THE ALBA CLUB: DOG RIVER’S OLDEST FRIEND

 

Vincent George, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, AL 36688. Email: vigeo5@hotmail.com

 

            Dog River Clearwater Revival (DRCR) has a stated goal to protect and restore the river. My research is on the Alba Hunting and Fishing Club, located on the banks of Dog River on the south side of Mobile, and it shows how the two groups have very similar goals. Studies have shown that people with access to a river are more likely to take better care of a watershed and recognize problems within the watershed than people without access. Information gathered from a questionnaire, interviews with Alba Club members and archival research support my claim that the groups have similar goals. My research shows that members of the Alba Club are very concerned about the quality of Dog River and their concern increased after becoming members of the club.

            Keyword: Alba Club, Dog River, access



Introduction


           
Founded in 1903 to provide recreation in a leisure setting for club members and their families; the Alba Club is truly Dog River’s oldest friend. A copy of the 1907 Constitution and By Laws hangs on the wall of the stately clubhouse that has seen all of the great storms and hurricanes of the 19th century. These By Laws present the objective of the organization to be “the social and literary advancement of its members, the establishment of a park and fishing ground, the stocking and protection and use of the same, and providing suitable lodges, boats, and other appliances for the use and enjoyment of its members, and the doing of all other things incident to such social organization.” The By Laws also charge the House Committee “to make such regulations for the planting, care and taking of fish and the preservation of game.” Having origins that go back even further, the club was reorganized in October of 1903 as the Alba Hunting and Fishing Club (Mobile Register, 1903). It is named in honor of Peter Francis Alba, Indian fighter with Robert E. Lee, Confederate cavalry captain, founder of the Mobile Humane Society (Craighead, 1930). The Alba Club is located on nine beautifully landscaped acres opposite of the place where Rabbit and Hall’s Mill Creeks empty into the main channel of Dog River (Fig.1).

            The Dog River Clearwater Revival (DRCR) citizen action group has a stated goal to protect and restore the river (Fearn, 2003). People with access to a river are more likely to take better care of a watershed and recognize problems within the watershed than people without access (Berry et al., 1994, Bailey et al., 2000). DRCR and the Mobile community should know about the Alba Club because the club members care about the river. Today, very few of the members hunt from the club, but most members use the club to provide them with access to Dog River for fishing, pleasure boating and socializing (Fig. 2). In March of 2004 the membership roster showed 233 active members and their families, placing the number of people using the Alba Club to access Dog River

near 500.



Research Question


    Has membership in the Alba Club brought changes to members’ concern for Dog River? In proving that membership in the Alba Club fosters a better relationship with the river, I hope to instill in the reader a desire to begin improving the quality of Dog River. I also hope to convince DRCR and the City of Mobile that providing more access to the river will be a benefit to Dog River.



Methods

            I created a questionnaire (Fig.3) to ascertain Alba Club members’ attitudes about protecting Dog River before and after joining the club. I interviewed the current Alba Club president, a current member, a former member, the widow of a former member and the daughter of a former member to get their thoughts on the club and its contribution to the quality of Dog River. I also searched through the club archives to find any documents relating to the Alba Club showing concern for Dog River.



Results


            Eleven members answered the questionnaire used to ascertain the Alba Club members’ level of concern for topics concerning Dog River. The answers were tabulated and the numbers placed in the graph below (Fig.4).

            In responding to the questions about their concern before joining the club, “Concerned” was marked most often for all topics except water depth and bank erosion. “Not Concerned” was marked most often for water depth and bank erosion.  The topics of sewage in the river and trash along the roadways each had four check marks in the “Very Concerned” column.

            In responding to questions about their concern after joining the Alba Club, members most often marked “Very Concerned” for every topic except bank erosion and wetland loss. The results show that most of the respondents were only “Concerned” with bank erosion and for wetland loss there was an even number showing “Concerned” and “Very Concerned”. The topics of water quality and sewage in the river showed that all of those answering the survey were “Very Concerned” after joining the club.

