Tourism Tuesdays September 29, 2015

  • State tourism website features Fall Color Map
  • Nine places to stay overnight in North Alabama
  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center smashes one-day attendance record
  • Renewing a landmark: Studio gutted, new roof first job
  • Beloved oak tree at Helen Keller’s childhood home in Alabama cut down
  • After 100 years, here is Alabama’s first legally distilled whiskey
  • What is included in Mobile’s deal to bring Carnival Fantasy to Alabama?
  • State looks to improve bicycle, pedestrian plan
  • Book review of Rick Hall’s tell-all memoir, “The Man from Muscle Shoals”
  • Movie producer Scott Lumpkin balances Hollywood, family, and skateboarding
  • 2015 Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference
  • Sweet Dream Road Trip suggestions sought
  • 2015 Welcome Center Retreat agenda finalized
  • Alabama artists and craftspeople
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


State tourism website features Fall Color Map

An interactive map on the Alabama Tourism Department’s website allows visitors to see the predicted fall color change for each weekend this fall.  The map, a list of recommended viewing sites and a fall colors driving route are all available on the state tourism website at

Large concentrations of hardwoods make Alabama State Parks some of the best places to enjoy the fall color change.  Joe Wheeler has an excellent viewing spot next to the dam and near the cabin area on the Lawrence County side.  Autumn scenery can be found at DeSoto State Park at Little River Canyon and DeSoto Falls.  Monte Sano has views of the Tennessee Valley along the Warpath Ridge Trail and its overlook.  Cheaha’s Bald Rock and Pulpit Rock trails both have excellent views.  Cheaha is the highest point in the state at 2,407 feet above sea level.

With cooler days and lower humidity, autumn hosts a variety of outdoor festivals.  Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, recommends several events designed around being outdoors and enjoying the fall weather.

Outdoor events scheduled for this fall include the Cullman Oktoberfest on Oct. 7-11 that celebrates German culture with authentic food, costumes and music. The National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores on Oct. 8-11 features fresh gulf seafood, live music and arts & crafts. The Belle Chevre goat cheese creamery in Elkmont hosts the Southern Reinvention festival on Oct. 10.

The town of Thorsby celebrates its Scandinavian heritage during the 25th annual Thorsby Swedish Festival on Oct. 10. The city of Mentone celebrates its annual Colorfest on Oct. 17-18 with a weekend of arts & crafts, family activities and live entertainment. Alabama Frontier Days in Wetumpka on Nov. 4-7 features reenactments from French Colonial times to the Early American period.

Nearly 200 songwriters from across the country will be performing in venues all along the Alabama Gulf Coast during the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival on Nov. 5-15.  The National Peanut Festival in Dothan on Nov. 6-15 is the nation’s largest peanut festival. The 8th annual Oyster Cook-Off featuring all-star chefs and live entertainment is Nov. 6-7 in Gulf Shores.  The Pike Road Arts & Crafts Festival in the city of Pike Road on Nov. 7 features an arts & crafts market on the grounds of the historic 19th century Marks House.

A complete list of fall events is available at:


Nine places to stay overnight in North Alabama
By Kaitlin Chappell, WAFF48, Sept. 28

Sweet Home Alabama has many great sights to see, especially if you’re looking for beauty and adventure.
You don’t have to go too far for nine must see getaways for you to take advantage of whether you are a home grown Alabamian or a tourist.

The first stop is a cabin at Monte Sano State Park in Rocket City. Many cabins include everything from fully equipped kitchenettes, screen porches, fire pits, fireplaces (wood provided during cold season) for that cozy feeling. When making reservations, you don’t have to leave the family pet at home because they have cabins designated for pet travelers. There is so much to do outdoors from tranquil biking and hiking trails to playgrounds for your children and campsites. You can visit Monte Sano State Park CCC Museum and Memorial and bring your golf bag to play on Monte Sano Disc Golf Courses. You can get more information on Monte Sano here.

The second stop is water front Joe Wheeler State Park, which is a 2,550-acre resort park in Rogersville. You can stay in a cozy cabin or a lakeside cottage. The resort is an aquatic adventure with a beach and full service marina where you can rent a boat, kayak and/or paddleboat with access to cruise the Tennessee River. You can also have a picnic or grab a bite to eat at the restaurant onsite. You can book a reservation or get more information on Joe Wheeler here.

Another North Alabama location is Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge. Lake Guntersville State Park can give you a resort-feel or an outdoor adventure with its 6,000 acres of woodlands. There is an 18-hole championship golf course on site, a beach complex, an outdoor nature center, fishing, and 36 miles of hiking and biking trails. Book your stay at Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge and find out details about the park here.

If you are near Smith Lake, you can stay at the Smith Lake RV and Cabin Resort. You can rent a cabin or own a lot to experience beautiful Smith Lake, one of America’s cleanest lakes. Lewis Smith Lake covers 21,000 acres in Cullman, Walker, and Winston counties and is located near Birmingham and Huntsville areas. You can enjoy a calm weekend there or get out on the water for boating, fishing, or skiing. Get the skinny on Smith Lake here.

