• Governor announces Year of Alabama Parks
  • Alabama Music Hall of Fame banquet will be in Shoals for first time
  • Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens beats North Pole for #1 place to see Christmas lights
  • Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours
  • Grand Hotel, Battle House bring home Historic Hotels of America honors
  • New trails to open by mid-December at Noccalula Falls Park
  • Coldwater Mountain receives IMBA Ride Center designation
  • Wind Creek Wetumpka casino to open in December
  •, “Good food, beaches, shopping and Civil War history make a unique trip to Alabama”
  • Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge 75th Anniversary celebration Dec. 7
  • AMLA’s Tami Reist receives Gilmer Blackburn Legacy Award
  • Alabama Tourism representatives attend World Travel Market
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Governor announces Year of Alabama Parks

Gov. Robert Bentley said that the state’s Year of Alabama Parks promotion will highlight state parks, local parks and outdoor recreation areas across the state in 2014.

Bentley addressed the crowd Friday afternoon at the ShrimpFest and Barbecue event at Oak Mountain State Park.  The event was the first in a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Alabama State Parks systems next year.  Throughout the year, Alabama’s 22 state parks will host a variety of hikes, nature walks, camping specials and other special events.

The 2014 Alabama Vacation Guide and Calendar has been expanded to include several articles on parks including a history of the state parks system, a listing of special 75th anniversary events at the parks, eco-tourism attractions and profiles of urban parks across the state.

Alabama’s numerous urban parks and green spaces will also be featured during The Year of Alabama Parks. Downtown parks have added to the quality of life in cities across the state and increased downtown development.

Because Alabama has 22 state parks most communities are within a one-hour drive from a state park offering a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities including:

  • Five resort parks featuring lodge, restaurant and convention facilities.
  • Ten parks with modern cottages and chalets.
  • Twenty-one parks with modern campgrounds.
  • Two parks with cave tours.
  • The Parks Path Golf Trail.
  • The Gulf State Park Fishing Pier and Gulf Adventure Center Hummingbird Zipline.
  • Three parks with marinas and many more fishing and boating opportunities.
  • Picnic pavilions perfect for any outdoor gathering.
  • Various museums highlighting the rich cultural and natural heritage of the local communities.
  • More than 200 miles of hiking, biking, horseback riding and walking trails.
  • Thousands of acres of water-based recreation ranging from mountain lakes and rushing streams to the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our partners are not only the visitors, but community organizations and local businesses that invest their time and efforts into providing recreational opportunities for all Alabamians to enjoy,” said Greg Lein, Parks Director.  “In the coming months and new year, we encourage everyone to join us in celebrating Alabama State Parks’ 75 years of service.”

More information about the 2014 Alabama State Parks 75th Anniversary Celebration is available at the website including specials on lodging, camping and dining specials and event announcements.


Alabama Music Hall of Fame banquet will be in Shoals for first time

by Russ Corey,, Nov. 23

For the first time ever, the Shoals will play host to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet, which will be a black-tie gala on Feb. 28 at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center.

Six music achievers from Alabama will be inducted, including Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, two integral players who were a part of the early days of the Shoals music scene.

FAME Recording Studios founder Rick Hall received the John Herbert Orr Pioneer Award at the first Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet in Birmingham 28 years ago.  Hall will be able to attend the next banquet without having to drive so far.

“I just think it’s incredible,” Hall said. “It’s a wonderful thing. I can’t find words to express how excited I am about it and how excited the whole area is about it.”

To read the entire article, go to:


Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens beats North Pole for #1 place to see Christmas lights

by Cliff Sims,, Nov. 21

The Learning Channel released a list of the “50 Best Places to See Christmas Lights in America,” and Bellingrath Gardens is at the top. Right below them? North Pole, Alaska.

“Stroll through over 3 million sparkling lights and over 950 displays throughout the 65 acre Garden estate,” Britt Reints of wrote. ”Enjoy nightly choral performances on the South Terrace of the Bellingrath Home.”

“We are honored by this recognition.  It is a tribute to the dedication of the whole Bellingrath team.  Our goal was to create an event that honored the character of the Gardens while celebrating the wonders of the holiday season” said Dr. Bill Barrick

“This light show is home-grown, being designed, fabricated, lamped, installed and maintained by the Bellingrath staff,” explained a YouTube video highlighting the history of the yearly event. “We use a design process that is highly collaborative between Bellingrath staff and Claire Graham, designer and former Disney imagineer… [She] has transformed Bellingrath’s holiday light show into one of the premier light shows in America.”

