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Local Advocacy Group Steps up to Protect Quality of Lake Water on the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama

Volunteer Mimi Barkley of Houston, Ala., removes litter from the banks of Smith Lake during the Alabama Power Company’s Renew Our Rivers campaign to clean-up Alabama Waterways in June 2008. Through the hard work of volunteers, approximately 180 tons of litter has been removed from more than 166 river miles within the Winston County area (Photo courtesy of LaVerne Matheson).

Volunteer Mimi Barkley of Houston, Ala., removes litter from the banks of Smith Lake during the Alabama Power Company’s Renew Our Rivers campaign to clean-up Alabama Waterways in June 2008. Through the hard work of volunteers, approximately 180 tons of litter has been removed from more than 166 river miles within the Winston County area (Photo courtesy of LaVerne Matheson).

The beauty of a partnership involves dedicated partners on both sides. The volunteers with the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Group donate their time each year to protect shorelines on the Bankhead National Forest, an effort greatly appreciated by the forest’s staff.

Since 2007, group members have collaborated with the forest in sponsoring Lewis Smith Lake shoreline clean-up events as part of the Alabama Power Company’s Renew Our Rivers campaign. According to Elrand Denson, Bankhead District Ranger, the group has removed approximately 180 tons of litter including plastic foam, appliances, tires, boating accessories and fishing tackle from the lake’s shorelines in Winston County and the forest during clean-up events.

“The partners have tirelessly worked together to remove trash from the shorelines on more than 166 river miles in Winston County,” said Allison Cochran, the forest’s wildlife biologist. “We commend our partners for taking on a community project to improve Alabama’s abundant natural resources. The group’s efforts improve the beauty of the lake, prevent harm to wildlife animals and plants, help decontaminate the waterways, and assist in preventing bushfires that damage natural areas.

Staff and volunteers from Alabama Power Company, the Bankhead National Forest, and the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Group join forces in June 2012 at Houston Recreation Area to map out littered areas along Smith Lake that are only reachable by boats. Three barges and a bass boat were used to collect bottles, cans, rafts, fishing tackles, and small chunks of foam floating in the lake and along the shoreline (Tammy Truett/U.S. Forest Service Photo).

Staff and volunteers from Alabama Power Company, the Bankhead National Forest, and the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Group join forces in June 2012 at Houston Recreation Area to map out littered areas along Smith Lake that are only reachable by boats. Three barges and a bass boat were used to collect bottles, cans, rafts, fishing tackles, and small chunks of foam floating in the lake and along the shoreline (Tammy Truett/U.S. Forest Service Photo).

“Our partnership with the Bankhead Ranger District allows us to clean up the lake for future generations to enjoy,” said LaVerne Matheson, the group’s president. For example, one year group members removed a mountain of white, beaded foam from Smith Lake near the Clear Creek Recreation Area. The huge, floating structures posed a safety risk for not only the aquatic habitats, but also to boaters traveling on the lake. “Now our beautiful lake sparkles like a million diamonds when the sun plays on its blue waters.”

The partnership began with a small community cleanup effort that has evolved into a large-scale grassroots project with hundreds of volunteers and supporters, including the   Winston County Commission, Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association, Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, local businesses, lake residents and visitors.

The group and the Bankhead Ranger District were recently honored at a national ceremony in Washington, D.C., for their dedication to ensure the water quality of Lewis Smith Lake is protected and preserved. Numerous volunteers and Forest Service employees received the U.S. Forest Service Rise to the Future award – the agency’s highest honor for exemplary aquatic stewardship.

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