You can head to the Shoals area and stay at the Seven Springs Lodge at Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia. Aside from the delicious Rattlesnake Saloon, a restaurant in a cave, there is plenty to do at Seven Springs Lodge. There are campsites, cabins, and horseback riding trails. Guided rides are offered on the second week of each month. The lodge is located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and has more than 20,000 acres of natural woodland available for your enjoyment. There are comfortable places for you horse to stay and areas to fish or just sit and enjoy nature.  Whether you want to stay in a furnished cabin or rough it in a tent, you are sure to have a memorable weekend at Seven Springs Lodge.

Dismals Canyon Conservatory is in Northwest Alabama and is an 85-acre National Conservatory privately owned and operated. It is not considered a State or National Park. Dismals Canyon was designated a “National Natural Landmark” in 1975 by the National Natural Landmarks Program. You can go on a 1.5 mile hike through the canyon floor trail and see the “Dismals Branch” winding stream as well as “Rainbow Falls.” With cool temperatures, hikes are not too hot or mosquito-filled. You can go swimming, camp at a secluded campsite, or rent a “romantic cabin.” There are also guided night tours available to see the glow-and-the-dark creatures known as “Dismalites.” There are also massages available and the conservatory is opened seven days a week. Check it out.

Metone Inn Bed and Breakfast is located on Highway 117 in Mentone. Complete with a big porch and rocking chairs, the Inn is a perfect place to relax or get together to study or fellowship. The Inn sleeps up to 26 comfortably in the twelve rooms, each with a private bath. There is southern-style breakfast and several Historic places to see. You can play golf, go horseback riding, go hiking or swimming, and you can ski in the winter. Check out all the things to do at the Inn and see special deals here.

You can make a stop in Town Creek and stay at Doublehead Resort for a relaxing weekend on the lake. It is the only hotel in Town Creek and offers cabin rentals, fishing, and a beautiful view. There is also horseback riding and a pool at “The Cove at Doublehead.” You can experience two miles of shoreline of Wilson Lake at Doublehead. You can see more information from the resort’s Facebook page here.

One final stop you have to make on your tour of overnight destinations in North Alabama is Mentone Cabins. Located atop Lookout Mountain in the northeast Alabama’s Appalachian foothills, Mentone Cabins offer 30 cabins where you can unwind and recharge. There are several restaurants available for your dining needs, like Moonlight Bistro and Wildflower Cafe, and several shops and museums you can enjoy during your stay. Get the lowdown on Mentone Cabins here.

It looks like you might have to add a few places to your travel list. There are plenty of big cities and exotic places you might want to see, but don’t forget about the peaceful, beautiful sites available right out your back door.

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U.S. Space & Rocket Center smashes one-day attendance record

Almost 5,500 people visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Sat., Sept. 26, for Smithsonian magazine Museum Day Live.  Thousands filled the campus to enjoy a free day at the Center. Topping the highlights included the brand-new exhibit, Science Fiction, Science Future, which opened to the public just days before.

“We are honored that our community supports this Smithsonian Day event in such a powerful way,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate. “Providing this opportunity for everyone to visit the Smithsonian in their neighborhood is the right thing to do. We couldn’t be happier with this record turnout and we are already planning next year’s event.”

While the Space Center frequently hosts thousands of visitors, including each Fourth of July, this is the largest crowd to ever experience and explore the state’s largest tourist attraction in a single day. The Center offers exhibits on science and technology, the history of America’s space program and Redstone Arsenal as well as IMAX films and 3-D movies in our National Geographic Theater.

For more information, please contact Tim Hall at

Renewing a landmark: Studio gutted, new roof first job
By Robert Palmer, Times Daily, Sept. 27

The building that housed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio from 1969 to 1978 is a shell stripped of its interior walls and ceiling. Soon, it will have a roof that doesn’t leak.

“They pulled out most of the ceiling and can now see what has to be done to repair the trusses,” Bonnie Bak, site manager at the former studio, said. “They can fix the entire roof now. That starts Monday.”

The building at 3614 Jackson Highway was purchased a year ago by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation with gifts and donations.

The landmark will be restored to its original glory — down to the shag carpet — with money provided by Beats electronics, which recently was purchased by Apple. By day it will be a museum and by night a working studio.

The studio has been open to visitors for months, though there is little to see inside other than photographs and a video presentation. Bak said even with the building closed for restoration, people from as far away as Canada arrive almost daily to have their photo made in front of it.

A temporary building has been erected on the grounds to sell souvenirs and provide information about other area attractions.

The studio’s roof has a long reputation for leaking. It is a sloping affair and quite old. Bak said the building is believed to be more than 70 years old.

Jerry Masters, a recording engineer who worked at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio during the 1970s, said Paul Simon and his producer, Phil Ramone, were coming to town in 1973 to record tracks for his “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” album. Two days before their arrival, a torrential rain set in.

“Water was leaking into the control room and onto the console,” he said, threatening to disable the sensitive equipment. In a pinch to salvage the lucrative recording session, he sent an assistant to buy a huge box of sanitary napkins.