The Bellingrath Gardens Christmas lights are set to go on display Nov. 29 and will run through the end of the year. Tickets are $24.00 for adults (13+), $13.00 for kids (5-12) and children under 4 get in free. They can be purchased online or in person at the gate.


Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours

Gov. and Mrs. Robert Bentley will open the Governor’s Mansion for candlelight tours on the first three Monday nights in December.

Designers from across the state have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours.  More than 500 Christmas ornaments sent in by Alabama fourth-grade students will decorate displays around the mansion. “The Governor’s Mansion belongs to the people of Alabama and we want to share it with them during this wonderful season,” said Mrs. Bentley.

Alabama Tourism Department staff members will sign copies of their new book, Alabama Road Trips at the Governor’s Mansion gift shop on each of the three nights. Brian Jones will sign copies of the book on Dec. 2, Grey Brennan will sign on Dec. 9 and state tourism director Lee Sentell will sign on Dec. 16. The hardcover book features stories on 100 cities across the state by geographic region, starting in North Alabama and ending with the Gulf Coast.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day.  The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Avenue across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry Street in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951.  The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

Each tour night will feature choirs from different areas of the state to entertain guests.  The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 2, 9 and 16.

More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours by going online to:


Grand Hotel, Battle House bring home Historic Hotels of America honors

by Kelli Dugan,

The Mobile area hospitality industry shone brightly Thursday night, securing two Historic Hotels of America 2013 Annual Awards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

George Moore, historian at the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa, was named Ambassador of the Year, while the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear was named Best Historic Hotel in the more than 400 guest rooms category.

The 17 awards, announced during a gala dinner at The Pfister Hotel, ranged from Hotelier of the Year and Hotel Historian of the Year to Sustainability Champion and Best Historic Restaurant in Conjunction with a Historic Hotel.

Lawrence Horwitz, executive director of Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide, said Thursday’s honorees represent the finest in the nation.  “They inspire travelers to discover and experience the treasures where America’s history was written,” Horwitz said.

To read the entire article, go to:


New trails to open by mid-December at Noccalula Falls Park

by Andy Powell, The Gadsden Times, Oct. 20

About three miles of new or improved trails at Noccalula Falls Park should be open by mid-December, according to Gadsden officials.

The trail work includes making improvements to an existing undeveloped loop trail off the Black Creek Trail and constructing about two miles of mountain biking and multi-use trails that will be inside the loop, said Shane Ellison, Mayor Sherman Guyton’s administrative assistant.

The loop trail, which will be about a mile long, will connect to the Black Creek Trail near the bridge and boardwalk and will run to Jeep Hill, where there will be a connector to the multi-use trails back to the Black Creek Trail near Cascade Creek.

The Black Creek Trail runs from the wedding chapel at Noccalula Falls to Meighan Boulevard. The trail, which is made of crushed stone, is about 2 miles long from the chapel to Black Creek Road.

The multi-use trails — one a loop of just less than a mile and another that will be three-fifths of a mile — will connect. The trails will be dirt and will be 3 feet wide.

To read the entire article, go to:


Coldwater Mountain receives IMBA Ride Center designation

The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has announced their 2013 Ride Center designations.

This year’s list includes Coldwater Mountain in Anniston.  Coldwater joins other Ride Centers in Burns Lake, British Columbia, Canada; Helena, Montana; Ryslebske Stezky in Cerna Voda, Czech Republic and Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

The IMBA calls Coldwater Mountain a 4,000-acre site with 25 miles of varied, bike-specific trails with plans for up to 75 miles of trails. The listing goes on to say, “Beginners, downhillers and backcountry explorers will all find something to love a short ride from downtown Anniston.”

Ride Centers are mountain biking destinations that offer a wide range of trails, are places where mountain bikers are welcomed, and are ideal for multi-day trips for the entire family.

Coldwater Mountain is now one of only 17 IMBA Ride Centers in the world.

For a list of all IBMA Ride Centers, go to:

To see the announcement, go to:


Wind Creek Wetumpka casino to open in December

by Matt Okarmus, The Montgomery Advertiser

The casino floor of Wind Creek Wetumpka soon will be filled with flashing lights, celebration bells and lots of people as casino officials prepare for an upcoming opening.

