When Ann Marie Smith’s dad invited her to join him in volunteering at an Alabama Power Renew Our Rivers cleanup at Plant Gorgas six years ago, she thought it would be a fun way for the two to spend the day together.
“I was out of college for the summer and looking for something to do,” says Ann Marie, who was attending the University of Alabama at the time. “I also enjoy being on the lake, meeting people and being involved in helping the environment and the community.”
That was just the start for Ann Marie, who had no idea that three years later she would begin working at Alabama Power, like her dad, Plant Gorgas Maintenance Specialist Bill Smith. A chemical technician at neighboring Plant Miller, Ann Marie has also continued to volunteer with her dad and his co-workers at the Gorgas cleanups on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.
The father and daughter have always been close and shared a love of the outdoors. Their participation in the cleanups has further strengthened that bond and provided them with many memories.
Ann Marie said it’s especially satisfying to remove large items from the river. Over the years, she has helped pull out cast-iron patio chairs, tires and even a toddler’s riding toy.
During the cleanup on July 15, her crew pulled a mini fridge from the river and helped another boatload of volunteers who found a full-sized refrigerator still filled with food. Ann Marie and the other volunteers worked together to clean up the food that spilled from the refrigerator into the water.
“I enjoy pulling out the stuff that is polluting the river,” says Ann Marie. “When the river is clean, it boosts the economy and attracts people who don’t live on the lakes.”
Ann Marie’s deep appreciation for the environment comes from her father.
“I’ve been blessed a lot,” says Bill Smith. “I just want to give back, and I’ve tried to teach Ann Marie to do the same thing. She knows these rivers and lakes are just a gift to us. The good Lord tells us to be good stewards of all he has given us.”
Bill has also taught Ann Marie the importance of putting safety first, whether on the job, at home or during the Renew Our Rivers cleanups.
Bill Smith and his daughter Ann Marie Smith have been cleaning up the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River together for six years. (Contributed)
“Safety is always a No. 1 priority when we’re out there on the river,” says Ann Marie. “On the rare occasion there is an item that is too heavy or stuck in the bank, we provide the location to the Renew Our Rivers coordinator who will take a boat with a crane out on the water and remove the item.”
Ann Marie says that before they head onto the lake, the volunteers always prepare for any possible hazards by taking part in a job safety briefing. They also gear up for a trip on the water by wearing life jackets, hats and sunglasses, and applying sunscreen and bug spray. The volunteers keep plenty of water and Gatorade on hand to prevent them from becoming dehydrated.
Bill says taking part in the cleanups alongside his daughter has meant a great deal.
“It has done two things,” he says. “It taught Ann Marie a little bit about the industrial environment, and it gave her the opportunity to meet some of my co-workers and see what we do here at the plant. People take electricity for granted. They don’t realize what we sacrifice so they can run their equipment.”
Although Bill was unable to take part in the Gorgas cleanup this year, Ann Marie was still on hand, helping volunteers remove a whopping 2,000 pounds from the river. She also joined her own co-workers Aug. 26 for her first Plant Miller Renew Our Rivers cleanup on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River.
Ann Marie treasures the hours spent helping her dad and the other volunteers during the river cleanups.
“Seeing the smile it puts on my dad’s face when I go out there and work beside him just puts a smile right back on my face,” Ann Marie says.
While the cleanups have become a tradition for the Smiths, another father and daughter, Russell Davidson and 15-year-old Morgan, shared the experience for the first time in July.
“Last spring, I took Morgan fishing on the Warrior River, and there was trash everywhere,” says Davidson, Gorgas plant control operator. “We got to discussing how people don’t care for the river and don’t take pride in it. It’s frustrating to me knowing people don’t care about the environment any more than they do. I decided to bring Morgan to the Gorgas cleanup this year so she would have the opportunity to do something about it.”
Russell and Morgan, a 10th-grader at Curry High School, were assigned to remove the trash that had become lodged in the weeds and bushes along the shore. While Russell drove the boat, it was Morgan’s job to use tongs to dig the trash from the bushes and bring it aboard.
Because the bushes were teeming with spiders, Russell says he was concerned Morgan might shy away from the task at hand. But he had no reason to fear. She readily leaned into the bushes looking for every scrap and bottle.
Taking pride in the environment
Russell says along with everyday trash, they found several couch cushions and even a child’s playhouse, which was so bulky that it took about eight volunteers to drag it onto one of the pontoon boats.
“I liked seeing how many people came to help, and I’ve always enjoyed working and being outdoors,” Morgan says of her day on the water.
Enjoying the outdoors with her dad is nothing new for Morgan.
“I’ve always been my dad’s co-pilot,” says Morgan, who has been fishing with her father since she was 6 years old. “So anytime he asks me to help, especially if it’s outside, I don’t hesitate because I enjoy learning new things and being with my daddy.”
Russell and Morgan are already looking forward to next year’s cleanup.
“The most enjoyable thing for me was teaching Morgan to take pride in the environment,” says Russell. “Just because you didn’t make the mess, doesn’t mean you should overlook it and not pick it up.”