“We taped them to the top of the console, and that’s the first impression of Muscle Shoals Sound that Paul Simon and Phil Ramone got,” Masters said. “The water had turned them brown, but they were impressed with the sound we got!”

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Barry Beckett — opened the studio in April 1969 after breaking away from FAME Recording Studios owner Rick Hall. Soon they were hosting artists such as Boz Scaggs, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Traffic and the Staple Singers.

The studio accounted for dozens of hit records that helped cement Muscle Shoals’ reputation as a place of isolated but unprecedented success. The rhythm section relocated to more spacious quarters on the banks of the Tennessee River. They sold the studio and its publishing company to Malaco Records in the 1980s.

After the success of the documentary movie “Muscle Shoals” in 2013, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Recording Studios have become popular tourist destinations. The guest book at the 3614 Jackson Highway studio reveals visitors from across the United States and Europe.

“These are places where people created music that was important to millions of people around the world,” said Aubrey Preston, a Franklin, Tennessee, businessman and entrepreneur who helped create the Americana Music Triangle. He also played an active role in keeping RCA Studio A in Nashville from the wrecking ball.

“Anybody who wants to see the impact of these studios should spend time standing on the street corner in Memphis at Sun Studio, or at Studios A and B in Nashville, and watch thousands of people a week get off buses and go inside and get inspired,” Preston said. “There is an enormous opportunity for Muscle Shoals to be a part of the trail of studios.

“There clearly is an international audience of people that will come to Muscle Shoals, spend the night, and spend money,” he said. “The Shoals is so deep and rich. I absolutely love it.”

After the structure is shored up, Bak said the more intricate work of recreating the interior and recording equipment will begin.

Work should be complete in early 2016, she said.

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Beloved oak tree at Helen Keller’s childhood home in Alabama cut down
By Barbara Liston, Reuters, Sept. 23

Workers on Tuesday were cutting down a popular 200-year-old oak tree at the Alabama childhood home of Helen Keller, the deaf and blind writer who as a young girl was famously rescued from its branches by her teacher Anne Sullivan.

The water oak, which was in poor health, was deemed too damaged to save after it lost large branches during a July tornado, said Lynne Weaver, a docent at Ivy Green, the Keller estate in Tuscumbia.

Weaver said the tree was a favorite of school children who toured the house and grounds because of the rescue story often featured in Keller biographies written for young audiences.

“We’re very disappointed,” she said.

Keller lost her sight and hearing to illness as a 19-month-old child but triumphed over her disabilities to become a role model and advocate for others with similar limitations. She died in 1968 at age 87.

Keller’s achievements were made possible in part by Sullivan, whose determination to educate Keller was chronicled in Keller’s autobiography and the 1962 film, “The Miracle Worker.”

In one of the stories often told of their relationship, Keller and Sullivan decided to climb a tree after morning lessons and a walk on a summer day. Sullivan left Keller in the tree, telling her to stay put, while the teacher went into the house to make a picnic lunch.

When a fast-moving storm approached, Sullivan returned to lead the frightened girl safely to the ground.

Weaver said no decision had been made about what would become of the removed tree’s wood. The museum has received requests for souvenir pieces of the tree and offers to have some of the wood carved into a memento for the museum, she said.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando, Fla.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)

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After 100 years, here is Alabama’s first legally distilled whiskey
By Meagan Hurley, Opelika-Auburn News, The Associated Press, Sept. 28

Legal whiskey production in the state of Alabama came to a halt in 1915, with the onset of early-era Prohibition — a constitutional ban on the sale, production and importation of alcoholic beverages that was implemented nationwide in 1920. Fast forward 100 years, and Opelika’s John Emerald Distilling Company has released what is believed to be the first legal, Alabama-distilled whiskey in a century.

“It’s the first legal whiskey made in the state of Alabama in 100 years, since Prohibition. Alabama actually instituted prohibition five years before the federal government did and, in fact, they ran out a very prominent distillery – they ran out Jack Daniels,” said John Sharp, co-owner of John Emerald. “Prohibition came along and nobody made a whiskey, basically, until we actually started doing this.”

The reason for such delay in in-state whiskey production, according to Jimmy Sharp, son of John and co-owner of the company, is likely due to the complexity of Alabama’s liquor laws.

“The way the laws are written, it’s written and it’s written over, and over written, and over written, so it’s real difficult to discern for the average person who doesn’t speak legalese to understand you can,” he said. “Initially, we didn’t think we could have it, but actually the head of enforcement for ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) was the guy that told us we could. He actually went and highlighted the laws, and said, ‘Here’s how you do it.'”

The information ABC supplied them, John Sharp said, were laws he and his son had already read, but had misunderstood.

“It was like you had to read this, you had to go over here and read this, and it kind of cryptically said, ‘This is the exception to that,’ and you have to go to G-4 over here to look. And you’re like whoa, eight pages apart from each other, and it was tough to figure out,” said Jimmy Sharp.

Perhaps another reason Alabama distilleries shied away from whiskey production, the Sharps said, is because of the amount of time whiskey takes to distill.