I had the opportunity to interview the current president of the Alba Club, Grady Edmondson and longtime member Hershel Thurmond on a beautiful April afternoon. I met with Mr. Edmondson as he dined before a board of directors meeting in the dining room of the clubhouse. The interior is wood paneled and there are windows across the front offering a fantastic view of the river and the club’s piers. Though Mr. Edmondson spent many days at the club as a child, he only became a member in 2000, but has quickly risen to positions of leadership in the club. Edmondson pointed to the improvements of the facilities as the best change that has occurred at the club since he joined. He also stated that he feels the overall quality of the river has decreased over the last 4 years. Citing numerous sewage spills and construction runoff in the watershed as the major culprits.  Edmondson felt that educating members about and enforcing environmental regulations are some of the best things the Alba Club has done to help improve the water quality of Dog River.

            Hershel Thurmond and I sat down at a picnic table on the waters edge as the sun was sinking low across the river. As bluebirds flew around us eating insects, but missing the no-see-ums that attacked us, we discussed Mr. Thurmond’s views on the Alba Club and Dog River. Mr. Thurmond joined the Alba Club in 1982 and a served as a board member in the past. He felt that the current club administration has done an excellent job of tackling problems with the facilities and are taking a proactive approach to maintaining the club. Mr. Thurmond was adamant that the water quality of river has suffered in the last 22 years since he joined the club. He is very upfront in blaming both the City of Mobile and the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service as the leading causes of the river’s degradation. Mr. Thurmond stated that the City of Mobile has failed to enforce laws concerning litter and construction. Mr. Thurmond said that the river is filling in with silt and clay from construction sites that do not meet regulatory standards. He told me that the Alba Club is lucky that it is positioned on a prominent point where the outflow of Rabbit and Hall’s Mill Creeks help to maintain the water depth.  Thurmond claims the City of Mobile has directed storm water from parking lots and ditches straight into waterways without implementing trash-collecting devices that are used in many other cities. He suggests investing in a trash rake system that strains trash from the waterways and deposits it into containers that can be hauled away or emptied easily.  Mobile Area Water and Sewer System did not escape his condemnation for failing to prevent sewage overflows that occur when Mobile gets a significant rainfall.  Mr. Thurmond feels that the Alba Club members are stewards for Dog River. The members are educated in boating safety and maintaining their boats to meet U.S. Coast Guard standards. He also pointed to the club allowing water quality testers to gather river samples at the club as another way they are helping to make Dog River a better river. As we finished our conversation we watched an otter swimming close to the shore and the sun sink below the horizon.

            On another evening in April I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Mrs. Miriam Fearn. Mrs. Fearn first visited the Alba Club with relatives in the mid 1930s. It wasn’t until after World War II that her husband, Lee, joined the club. He remained a member until the late 1970s. Mrs. Fearn talked of taking Sunday dinner down to the Alba Club for her family to enjoy on the riverside. She told me that both of her children learned to swim in the waters of the Alba Club. Mr. Fearn cared for a 36-foot cabin cruiser and the family often took the boat for trips throughout the area. The boat, King Mirth, was docked at the Alba Club but could often be found at the bluffs far up Hall’s Mill Creek. Mrs. Fearn suspects that Dog River is more polluted now than in the old days but she pointed out that may not be the case as every house along the banks flushed straight into the river. She could not recall a time when the water in Dog River was clear. Mrs. Fearn told me she thinks she cared more for the river after joining the club because she and her family spent so much time in the river. Her family always made sure not to throw anything overboard into Dog River. It was a pleasure to talk with someone that has such a long running connection to the Alba Club.

            On the following Sunday I visited with Bill and Helen Whatley at their home of fifty years on Eslava Creek.  Mr. Whatley joined the Alba Club in the late 1960s and remained a member until 2003. Mr. And Mrs. Whatley said the Alba Club was a wonderful place to raise their children. The club’s rule banning alcohol on the premises allowed the Whatley’s to enjoy the river in a family setting. Mr. Whatley grew up in Jackson, Alabama and learned to swim and fish in the swift and powerful Tombigbee River. He continued to fish when he moved to Mobile and enjoyed catching bream and bass in Dog River. Mr. Whatley has seen Dog River change over the last 50 years and feels the sedimentation and sewage problems have “just about ruined Dog River”. A few years ago the changes in depth caused by sedimentation claimed an outboard motor from Mr. Whatley. As he was motoring down the river he came across a shallow place and his motor came off the boat and into the river, never to be found by Mr. Whatley. Mr. Whatley said he has always been concerned for Dog River but did become more concerned after joining the Alba Club and spending more time on the river. 2003 was a sad year for Mr. Whatley. He gave up fishing in 2003 after 70 years because every time he would come home with a mess of fish he would find out there had been another major sewage spill into the Dog River Watershed.  Mr. Whatley said he would always cherish the years he had with the Alba Club and hopes the club continues to provide a place for families to enjoy Dog River.

