the epic sunsets across Logan Martin Lake.
Smith and his buddies often visited a little spot – a green island covered with trees that sprouted from the lake – marked as Grissom Island on maps, but nicknamed School Bus Island by longtime residents. When the lake filled, the protruding land held an abandoned school bus. Though floods carried away the school bus years later, the name remained.
Locals say the area around School Bus Island is great for fishing. Some have stories about losing a bass “with a mouth as big as a hubcap” that could have easily topped 16 pounds.
The history between Smith and the small plot of land is more personal than any fish tale. Many evenings, he and his friends would boat to the grassy island after long hours in the sun. Happily exhausted after skiing, they’d have a sandwich and enjoy conversation around an evening campfire.
“I enjoyed being out with my friends on this little island,” he said.
Fast-forward some 30 years. Logan Martin Lake was always tucked into the back of Smith’s mind as a future home site. When he and his wife, Reneé, decided to build their “forever home,” they happened on a fortuitous find: Property about 5 miles from Logan Martin Dam was for sale. They went to see the land in April 2001, and three days later they owned it.
From the two-story home his wife designed, the couple has a bird’s-eye view of School Bus Island, 350 yards away. But Smith noticed worrisome changes during his 14 years on the lake.
“Almost in slow motion,” Smith saw his beloved getaway slip deeper and deeper into the waters. Estimating the island’s current dimensions at about 150 feet long, 50 feet wide, Smith said the island used to be about four times larger. Erosion was taking a heavy toll.
Saving a treasure
A phone call from Smith in June to Alabama Power’s Rob Coyne changed the future of School Bus Island.
Coyne, team leader at the Ragland Shoreline Office for Logan Martin and Neely Henry lakes, agreed with Smith that residents and lake visitors have enjoyed using School Bus Island for recreation for many years.
“Our Shoreline Management Team works to protect and enhance the environmental, scenic, cultural and recreation values of Alabama Power lakes,” Coyne said. “We understand the historical and recreational importance of the island to the Logan Martin Lake community.”
Coyne and other Shoreline Management team members worked with Fred Casey, owner of Tradesman Co. in Pell City, to stabilize the banks of the island. Casey’s company works on lake properties throughout the state, constructing seawalls, boathouses, piers, docks and other lake structures. For Casey, who has lived on the Pell City side of Logan Martin Lake for 14 years, the campaign to restore the island was personal.
“I wanted to see the work done right,” he said. “It’s just a pleasure to do this work. It’s almost like not working because I enjoy it so much.”
Coyne asked that the work be completed by July 4, if possible, to allow lake residents to enjoy using the island for the holiday.
Tradesman Co. placed a mini-excavator on the island. Smith’s next-door neighbor William Mann was also excited to see the project move forward. Casey and Tradesman Co. stored riprap on Mann’s land before they installed the materials around the island.
Casey and his team installed about 225 tons of riprap – stones about 6 inches to 10 inches long – to shore up the banks of the island. Workers created a beach area, leaving a small inlet to allow boats to anchor offshore. They completed the work, which began in mid-June, by June 27.
Smith, who owns Star Aerial and pilots drones commercially, documented the construction.
“This project was very timely,” said Casey, a member of the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association.
He is chairman of the board for the Logan Martin LakeFest and Boat Show, Alabama’s largest in-water boat show, held annually at Lakeside Park in Pell City. “I’m so glad that Dave Smith took interest in restoring the island – he’s been an advocate for a healthy lake for many, many years. The riprap restricts additional degradation of the island from erosion. We put in long hours to make the deadline as promised.
“I’m very happy with it because it’s encouraged people to look at the rest of the islands on Logan Martin Lake,” Casey added.
A happy ending for all
Smith said that he couldn’t be happier with the end results. He is thrilled the island has been preserved for the enjoyment of lakegoers for years to come.
“It was wonderful to see the work done so quickly,” Smith said.
With the renovations completed, lake residents responded with a July 4 celebration. Homeowners set up a treasure chest for children who visited. Kids reacted as though they’d discovered a pirate’s booty when opening the chest filled with Mardi Gras beads and other trinkets. The island remains the perfect place for boaters to stop for a picnic or to relax under the trees after a day of sun and fun.
Smith was eager to share School Bus Island with his 6-year-old grandson, Calvin, who frequently visits with his parents.
“I want Calvin to be able to enjoy the island for years to come,” Smith said.
The Smiths – including their son, Cameron, daughter-in-law, Jodi, and Calvin – have visited School Bus Island a few times since the shores were upgraded.
For Smith a half a lifetime later, the island still has a tranquil charm.
“I like to say that ‘a stitch in time saves nine,’” he said. “Alabama Power prevented this island from dissolving, and it’s made a lot of people happy. Alabama Power cares about our lake. This has put a smile on a lot of people’s faces by saving a little landmark.”
This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.