On Wednesday, April 24th, Bibb County welcomed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams as she joined the community to commemorate a significant milestone — the announcement of the completion of the final phase of the Piper Mine reclamation project at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. 

This transformative endeavor has been a labor of love for both the community and wildlife alike, aiming to eliminate environmental hazards and restore the natural beauty of the refuge while increasing public access to the Cahaba River. Strong partnerships, like those forged at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, have led to significant habitat restoration and increased recreational opportunities, including hiking, hunting, fishing, paddling, and swimming. 

A massive part of the project included the eradication of an 80-foot-tall highwall, stretching almost 5,000 feet, which were remnants of past coal mining activities. Additionally, efforts have been focused on clearing coal waste by-products, impoundments, and residual materials, fostering a healthier ecosystem for both the refuge and the Cahaba River. 

Central to the success of this endeavor are the collaborative efforts of various partners, including the US Fish and Wildlife Department, Alabama Department of Labor Abandoned Mine Lands Program, the Town of West Blocton, the Friends of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, and the Cahaba Riverkeepers. Together, they’ve worked diligently to make the vision of ecological restoration a reality.  

The expansion of the refuge in 2013, with the acquisition of the 1,164-acre Wadsworth Tract, marked a significant step forward. This expansion not only provided vital habitat but also created new opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hiking, fishing, and hunting. The dedication of this new area, including the Kimberly-Clark Paper Company Lake, on April 24, 2024, was a monumental occasion, celebrating the fruition of years of dedication and hard work.  

Director Martha Williams aptly described the surrounding nature of the Cahaba River as having a remarkable ability to heal itself, offering a powerful story of hope for us all. It’s a testament to what can be achieved through collaboration, transcending agency boundaries for the greater good of the community and the environment. 

Throughout the three phases of the reclamation project, significant progress has been made with 1.7 miles of dangerous highwall and 105 acres of abandoned mine lands reclaimed, paving the way for a brighter, more sustainable future for conservation efforts. 

The grant ceremony included words shared by esteemed individuals, including Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mike Edgar, Town of West Blocton Mayor Daniel Sims, Alabama Department of Labor Mining and Reclamation Division Director Dustin Morin, Commissioner Chris Blankenship, David Butler, President of Cahaba Riverkeepers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams, and the two Canadian geese that flew overhead, sharing their two cents and gratitude for everyone’s efforts as well.  

Also attending was Aldyn Deerman, who was crowned Miss Cahaba Lily last year. This event marked her last appearance as the reigning Miss Cahaba Lily, as her successor will be crowned at the upcoming Cahaba Lily Festival.  

This project is a huge win for both wildlife and West Blocton alike. Mayor Daniel Sims remarked on how he hopes that this increased access to the Cahaba Wildlife Refuge will draw in even more hikers, explorers, and nature enthusiasts from Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and beyond, putting West Blocton on the map in even bigger ways.  

The Piper Mine reclamation project stands as a testament of hope, showcasing the positive outcomes that can be achieved through collaboration, dedication, and a shared commitment to environmental stewardship. As we look ahead, let us draw inspiration from this incredible achievement and continue to work hand in hand towards a sustainable future for generations to come.