Editor’s note: Sam Howell is due thanks
from all Blount County as well as from all
nature lovers for his tireless, and largely
successful, efforts to protect and maintain
the Locust Fork River in its free-flowing
state. In resigning as president of Friends
of the Locust Fork River, he looks back
with considerable satisfaction on the
struggle he and other river lovers have
conducted on its behalf. Sam’s following
piece appears in the winter edition of
FLFR’s the river’s voice.
My, my, how Friends of the Locust Fork River (FLFR) has changed since 10 people met in 1991 in some unknown neighbor’s living room. We had learned of a plan to dam one of the last free-flowing rivers in Alabama and export the water to a metro area that might need it in 100 years …
This was my first, true awakening to the need for environmental and conservation movements. FLFR was formed and the rest is “history” …
I was content to be a soldier under the leadership of competent officers in FLFR. After the dam threat went underground with likely resurface at a later date, FLFR took a breath and looked for an expanded direction.
Our leaders, seeing the battle won for the present, slipped off to other causes. Remaining were a hardened few from the beginning and some new blood who wanted to see FLFR continue as a conservation/ environmental force.
That’s when I was asked to grab the reins and help find that new direction until the dam threat returned. I was ready. I said, “I’ll drive the wagon for a while.”
We decided to put more effort into outreach and education. FLFR, along with Birmingham Canoe Club, put renewed energies into Kids Day on the River – now award-winning Day on the River. Day on the River now incorporates the teaching support of numerous environmental groups.
In addition: FLFR spoke to schools about pollution and conservation; conducted numerous river and river crossing clean ups with schools and other organizations, including Southern Company’s Renew Our Rivers campaign; grew the outings program, knowing our most active future members would probably first learn about FLFR through that program; revived the idea and earmarked bank account for a nature center on the banks of the river; fought to keep river access for the public; became an honored managing partner of the Locust Fork Canoe/Kayak Races; joined ranks with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWRk) to successfully take a local company to court for violation of the Clean Water Act that threatened the Locust Fork’s water quality.
I had to see this through. FLFR was moving to the next level of conservation. I could hand the reins over after that.
Return of the dam
Then, rumblings of the dam threat, via a new Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) engineering study prioritizing long term water sources. The Locust Fork might be high on the list even though we knew the project should be cost-prohibitive.
Finally released, the report did not list the Locust Fork River as number one! It actually sourced other waters due to the cost of building a dam … as we’d hoped. FLFR and its allies won … or had we? As long as BWWB owned the land, they could build a dam.
We need to find that out. Keep driving. Shortly thereafter, we hear BWWB plans to sell the land. Praise the Lord. Don, Tricia, Brad, Betty, Susie, Ken, Joe, Vicky, Murph, Richard, Melanie, Gene, everybody who fought all those years. WE’VE WON. Mission accomplished. My retirement was within reach now. But sell to whom? Better hold the reins a little longer.
Maybe Forever Wild (FW), Alabama’s state land trust program, will buy it. BWRk and FLFR set their sights on a nomination to FW. A BWWB representative said they’d entertain a sale to FW. FW said they would entertain buying it.
We started to get giddy, but before we could finish that process, BWWB decided to sell to the highest bidder … in 30 days. That they did. An individual bought it for personal use with covenants that will keep the bulk of that area mostly natural.
However, as you probably know, threats never end. Now, mining threatens the river in the Rosa area. That challenge will require strong, clear leadership, and maybe perseverance over years. Don’t forget to breathe …
Battles and war
FLFR may have lost some battles, but at least we won the “dam war” thanks to everyone who would not give up. FLFR met its goal, after all these years, of preventing a dam and maintaining the river free-flowing.
Now, I, the weary Sam Howell, have resigned as president of FLFR. I will no longer be driving, but I will remain a board member in the wagon, doing what I can, cheering on the new leadership to meet persistent threats to this beautiful river and its inhabitants.
After all these years – almost 19 on the board and 10 as president – how could I give it all up? I can’t. I still have energy. We’ll start this leadership transition soon. The board and membership base have plenty of competent people. FLFR has momentum. It will live on forever. I can’t wait to be a part of it … still.
What a long, cool trip it’s been!
Paddle on, dudes and dudettes, Sam