Photo | Ryan Flynn/City of Mobile

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson navigates through Perch Creek earlier this week.

Ditching his suit and tie for jeans, a ball cap and a fleece pullover, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson smiled while paddling a kayak Monday morning, even offering to race others to shore.

“This may be the best gig we have all day,” Stimpson said at a press conference. “This is a step in the right direction in the vision of the Peninsula Group of Mobile — the restoration of Perch Creek.”

The city promoted a batch of new funding for the Dog River Scenic Blueway by taking reporters and others down Perch Creek in canoes and kayaks. The trip, from the edge of Dauphin Island Parkway to the McNally Park boat launch, was meant to highlight the natural beauty the funding would be focused on preserving.

The peninsula part of DIP inside the city contains vast acres of wetlands located at the convergence of Mobile’s river to the bay that are valuable treasures deserving of protective and respectful access,” Debi Foster, executive director of the Peninsula of Mobile and Dog River Clearwater Revival, said at a press event at the park. “Recognition as a passive recreation destination through the Dog River Scenic Blueway and Birding Trail, the Crepe Myrtle Bike Trail and the Perch Creek Nature Trail is a win for everyone.

“Preserving the natural function of these areas provides convenient outdoor recreation opportunities supporting the rebuilding of the city’s coastal community while keeping much-needed flood- and stormwater-absorbing wetlands.”

The funding comes as the culmination of a “five- or six-year” effort, Foster said. McNally Park marks the fifth or sixth launch site along the Blueway, she said.

“The first blueway site opened in 2011,” Foster said.

NFWF awarded the city a $300,000 grant in 2015 for the first phase of the project to identify these habitats, complete environmental assessments for the properties and perform real estate due diligence.

Last month, the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council (RESTORE Act) voted to award the city of Mobile and the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System $3.5 million for the Perch Creek Area Sanitary Sewer Trunk Line to complement the ongoing NFWF project. The project will reduce sanitary sewer overflows, further improving water quality in the Perch Creek area.

RESTORE Act money will also be given to the Alabama Department of Transportation to raise a bridge to allow non-motorized boats such as canoes and kayaks access from Perch Creek to Dog River, Foster said.

Stimpson said he believes it’s important to give all Mobilians better access to water and a clean environment.

“I want to thank all of our partners for turning this vision into a reality,” Stimpson said. “Mobile is a city closely connected to the water, and as one of the largest ports in the country, we were devastated by the BP oil disaster. Citizens lost their jobs, entire industries suffered and many felt hopeless for our future. We’ve surpassed many of these challenges over the years, but we need a resilient coastline to support our growing economy.”

With all the positive work to improve access to the city’s waterways, litter continues to be an issue. Stimpson, who entered office in 2013 with a plan to curb the litter problem, said there is still work to do.

He said it’s not only about picking up litter, but it’s also about preventing residents and others from littering in the first place. Stimpson mentioned a balance of enforcement, education and pickup.

Until the city can prevent people from creating litter, Stimpson said it will spend a lot of money picking it up.

In the meantime, he said, the city has begun installing small-stream litter traps. A $500,000 grant has been used to install 10 “litter getters” along Three Mile Creek, while another grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will provide litter traps in Bon Secour and Dog River.

“Those will have a huge impact in keeping litter out of the bay,” Stimpson said.

Foster said by allowing more access to area waterways, the city and other groups can help educate residents on where the litter ends up. However, Foster said it could be a slow process.

“Whoever can get a handle on the litter situation will win a Pulitzer Prize,” she said. “I’ve been following it for 30 years and it’s still a problem.”