“When they did the Brewery Modernization Act in 2011 that altered the alcohol manufacturers’ license, which affected breweries, distilleries, wineries — anyone who made alcohol of any sort. That made it where you could do a tasting room, which is important for the business models, so you can have a source of income while you’re waiting for your product to get ready. So that was probably part of it, why people hadn’t done it,” Jimmy Sharp said.

Now that Alabama distilleries understand the laws more clearly, the duo said multiple companies have begun the process of producing whiskey. But John Emerald was the first to make an official release, they said, as John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey hit shelves in June.

“We use these small, five-gallon barrels as well as temperature control that helps simulate seasons and gives us a mature product in a short period of time. I believe others here trying in the state are using traditional techniques where they’re just going to have to wait probably a minimum of three years,” said Jimmy Sharp.

It was John Emerald’s use of nontraditional distilling techniques that afforded them the opportunity to make the landmark release.

“Obviously, this had to be in the barrel for a while, so therefore it was the last thing we released. We tried to hold off, but the demand was so great, honestly, that we did kind of a trickle out, kind of like a pre-release,” said John Sharp.

The Sharps had a friend who requested use of their whiskey to make a cooking sauce for an event last spring, Jimmy Sharp said, so in order to legally sell the whiskey, John Emerald had to obtain a product code from ABC. It wasn’t long until other accounts saw the code, and orders started to come in. The distillery decided to start selling, and officially released the first in-store bottles in June.

“People were buying it before we were trying to sell it, basically, which was good. We were happy with it then, but it will also get a lot better,” Jimmy Sharp said. “We’re tweaking it just a little bit, trying to find the longest it can age in five-gallon barrels.”

By percentages, John Sharp said, John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey is the distillery’s best-selling product.

“We’ve released the least of that than anything else, but it sells the quickest. We sell out of it constantly,” he said. “The first four cases sold out in 45 minutes. Of course, there was some anticipation with that.”

Jimmy Sharp added, “We’re releasing it four or five cases at a time and, of course, after that, as long as it took four of five cases to sell out over the next two months was three days. And that’s all out of one store. Now four stores are sharing it throughout the state, and several bars.”

John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey is available in two local ABC stores, at 1199 S. Donahue Drive and 1945 Opelika Road in Auburn. The whiskey is also available in several bars and restaurants in the Opelika-Auburn area, including the Hound, Acre and Amsterdam Café in Auburn and Niffer’s Place and Irish Bred Pub in Opelika.

John Emerald Distilling Company spirits are distributed in 42 stores throughout Alabama and surrounding areas. The distillery’s tasting room, at 706 N. Railroad Ave. in historic downtown Opelika, is open for drinks Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. until midnight. Production facility tours are offered Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.

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What is included in Mobile’s deal to bring Carnival Fantasy to Alabama?
By John Sharp,, Sept. 23

A city that celebrates its own Carnival each year during Mardi Gras embraced the Miami-based company that has the same name Wednesday during the official announcement that the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy cruise ship will begin sailing out of Alabama in 2016.

The announcement came after a special Mobile City Council meeting in which council members unanimously approved a 13-month agreement to bring the cruise ship to Mobile’s Alabama Cruise Terminal starting Nov. 9, 2016.

“It was 11 years ago that Carnival made the decision to launch its first cruise out of Mobile,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson said. “It was a break through moment at that time and this is a break through moment now.”

Carnival will offer 84 cruises during the initial term in Mobile, which runs until Nov. 27, 2017. The agreement calls for two additional one-year options to extend the agreement. Stimpson said negotiations for the first extension can begin 60 days before the agreement’s termination.

The agreement doesn’t include any cash incentives that other cities have had to provide in order to get a cruise ship. Houston, for instance, paid two cruise companies up to $6.7 million in incentives to attract two ships.

The city will have to establish a marketing fund and pay $200,000 into it each quarter, or $800,000 during a year. The money will be generated from parking revenues and will be used to market cruises out of Mobile.

“We’ll work closely with Carnival on messaging and things like that and see how it goes,” city spokesman George Talbot said. “We saw (the marketing fund) as a positive and it will help bring attention to Mobile as a home port.”

Terry Thornton, senior vice-president of marketing planning with Carnival Cruise Line, said the company doesn’t base its decision on where to place on of its ships based on economic incentives.

“We put ships in places where we think we can be successful and most importantly, a place like Mobile where we can draw upon a very large audience,” he said. “It’s really not about incentives and contracts.”

The Mobile schedule will include four-day cruises to Cozumel and five-day cruises to Cozumel and Costa Maya or Progreso. Vacationers can begin booking their trips in early November.

Parking will cost visitors $18 per day at the cruise terminal, an amount that is expected to generate $3 million annually. Off-site parking at the Mobile Civic Center site will cost $15 per day. It’s unclear if there will be special rates provided for buses and recreational vehicles.

Passengers aboard the Carnival Fantasy will also be charged a $16 per passenger per cruise service charge, which will generate $2.7 million.

