The nation’s most competitive kayakers recently crossed the finish line in the toughest paddle race of its kind – the annual Great Alabama 650.
The grueling race took paddlers across the state along the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT), ending on the Gulf Coast at Fort Morgan Oct. 5. The competitors finished the event from a winning time of 5 days and 8 hours to a last-finisher’s mark of 9 days and 4 hours. Those racers, along with many other kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts through the years, have safely maneuvered through the state’s more than 6,100 miles of waterways and around Alabama Power dams, thanks to a longstanding partnership between company employees and the ASRT team.
For the past 14 years, Alabama Power Hydro Generation and Corporate Real Estate employees have been working with the ASRT to scout out and maintain access points around the hydro plants on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. The ASRT is the longest river trail in America and includes everything from mountain streams to tumbling white water to ambling river deltas. The trail offers diverse paddling opportunities and features numerous campsites and amenities, making the journey a pleasurable experience for many water sports enthusiasts.
“We would not be able to have the Alabama Scenic River Trail if we didn’t have safe passage around the dams,” said Fred Couch, ASRT founder and operations manager. “You either have to hoof it around the dams carrying your gear or get someone to pick you up in a car, and most of our people hoof it. Alabama Power employees have taken it upon themselves to help us find the shortest portage trails, and have helped keep them clear of trash and tree limbs.”
In recognition of the company’s ongoing support of the paddling community, Couch, on behalf of ASRT, presented awards to Alabama Hydro Generation and Corporate Real Estate leaders at the conclusion of the Great Alabama 650 in Fort Morgan.
Two of those awards went to Sheila Smith, land supervisor, Alabama Power Shoreline Compliance and Recreation, and John Morris, Southern Company power generation specialist.
Smith played an instrumental role in helping develop the initial agreements that allowed ASRT members to gain easy access to the trails around the hydro plants on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. She helped the ASRT team scout out access points along the portage trails, gain permission to post signs and locate places along the shoreline for primitive camping on Alabama Power property.
“It has been a pleasure to work with this group,” said Smith. “I have never worked with any organization that is as passionate and dedicated to their mission as these members are. Receiving this award was surprising, and I’m very grateful to be considered a member of their team.”
Morris has worked as a liaison between the ASRT and the hydro plants to ensure that the portage trails remain open, accessible and safe. Hydro plant employees often lend a hand to ASRT team members by mowing the portage trails and clearing brush, limbs and debris. Most recently, in preparation for the Great Alabama 650, Lay Dam employees helped remove three giant trees blocking the trail near that facility.
The company also periodically schedules and grants access for ASRT team members to inspect the portage trails.
“We are glad to have the opportunity to serve the paddling community through this partnership,” Morris said. “It’s one more way we can help promote appreciation of our river system.”
The ASRT also gave awards to Alabama Power Coosa and Tallapoosa river hydro plant superintendents, including:
- Jeff Harris – H. Neely Henry Dam.
- Keith Daniel – Weiss Dam.
- David Dennis – Logan Martin Dam.
- Noel Harrison – Lay Dam.
- Chuck Easterling – Mitchell Dam.
- Andy Allison – Jordan Dam.
- Tim Mitchell – Harris Dam.
- Travis Cheaney – Martin Dam.
- Scott McNeill – Yates Dam.
- Joel Johnson – Thurlow Dam.
“I can call on Alabama Power employees anytime and they are glad to help me,” Couch said. “I really appreciate their support and what they have done for us.”
Couch, an Anniston jeweler and avid paddler, said Alabama Power was instrumental in helping his dream of creating a statewide river trail become a reality. In 2006, the company provided a grant to pay for steel poles and signs, helping to get the fledgling river trail off the ground.
“Alabama Power realizes this is a recreational and tourism opportunity, and that paddlers are smart, eco-friendly people who care about the environment, so the company is always happy to help us,” Couch said.
For more information about the river trail, visit https://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/.