Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) volunteers completed construction of a new public fishing tournament weigh-in pavilion at Alabama’s scenic Smith Lake in June. The state-of-the-art structure was created at no cost to the local community through a partnership between the USA, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, and Alabama DCNR.
Located between Birmingham and Huntsville, 21,000-acre Smith Lake is popular with tournament and recreational anglers from across the nation. Its deep, clear waters hold a variety of gamefish including largemouth and spotted bass, sunfish and striped bass. The lake is nationally known for trophy size spotted bass. In fact, it produced the Alabama state record spotted bass in 1978—an 8-pound, 15-ounce behemoth that also set a world record at the time.
Located at the Lewis Smith Lake Dam Public Boat Ramp, the pavilion will be used by recreational anglers as well as high school, college, amateur and professional tournaments. The pavilion is open to the public when not in use by tournaments.
“Our great partnership with Alabama Power continues with this pavilion,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “It was exciting to see this come together, and we look forward to future tournaments that will benefit the local community.”
The new pavilion will help anglers enjoy Smith Lake’s bounty while protecting the lake’s resources. It features electrical access, lighting and the capacity to hold fish tanks to help reduce stress on fish and increase release survival rates at the weigh-in site. The covered facility also will provide shade for tournament weigh-in ceremonies.
“This facility was designed to make setting up for weigh-ins easier and more efficient for tournament organizations of all sizes,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Having the pavilion close to the water, boat ramp and courtesy docks will improve the survival of fish released following weigh-ins, which means more bass for everyone to catch in the future.”
All community residents will benefit, as tournaments are a boon to the local economy. For example, each B.A.S.S. Elite Series tournament drives more than $1.1 million in direct economic impact. Thanks to media exposure, each event also generates an average of $17.9 million in additional tourism revenue within two years of the tournament.
“We were thrilled to work with B.A.S.S., the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources and the local community to construct this pavilion to enhance this access point on Smith Lake,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of external affairs. “We look forward to it playing a part in showcasing the state of Alabama’s beautiful waterways.”
Through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) conservation program, labor union volunteers donated more than 1,200 hours of skilled labor valued at over $68,000 to complete the pavilion. In all, the value of donated labor, materials and machinery topped $100,000.
“This project is a great example of the value and power the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Work Boots on the Ground program brings to conservation,” said USA Conservation Manager Robert Stroede. “Thanks to our skilled union volunteers, we were able to turn a $30,000 grant into a project worth more than $100,000 for the benefit of Smith Lake anglers and the local community. These types of partnerships between corporate, non-profit and government agencies are a huge asset to the future of conservation.”
Volunteers from the following unions and groups donated their time and skills to complete the project: IUOE Local 312; LIUNA Local 559; UBC Locals 318, 1192 and 1209; IBEW Locals 136, 351 and 833; SMART Local 26; and Iron Workers Local 92. The project was also supported by the Alabama AFL-CIO, USA’s Alabama State Conservation Dinner, A & S Electrical Contractors Incorporated, and Pipe and Landscape Supply.
“The outdoors plays a vital role in the community,” said Ironworkers Local 92 Business Manager Bart Maddox, who coordinated with Local 92 Apprenticeship Training Director Thomas Mathis, Jr., to have Local 92 apprentices install rebar, erect the structure, and fabricate and install the railings. “The Smith Lake project was a perfect opportunity for apprentices to gain real job training while benefiting local anglers as well as the local economy and natural resources.”
“This is a great example of a diverse group of entities coming together to achieve one goal. We are proud to be a part of this project and continue our mission of accessibility to the natural resources of our great state,” added Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.
Participating groups hope to host a ribbon cutting ceremony and community fishing event at the pavilion in October.