Aside from the marketing fund, the city’s expenditures include the following: $1.86 million in annual debt service to pay off the cruise terminal, $709,608 annual terminal operations expenses and $876,946 in security and labor costs.

Stimpson said the net benefit to the city represents a $4 million swing from its current situation of paying the annual terminal debt without any revenue sources. Mobile has been without a cruise ship since 2011, and has had to make its annual bond payments on the terminal through its General Fund.

The city anticipates making a direct profit of $1.87 million.

“It’s a huge impact to the city,” he said.

Stimpson did say that some investment is needed in the Alabama Cruise Terminal, which was built in 2004. He said the upgrades could cost between $500,000 to $750,000, but added that the expense could come from another source other than the city’s budget.

Stimpson also said the agreement protects Mobile during the initial year of the agreement if Carnival, for whatever reason, decides to move the cruise ship out of Mobile.

“If they came here for a week and left, it would be $1.3 million (going to the city),” Stimpson said, adding that if the ship leaves at any other point during the year, the costs will be pro-rated.

“The idea is not to leave us holding the bag,” he said. “It would take something catastrophic, in my mind (for Carnival to break the agreement early).”

The Carnival Fantasy, which is currently in Charleston, S.C., will undergo a multi-million dollar refurbishment to add elements features on Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 program. The upgrades are expected to take place in February 2016.

The enhancements will include the addition of Guy’s Burger Joint, two poolside watering holes, the RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar and the BlueIguana Cantina Mexican-themed eatery.

Carnival Fantasy also features a 12,000-square-foot spa, a WaterWorks aqua park featuring a 300-foot-long slide and kiddie splash area, a Serenity adults-only retreat, full casino gambling, 24-hour pizzeria and supervised programs for kids ages 2-17.

Carnival Fantasy, the lead ship of Carnival’s eight-vessel Fantasy-class line of cruise ships, first floated out 25 years ago. It was once based in Mobile for about six months in late 2009 and early 2010.
The Fantasy was then replaced by the Carnival Elation, which left in 2011 for New Orleans.

Since then, the Alabama Cruise Terminal has been vacant except for two emergency situations – the highly-publicized arrival of the Carnival Triumph in February 2013 and the Carnival Conquest in July 2013.

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State looks to improve bicycle, pedestrian plan
By Kym Klass, Montgomery Advertiser, Sept. 28

The state’s Department of Transportation wants to make Alabama roads more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
And safe. And useful. And it wants your input.

ALDOT is working to improve upon its current, five-year-old Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, a plan required by the federal government, and from the state’s perspective, a plan that “will guide how we make the roads safer for pedestrians and bicycles specifically when we are building new roadways and improving existing roads,” said Allison Green, ALDOT spokeswoman.

“It could involve building bike paths, and that depends on whether that is needed to make the area safe.”
ALDOT announced last week that the plan is being developed to improve bicycle and pedestrian mobility. The purpose of the plan is to establish a vision for integrating bicycling and walking into the state of Alabama transportation system. It also will help guide investment in bicycle and pedestrian facilities that maximize use of the limited available funding.

“For a very nominal expenditure, ALDOT could produce very effective education programs aimed at motorists and cyclists including (public service announcements), financial support for hands-on education programs at the local and neighborhood levels, and ALDOT could significantly assist with bicycle tourism infrastructure, such as signing … all at a very low cost,” said Jeff Feet, president of the Montgomery Bicycle Club and the Alabama Bicycle Coalition, who serves on the advisory committee for the plan.

The board also includes ALDOT engineers, Grey Brennen with Alabama Tourism and Jim Felder with Alabama Trails Commission.

The Project Advisory Committee has been created to guide the planning process. The committee includes representatives from transportation, health, trails, bicycling, conservation, community planning and economic development groups. The Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is anticipated to be complete in the spring.Alabama residents can give input for the plan via an online survey that can be accessed on the ALDOT home page of its website, and this fall, the team leading the planning process will hold five public workshops across the state. The workshops will give people an opportunity to learn more about the plan and to share their perspective on bicycling and pedestrian needs.

From Millbrook to Gunter
Frank Mileto commutes three times a week from his home in Millbrook to Gunter Air Force Base.

He said there needs to be better coordination with ALDOT, specifically when the department repaves the roads that include rumble strips on the shoulders.

“I won’t dictate what cars need for safety,” he said. “If they widen it a little more, or eliminate the rumble strips. … I think we can accommodate cars and bikes in my opinion. I can go on the northern bypass, and there is a six-foot shoulder and the rumble strips.”

Green said ALDOT is “definitely looking at those rumble strips in this plan. There are some designs that won’t hurt the bikes, but will also be effective for the automobiles. Kudos to the engineers who are looking at those things.”

Karen Stankard said more bike lanes would be great “with the rumble strip on the outside, and not between the lanes.
“Also, (the state) needs bicycle parking and traffic signals that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly,” she said.  “Walking downtown Montgomery, people turn when you are in the crosswalk all the time.”

Where pedestrians matter, Mileto said, Alabama has to go in to a deeper design.

