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Camden's greatest asset may be Alabama River

Camden hosts two city council meetings on the first and third Monday of every month.  Mayor Phil Creswell and city council members Peter Allen, Julia Ann Handly, Jimmy Brock, Les Lambert, and Gene Mack discuss the needs, wants and concerns within the community.  The Council meeting I attended on May 21 was effective in discussing city budgets, grant applications and places in the city that need repairing or updated. 

But what caught my attention was a small but powerful reminder about one of Camden’s best assets: the Alabama River.

City Councilman Les Lambert spoke about parks near the river by saying that several fishermen had complimented them for looking so clean and well-kept, adding that everyone should extend a thank you to those working to keep the parks beautiful.

One of those parks on the Alabama River worth celebrating is Roland Cooper State Park, named after local state senator William Roland Cooper in the 1970s.  In 2015, the park was cut from state funding, but it was taken under the wing of Recreational Resource Management (RRM) in September 2016.

Since then, improvements at the park have created a perfect space for recreation and staying in-touch with the outdoors.  The park offers six completely furnished two-bedroom cabins, 13 primitive camping sites for tents, outdoor grills, picnic benches, a covered event space, public restrooms, walking trails and much more right next to the mighty current of the Alabama River.

Roland Cooper hosts events that encourage people to stay active by exploring the outdoors.  One such event, the 100 Alabama Miles Challenge, is a statewide program created to increase outdoor activity and health.  The park hosted this event on June 2 for Wilcox County with a one-mile hike, a kayak demonstration and tips on how to reach the 100 miles a year goal.

In addition to Roland Cooper State Park, Camden has more than five boating ramps for visitors and locals to dock their boats and enjoy cruising, skiing or fishing on the river. Tourism for Camden is centralized around the Alabama River.

Tourists from across the country travel to Camden for hunting, fishing and visiting the Gee’s Bend quilters, all three enriched by the Alabama River. “Big Daddy” Lawler, host of radio talk show “Gettin’ Outdoors with Big Daddy”, promoter and lifetime resident of Camden, said, “Our lake consistently produces big creels of bass, crappie, bream and catfish. It is a waterfowl hunters well-guarded secret, not to mention home of the world record Stokes Alligator with the height of 15 feet, 9 inches and weighing in at 1011.5 pounds, in 2014 during the August Alabama Alligator Season.”

Lawler added, “The diversity of native wildlife, flora and Black Belt terrain along the banks of the lake, river, creeks and tributaries, is an absolutely unmined treasure for our area.”

For some the river is a place to go for recreation and relaxation, but for others the river is a place of work and transportation.  “Big Daddy” Lawler also pointed out value of the lock and dam system.

Lawler said, “I am very proud to have the William “Bill” Dannelly Reservoir meander through my home county. Lake Millers Ferry, as it is called by the bass anglers, has been contributing mightily to the economic impact of Wilcox and Dallas Counties since the Millers Ferry Lock and Dam was completed in the early 70s.”

The Millers Ferry Lock and Dam also supplies the city with hydroelectric power.  Another achievement for Camden is the Gee’s Bend Ferry that operates on the Alabama River. This ferry is currently undergoing reconstruction to become the first electric-powered ferry in the United States. 

For many people, the Alabama River is a safe haven to meditate and escape from the everyday stress of life.  A local fisherman, with several rods hanging off a back-road bridge crossing over the swamps of the river, reflected, “Ma’am I just come out here mostly to get away from the noise and enjoy the peace and quiet.” 

Watching a sunset over the Alabama River, with only the noise of crickets chirping or even the soft thump of a fishing lure meeting the top of the water, can create a sense of tranquility that many other towns cannot offer.  The river supplies Camden’s citizens with jobs, power, food, travel and recreation.

Lawler ended our conversation with a note of pride, saying, “Camden is recognized throughout the nation as a destination lake for the angling, hunting, camping, water sports and photography. The Alabama River and Lake Millers Ferry continues to be an important economic development tool and is one of the few, if not the only, assets we have that has not even come close to reaching its potential.”

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