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Delivering on the river

Story and Photos by Colette Boehm

Like many who enjoy the inland waters of Baldwin County, Mark Lipscomb spends his mornings out in his boat. Lipscomb’s time on the water, however, is unique not just in these parts, but throughout the country.
He’s the mail carrier in Magnolia Springs, a town which has the only year-round water route in the U.S. And while he’s not a native of Alabama, this job seems like a natural fit for Lipscomb who loves not only this area, but also the job he’s found here.

Lipscomb grew up in California, but this south Alabama community made quite an impression on him early on. “My grandfa- ther used to row these same waters,” Lipscomb explains. “My dad left and went to California, but his family was here, so in summer we came to visit. I liked it.” He liked it so much, he came back and is now the fifth generation of his family to live here.

Lipscomb grew up with a love of fishing and of being on the water.

“I grew up on the Pacific Ocean, fishing with a basic Montgomery Ward fishing pole. My mom would take me to the Venice Pier,” Lipscomb recalls. That love is something that’s stayed with him into adulthood, even during his time in the U.S. Army.

“Even when I was at Fort Hood (Texas), I’d find lakes and go out with a buddy on weekends and fish.” After leaving the army in 1990, he moved to Magnolia Springs and worked as a commercial fisherman for more than a dozen years. “I’ve always been in a boat here, on the water.”

Mark’s cousin was the carrier on the water route for 14 years. When he decided to give up the job in 2006, it seemed only natural for Mark, whose father was also a mailman, to take it over.

“I live right on the river, so it was convenient. It worked out good that way,” he says with a smile.

The route serves approximately 200 people on the Magnolia and Fish Rivers and Weeks Bay. Each morning Lipscomb, who is a contractor for the postal service, spends an hour or more gathering and sorting the mail at the post office, then returns home to load the mail into his 15-foot Alumacraft and begins his route.

“I live on the route, too,” he says. “So, I get my mail first.” Then, he’s off to deliver to the other patrons. “We have 190 now, but it’s plus or minus, as people move in and move out,” Lipscomb says. “Usually, I run it in less than three hours.”

While other areas of the country have seasonal water delivery, this 31-mile stretch is the only fixed box water route with year-round service. That means here, the old adage is true that “neither snow nor rain nor heat” keep Lipscomb from completing his appointed rounds. Hurricanes, he admits, have been the only exceptions.

“I’ve even had to break ice,” he said of the weather issues he’s faced. Mostly, the heat and thunderstorms of the summer are his biggest weather concerns. “People say ‘Oh, you have the best job.’ I say, ‘Maybe right now, but where are you when the lightning shows up?’”

He sometimes takes shelter under boat houses to wait out a lightning scare or a short-lived downpour. “Sometimes we’re hunkered down together,” he said of his customers. They look out for him, too, offering shelter from the rain or a cold drink in the heat of summer. “People on the river are happy to give, as the song says.”

Lipscomb often returns the favor, ensuring packages are protected and property is accounted for. Even though he rarely comes to a full stop, steering with one hand and opening and closing boxes in a fluid motion with the other, he will go out of his way to help someone along the route when the need arises.

“If their docks are covered, I can usually leave packages on the dock or in a boat house, but sometimes I need to carry it up to the house.” He’s also become adept at noticing when things are out of place.

“You’ll see things floating and you’ll recognize where they came from. I remember one time, there was this boat floating away. I knew it was a really valuable boat. I had to let him know.”

He admits there can be other distractions along the route, as well.

“People say ‘Oh, you have the best job.’ I say, ‘Maybe right now, but where are you when the lightning shows up?’”

“On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a deer swimming across the river,” he recalls. “I’ve had fish jump in the boat, but that hasn’t happened in a while. If I run into a school of fish, I might have to stop and throw the net a couple times.” In general, though, he’s intent on getting the job done before enjoying the scenery.

“I want to get the mail there, take care of business, then take a break later,” he says, noting, “It’s getting into the hottest part of the day.” Later, he said, he might get back out on the water to fish or to kayak with friends. Then the next morning, he’ll hit the water again, mail in tow.

“It never stops,” he says of the route, which started in 1916. Like the river, it continues through the heart of this community. “We’re over the 100-year mark now. This thing started way before me. I’m just carrying it on. I’m doing my part.”