“I was in Amsterdam over the summer, and they have a portion of the road for cyclists and a part for pedestrians,” he said. “The point is to encourage. One option is to create a barrier between cyclists and pedestrians, like they’re doing in New York City.”

Still, there needs to be more education for drivers, said triathlete Carolyn Slocum of Prattville. That could include public service spots and billboards.

“I would say the number one, if we had some great paved bike trails (or) roads,” she said. “I love that Old Farm Lane (in Prattville) now has signs to share the road and marked bike lanes.”

Road safety
Jeff Periatt commutes twice a week along Carter Hill/Vaughn Road and Bell Road, and says academic research suggests signs are not effective. However, “signs that state bicycles are vehicles required to operate (on) the roadway would be the most helpful, in my opinion.”

Connectivity is an important factor in creating a successful plan, said cyclist Deana Acklin.

“A network of direct travel routes between destinations will encourage more people to substitute driving with walking and biking,” she said. “This will also help improve mobility for those who don’t have the drive.”

To provide input in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, visit ALDOT at under the “featured information” section.

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Book review of Rick Hall’s tell-all memoir, “The Man from Muscle Shoals”

Rick Hall’s “My Journey From Shame to Fame” is a historic memoir full of rich colorful memories, tragedies, blessings, and lessons learned.  A memoir that portrays the true reality of just how important our perspective, choices, and daily attitudes are. They create our destiny.  Readers get to know members of Rick Hall’s family along with many musical artists and talents.  Rick’s personal journey is an eye-opener. Our experiences, pains, and wounds are all used to shape and form who we become. Rick’s life is such an example.

Rick comes from humble poor beginnings. He understands poverty. He has met interesting and unique people all throughout his life. Rick had plenty of opportunities to cry foul or play the victim. His life is rich and his work is the fruit of all he has lived through, endured, and experienced. All along the way, he had choices to make and during each season of life he found himself in, he could have fallen apart, turned nasty, bitter, or given up. He may have come close a few times, but he did none of those things. He always kept going, his focus was upward and forward moving. The tragedies and pain suffered were allowed to become fertile soil within his heart and soul where his dreams and goals of achieving and becoming a man of solid reputation and talent came about.

Readers journey along with Rick as he recalls the many aspects of his life, his family, the trajectory of his musical career, and how he became “The Father of the Muscle Shoals Sound.”  Music fans and history buffs will love this book. Those who desire to learn how the “Muscle Shoals Sound” came about will find this story an interesting read. The story is not sugar-coated. Truth is told. We meet famous people and not so famous people. We travel from the beginning and end in present day. No part of Rick Hall’s circumstances or experiences was wasted.

His family, father, grandma, sister, uncles, aunts, and mother, all had a tremendous role in shaping who Rick Hall became. His Grandma Hall once said, “…I will hold my head up even if my ass drags the ground.” Rick’s Dad was not only a hard worker, a man of integrity, but he was a single father who loved his children dearly and did whatever he had to do to make sure they were taken care of.

Rick Hall vividly captures his memories and makes readers feel like they were there with him. “He was a short fat little man, with a big, loud tenor voice. He wore little peeper glasses, had a big round red face and a walking stick and looked a lot like pictures I’d seen of President Teddy Roosevelt. He was an old-timey, home-visiting doctor who believed in home remedies and health foods even back then.” This book is entertaining. There are many cool unique stories. What an excellent memoir that shows all the behind-the-scenes of what it takes for success to happen in one’s life. Music teachers may come to cherish this book as a rich educational tool.  Students will learn about the “Muscle Shoals Sound” and how it all came to be.

Rick Hall makes a way even if it has never been done before. “In the early 1960’s there was no such thing as an independent record producer. He was breaking new ground!” Rick learned much along the way and he used all he learned for the next step.  “With several major hits now under my belt, I had learned to trust my own instincts and never be swayed or overly influenced by anyone else’s opinion again.”

Life usually comes full circle for folks and Rick’s is no exception. “In a bittersweet way, I suppose I owe much of my drive, determination, and iron will to succeed to losing my mother and being left alone so early in my life. Growing up without a mother made me feel like a nobody, and those bittersweet feelings of grief and abandonment are probably what fueled my hell-bent desire to overcome all obstacles and triumph at all cost. My attitude was always, “I’ve been a nobody all my life, but by God’s will I will show the rest of the world that I am somebody.” Rick Hall’s major losses and tragedies all helped to shape him into the man he became and were used as mighty fuel that ushered him forward. His choices and responses along the way ultimately decided if he was going to fail or succeed. He learned life’s most important principles as evidenced in all of his work and in all he produced and created. Readers come to understand the significance of Muscle Shoals in the music world. Readers also learn how Rick Hall became “The Father of the Muscle Shoals Sound.”  Not only was this an educational, historical read, but quite interesting and intense as well. I have a new profound appreciation for Rick Hall and all those who pursue their dreams no matter what the cost.