            Over the course of a few months I spoke with Mrs. Fearn’s daughter, Dr. Mimi Fearn many times about the Alba Club and Dog River. Dr. Fearn says that her passion for trying to make Dog River a much better river comes from the time she spent at the Alba Club. She was a young girl when her father joined the club and visited the club often until she moved away from Mobile. Now a professor of Geography at the University of South Alabama, she is also the president of the Dog River Clearwater Revival. Dr. Fearn maintains that the construction of Interstate 65 and the draining of Wragg Swamp were the first major steps in harming Dog River. The straight channel of Montlimar Canal and the other channelized streams in the watershed have allowed sediment to reach Dog River. As the amount of sediment in the river grows it blocks out sunlight decreasing photosynthesis, it buries plant life and makes it more difficult for fish to breathe. The continuation of development in the watershed is also a major contributor to the sedimentation of Dog River. Dr. Fearn suggests that contractors in the area use the best management practices available at their construction sites to help prevent erosion and soil runoff. Landscaping, proper placement of silt fencing, placing driveways at the best location and leaving a building site natural until just before building are all ways to prevent erosion and runoff. Dr. Fearn recognizes the problems the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS) has had with sewage overflows. But she is the only person I interviewed that believes MAWSS is working diligently to correct the problems. Many of MAWSS sewage overflows are the result of rainwater infiltration caused by problems with homeowners’ pipes and grease in the sewer lines from homes and restaurants. Dr. Fearn is a dedicated guardian of Dog River and she points to the Alba Club as the reason she loves the river. The photo below shows Lee, Miriam, and Mimi Fearn at the Alba Club in 1947 (Fig 5).

            The claims of those I interviewed that sedimentation, sewage and trash are the biggest problems facing Dog River are not unfounded. In 1995 the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) released the second year findings of an ongoing survey of the Dog River watershed. The ADEM report cites “lack of effective erosion control at project sites” as “the single most responsible contributor to the degradation of stream habitat (ADEM, 1995).” The report goes on to list trash, litter and bacterial (fecal coliform) contamination as impairing the recreational usage of the river. Higher nutrient concentration due to storm water runoff has affected the types and numbers of species that can survive in the Dog River watershed.



Conclusion


           
The results of my questionnaire show that members of the Alba Club are more concerned with topics concerning the water quality of Dog River now than before joining the club. My interviews show that people who gained access to Dog River through the Alba Club became more concern after joining. If the City of Mobile offered better access to Dog River many citizens that do not belong to the club could become interested in improving the river. The report by ADEM showed that those interviewed were correct in their thoughts on the biggest threats facing Dog River. These results show that membership in the Alba Club has changes the members’ concern for Dog River. The concern shown by the members and the ongoing boater education programs support my claim that the Alba Club is Dog River’s oldest friend.



References


Alabama Department of Environmental Management, (1995) A Survey of the Dog River Watershed Second Year Findings, Mobile, Alabama

 

Alba Hunting and Fishing Club Constitution and By Laws 1907, Mobile, Alabama


Bailey, C. Dubois, M., Merritt, L., Walton, B., Alabama Communities in Transition, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Action Newsletter, Spring 2000 found at  http://www.aces.edu/department/crd/publications/Action-spr-00.html

 

Berry, M.A., Kelch, D.O., Lichtkoppler, F.R., (1996) Public Opinion, and Lake Erie Water Quality, Journal of Extension 32 no. 1

 

Craighead, Erwin (1930) Mobile Fact and Tradition, Mobile, Alabama

 

Edmondson, G., Interviewed by Vince George, April 5, 2004

 

Fearn, M., Interviewed by Vince George, April 15, 2004

 

Fearn, M. PhD., Interviewed by Vince George, January through April 2004

 

Thurmond, H., Interviewed by Vince George, April 5, 2004

 

Whatley, B. and H., Interviewed by Vince George, April 18, 2004

 

Fearn, M., Dog River Clearwater Revival website (2003) found at www.southalabama.edu/geography/fearn/DRCR.htm, accessed 2004

 

Mobile Register, November 1, 1903, Mobile, Alabama