HEFLIN — To show his appreciation for their business, Bart Owen invited his customers to spend Saturday afternoon on the Tallapoosa River, with free food and entertainment.
And as long they were already on the water in his canoes and kayaks, he just asked they pick up a little trash too.
On Saturday, Owen, the owner of Tallapoosa River Outfitters, a kayak and canoe shop in Cleburne County, hosted the Alabama Power-sponsored Renew Our Rivers cleanup day on the upper Tallapoosa River. It was the 10th year the shop has hosted the event which Owen said has gone a long way toward keeping the waterways clean near his store.
“The first year we did this, we came away with 9,000 pounds,” said Lex Brown, a former owner of Tallapoosa River Outfitters, about the amount of trash volunteers pulled out of the river in 2004. “The last couple years we've been averaging around 1,000.”
The Renew Our Rivers program is in its 15th year. Local groups work with Alabama Power on lakes and rivers across the state to get volunteers to come out and pick up litter. Since the first cleanup, more than 55,000 volunteers have removed more than 10 million pounds of trash from Alabama rivers, according to information on the Renew Our Rivers website.
Anyone can volunteer to help out, but out in rural Cleburne County, Owen said it’s mostly familiar faces that come every year — the same faces he sees all the time in his store.
“We have a cookout, we got some music,” Owen said. “It's just a good way to get the community together for something good.”
This year, Owen and Brown’s friend John Howle supplied live music, while volunteers from the Cleburne County Sheriff's Office provided the outdoor cooking. Despite a threat of rain, things stayed clear for most of the afternoon as about 50 volunteers went about their work.
“We come out here quite a bit and do camping,” said Shane Galbraith, a volunteer from Bowden, Ga. “It's good to help out, clean the river we use.”
Galbraith was one of several volunteers who brought his kids to help out. For Byron Owen, Bart's father, the youth participation is one reason the cleanup day is so successful.
“It's great, it gets them out on the water, having a good time,” Byron Owen said. “Unfortunately not a lot of kids are doing things like this and helping out the community.”
The next Renew Our River cleanup day in the area will take place on Neely Henry Lake in Ohatchee on Sept. 6. Residents interested in volunteering should contact Haley Gregg at 256-237-3536.