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Movie producer Scott Lumpkin balances Hollywood, family, and skateboarding
The Southern Rambler, Sept. 23

Movie producer Scott Lumpkin manages millions of dollars in movie budgets and hundreds of people in a movie crew. He blows up vans, burns down buildings, drops onto Alaskan glaciers with Navy Seals, and calms a town frazzled by a week of fireworks exploding all night long, but his favorite place to be is skateboarding with his kids through the streets of Fairhope at midnight. Skateboards and movies are his adrenaline rush, and his five kids and wife Kate keep him happy and grounded.

Lumpkin is becoming one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, but his open, friendly personality is Lower Alabama, not Los Angeles. Wearing jeans, a baseball cap, and a couple of small silver bracelets he can’t get off his arm, Lumpkin worked his way up to produce movies with the biggest actors and directors in Hollywood. Task-driven, he works from lists to make the impossible become possible, often under intense conditions. He replies immediately to texts, even if he is several countries away, and knows the names and personalities of the members of his crew, making each one feel like the most important person in the room. The cast, crew, and location change with each movie, but Lumpkin stays himself, alive in the freedom of telling stories and making movies.

“The goal of making movies is to get people to see it so I can make another movie and tell another story,” Lumpkin says. “I grew up in the South and we are storytellers and it is how I entertained my siblings and now my kids. I like creating something that makes people react–if someone laughs all the way through a movie or it scares the heck out of them. I don’t mind if someone says they don’t like it as long as they can tell me why. The biggest compliment I can get is ‘I love that movie.’”

Two of Lumpkin’s movies are waiting for release dates. Before I Wake, starring Kate Bosworth and originally titled Somnia, was shot in Fairhope. Masterminds was shot in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. It was directed by Jared Hess, produced by Lorne Michaels, and stars Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis. Lumpkin’s next project is a Jackie Chan film directed by Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, GoldenEye, Casino Royale). Lumpkin is scouting locations in the United Kingdom and shooting begins in London in November.

“I have always loved movies and I have never walked out of one,” he says. “It started with Star Wars andJaws. The Deep with Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset is the first movie that scared me.”

Lumpkins’ interest in movies began in seventh grade when his father brought home a video camera and Lumpkin re-made commercials with his younger brothers and sister. After high school, he worked cameras with low-budget films and commercials in Mobile and learned how to be a production manager and a problem solver.  He went to a short, intensive film school at USC, and broke into bigger projects with the Discovery Channel show, “Floating Inferno,” a re-enactment documentary about a cruise ship that caught fire in the 1950s and the captain took the only lifeboat. More movies followed in Miami and Arkansas, and Lumpkin became one of the only bondable line producers in the South who could manage money for movies.

“I am on my 49th movie and it has never stopped being fun,” says Lumpkin. “I didn’t think of it as a job until a few years ago when the traveling started taking me away from home and my family.  I have produced a bizarre spread of movies from comedies, indies, and thrillers, to Nicholas Sparks movies and Will Ferrell’s telenovela.”

On the same level as the director, a movie producer balances the art and commerce of the film. The producer hires the crew, supervises every contract, and protects the director’s creative vision.  “I am in charge of writing all of the checks and every penny that is spent is on my shoulders,” he says. “I report to the studios and have to bring together the creative and financial sides and play good cop/bad cop because they don’t always get along. I have to be diplomatic and thick-skinned and know how to fight for what I think is right.

“This is a loosey-goosey business, often with a crew of over 200 people working 100 hours a week. They are transient, creative oddballs living in hotels from movie to movie,” Lumpkin says. “I have to balance the egos and help everyone get along, but that is the part I like. I am an approachable leader that creates a fun environment and will help paint, sling a hammer, weld, and build.”

“Scott is like the general of an army who can inspire and challenge,” says Denise  Di Novi, who producedEdward Scissorhands and worked with Lumpkin on the Nicholas Sparks film, The Best of Me. “Scott has a chill personality while still being a taskmaster.  He kills himself to get what the director wants, but everyone loves him so much that they want to please him and do a great job for him.”

Lumpkin produces two to three movies a year and each movie starts in negotiations with his agent. “I get five to seven offers and 15 to 20 scripts a month,” he says. “I need an agent to help me weed out what is real and what is not real.”

Production work begins months before shooting when Lumpkin breaks the script into a grocery list to set the budget. The second time he reads through the script with highlighters and puts a cost on everything he needs to make the film. It usually takes 30-60 days to film and costs about $250,000 per day. Production is fast-paced, so he memorizes the 100-to 150-page budget for each film to save time.

Producing movies is as stressful as it is exciting. Production dates, release dates, casts, and budgets change. Scripts are rewritten, and sometimes movies fall through. Lumpkin spent months on a location scout in the sub-freezing Alaskan winter for one of his biggest action movies yet that was to begin shooting this fall, but the studio releasing the film declared bankruptcy and the film was put on hold.

“On one movie, I found out we were $1 million short and we had five days to get the money or lose the $3 million already spent and everyone goes home and the movie doesn’t get made,” Lumpkin says. “I couldn’t let anyone else know or they would quit. I had to cut the budget and find new investors to save the film.”

