By Scott Buttram
Cahaba River Society Executive Director Beth Stewart had a simple idea: Establish a fundraising event that brought people closer to the river to see firsthand the resource her organization is committed to preserving.
Little did she know that the decision to plant the Cahaba River Fry-Down at Trussville Springs would result in such a popular metro-wide event within just a few years. In 2012, the third year, the event drew more than 600 people. The fourth annual Fry-Down will take place on Sunday, Sept. 29, from noon until 4 p.m.
The Cahaba has long been a pride for Clay, where the river begins, and for Trussville, which has built multiple parks around Alabama’s longest remaining stretch of free-flowing river as it passes through town. And the history between Trussville and CRS is an extensive one, so maybe choosing Trussville was as natural as the river itself.
“CRS was very pleased to be a resource to the Hewitt-Trussville High School design team to help think through how a big project straddling the river could be built in a way that not only helped protect the Cahaba, but also engaged the students for education,” Stewart said. “We met several times with the engineers and architects to explore ways to preserve as much forest along the river as possible, and ways to get rain to soak into the ground instead of running off to cause problems in the river, such as erosion and pollution. The resulting design — the stream buffer and hillside open space, the bioswales in the upper parking lot, the woodland parking, the reuse of runoff for landscape irrigation — is one we still hold up as a model to developers. Most of these river-saving innovations also saved money in the construction.”
Stewart and her group had also helped Trussville Springs restore the river to its natural state as it flows through the neighborhood and will serve as the background to the Fry-Down.
“More recently, we’ve met with the engineer for the stadium bridge, Rick Nail, to explore ways to have as little impact on the Cahaba as possible,” Stewart said. “Over the years the CRS Shane Hulsey CLEAN program has had a special relationship with HTHS. We have brought many students into the Cahaba there at the school for hands-on science education. David Dobbs and his classes have also supported Fry-Down for several years by providing volunteers.”
As the popularity of the event grew, so did the reach. What begin as a small local catfish cooking competition with ecological education disguised as fun for local children has grown into a metro-wide happening.
Of the 29 event sponsors, only four — Amerex, Trussville Springs, The Trussville Tribune and Reich Companies — are local. The remaining 25 come from around the greater Birmingham region. Among those sponsors is Weld for Birmingham which has emerged as the pre-eminent newspaper for metro Birmingham.
“Trussville is an important part of our growing region, and we think it’s important to support fun events and good causes whenever and wherever we can,” said Weld publisher Mark Kelly. “While Weld’s primary focus is on the city of Birmingham, we want to be a news and information source for the entire region. That’s reflected in our general business plan, and in the stories we cover in our newspaper and online.”
So far, 11 cook teams are scheduled to compete in the catfish competition. A full schedule of children’s events is planned as well as live entertainment. The new edition to the event is the Fry-Down Beer Garden, which will showcase beers from local craft breweries.
Tickets may be purchased online here.