Lumpkin produced Will Ferrell’s first dramatic role Everything Must Go and Ferrell’s telenovela Casa de mi Padre. “I met Scott on Everything Must Go and he wrangled a very difficult shoot with a lot of compassion for what it takes for low-budget movie making,” Ferrell says.  “Scott is so good that I never heard about a lot of the problems. The skill of a great producer is getting things done behind the scene without any drama spilling into actors’ or the director’s laps. On Casa, however, an actor requested to be paid on the spot in cash and wanted a couple of new truck tires and Scott figured that one out.”

Lumpkin works on several movies at a time and alternates between big-budget films and smaller indie films. “Financially, a big-budget movie is better and there is more time to shoot, but you have less creative control because the five guys at the top make all of the decisions,” he says. “With indies, the whole team is collaborative and there is more of a sense of community and a common goal.”

Shooting indies such as Oculus and Before I Wake (Somnia) in Fairhope gives Lumpkin a chance to work from home, hire friends, including artists Bruce Larsen and John Rezner, and bring money into Fairhope. “A lot of people I went to Fairhope High School with work in the film business and we get to work together,” says Lumpkin. “Before I Wake brought a crew of 200 to Fairhope and we spent close to $6 million in the area when we shot for two months in 2014. Two people from the crew bought new cars and one bought a house here.”

“Scott worked his way up to become one of the best producers in the industry and his success and hard work is helping bring Hollywood to our L.A.,” says Eva Golson, Director of the Mobile Film Office. “He helped us work on the legislation to get tax incentives that were needed to bring film crews to Alabama, and our growing film industry has helped economic development here.  I am so proud of Scott and I hope that he doesn’t get so big that he has to move off.”

Lumpkin stays behind the scenes and away from the camera. “I like being under the radar,” he says. “I will be at lunch with Zach Galifianakis and people say ‘There is Zach and somebody.’ I am happy being the somebody that nobody knows.  I don’t like being on the screen. I don’t want to be famous and I don’t want to be a director.”

Movie stars are just co-workers for Lumpkin, but he gets star-struck over musicians.  “Rock stars are different. I would love to be a rock star, and the coolest thing I could do is meet Mick Jagger,” he says. “I try to play, but I have a long-lasting love/hate relationship with my guitars.”

Lumpkin paints too, but his work and hobbies come back to skateboarding. A skateboard gave him independence in his childhood and today skateboarding with his kids on the wooden half-pipe ramp covered in stickers, signs, and family graffiti in his backyard is his escape from movies. Lumpkin is 42, and skateboarding still gives him a chance to go fast and fly and skateboarding taught him to get up after being knocked down.

“This movie business is brutal, it is one of the toughest, meanest things you can do, but if it were easy, everyone would make movies,” he says. “It is fast-paced and crazy trying to make the impossible possible, but I need that rush, and it is so much fun when it works. We laugh and can’t believe we figured out how to do it.”

For Lumpkin, the best part of being a producer is being his own boss with the freedom to take months off from the stress to fish and recharge with his family or he takes them on location. Sometimes his kids have a small part in the film or jobs behind the scenes. His wife, Kate, also works in film production and helps him work through problems and ideas.

“I get to pick the atmosphere for my job every six months,” he says. “No other job is going to pay me to do that.  I need the freedom and I have always been better at things on my own terms. I do well and I do awful, but I learn from the discovery and experience and find my own way through it.  It’s all about the balance.”

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Sweet Dream Road Trip suggestions sought

Debbie Wilson is working on a new Alabama Road Trip about unusual and unique places to overnight in Alabama.  For example, grain silos near the Coon Dog Cemetery in Colbert County are unique.  Places must be open to the public and easily accessible.  Please send your suggestions by Oct. 9 to

2015 Welcome Center Retreat agenda finalized

The agenda for the 2015 Welcome Center Retreat in Tuscaloosa has been finalized. The dates are Nov. 8 – 10.   The recently opened Embassy Suites Hotel is the host hotel in vibrant downtown Tuscaloosa.  The Tuscaloosa CVB has put together an informative, jam packed agenda. Highlights include updates on the Alabama Tourism Department’s social media strategy, music and rural tourism presentations and dedicated time for our Welcome Center employees to engage with our tourism partners.  For complete agenda information, registration and vendor information contact Tina Jones or 205–391–0957.

2015 Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference

The 2015 Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference will be held in Rogersville, AL, October 19-21, 2015 at Joe Wheeler State Park.

This conference is one of the best for the money. Discounted registration is only $95 if you register before Oct. 9. Register Here!

Learn and network with tourism professionals from Alabama and Mississippi.
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Alabama artists and craftspeople

Alabama is home to a vast number of talented and creative artists and craftspeople who produce a wide variety of items including, but not limited to, woodwork, paintings, ceramics, fabrics and a lot of food.

The Alabama Tourism Department is looking for information about these artists and crafters and their products.  We are interested in the home-grown cottage industries rather than the industrial giants.

Please send information about people and their products, including contact information, to Peggy Collins, or call 334-242-4545.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Nov. 8 – 10                              Welcome Center Retreat, Embassy Suites, Tuscaloosa


Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

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Alabama Tourism Department