Wind Creek Wetumpka, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ hotel and casino, officially is scheduled to open its casino floor Dec. 17, replacing the current Creek Casino Wetumpka at the same location. A new 20-story hotel is set to open in January or February.

Williamson gave a tour of the property Thursday as workers made preparations for the operation of electronic bingo machines. Williamson said the casino has 2,520 machines on the 85,000-square-foot gaming floor, five restaurants and a state-of-the-art, 16,000-gallon shark tank. The casino floor will feature only gaming machines, Williamson added.

The overall cost for the project is about $250 million, Williamson said Thursday, with the casino portion estimated to cost $150 million to $200 million.

Williamson also pointed out a dining space that overlooks the Coosa River, a guest area with a fireplace that sits near an outdoor pool, and a “fast food to go” option for quick meals.

Since starting construction in August 2012, casino officials have reached out to the local community and recently held a job fair at the Wetumpka Civic Center. Williamson said the job fair resulted in 580 job offers. Currently, about 100 to 150 positions are available, and officials expect to have about 1,000 employees at the casino’s opening, including the current workforce.

“The main thing with 1,000 employees is those people will infuse a lot of money into the local economy,” Williamson said. He added that Wind Creek Wetumpka officials hope to attract guests from Atlanta, Birmingham and Huntsville with the expanded hotel and casino.

After the opening of the new gaming facility, the current Creek Casino Wetumpka will be closed. The front portion will be turned into a convenience store and the back portion will become a special events center.

To read the entire article, go to: “Good food, beaches, shopping and Civil War history make a unique trip to Alabama”

by Eric G. Stark,, Nov. 17

Jason, the Civil War re-enactor, never broke character, which meant I was in trouble.  His handshake started as a gentlemanly gesture — firm, but not too harsh. The squeeze got a bit tighter when he heard where I was from.

“Pennsylvania,” he repeated, holding on to my hand and not giving it back. “So you are a ‘Carpetbagger?’  “Yeah, I guess I am,” I said, smiling, while trying to pull my hand out of his tight grip.

If you are a Civil War buff, or got caught up in Gettysburg Fever last summer, Alabama is the place for you.  In 2014, Alabama will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay.

When I received information this summer about the “Alabama’s Civil War Trail” and events surrounding the 149th anniversary, I thought, this has to be a misprint.  It’s been 150 years since the big battle at Gettysburg, so surely someone got the math wrong in Alabama.  But the war didn’t end in Gettysburg, as it was merely a turning point. There were plenty of battles and great stories long after Gettysburg, and I got to hear many of these stories while visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, in August during the commemoration for the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay and Siege of Fort Morgan.  And on a clear, quiet day, with just a bit of imagination, you can hear “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Admiral David Farragut said this as he led Union troops into the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Yes, this is a hot, humid time to visit Alabama, but this is when the historical events took place. It was interesting to see and feel (the heat), and to some extent, experience what these soldiers must have gone through.

Another bonus is the location. The Gulf of Mexico and pristine, sugar white beaches make the heat and humidity more tolerable.  This is a nice trip to gain a little perspective and learn some history, as well as enjoy the excellent beaches and the Gulf.

Read more:–beaches–shopping-and-Civil-War-history-make-a-unique-trip-to-Alabama.html#ixzz2l1GfECBA


Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge 75th Anniversary celebration Dec. 7

The 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge will be held Dec. 7.

Seventy-five years ago, the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established, and today serves as a home to some of the United States’ most precious wildlife resources. The birthday celebration will highlight the refuges’ history and success as a natural resource management demonstration project. Hosted by the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association, the 75th Anniversary Celebration will include bird banding, arrowhead making, hot air balloon tethered rides (weather permitting), archery, corn maze and hay rides.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as an experiment to determine the possibility and feasibility of attracting migratory birds onto a multipurpose impoundment. Soon after, ducks began wintering on the refuge and the project was deemed a success. Today, the refuge hosts over 600,000 visitors annually who come to fish, hunt, and observe wildlife in its natural setting. Covering 35,000 acres, it attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year and is home to Alabama’s largest wintering duck population. The Refuge also supports the state’s largest concentration of Sandhill Cranes and is the winter home for a small population of the endangered Whooping Crane. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit

The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is located at 3121 Visitor Center Road in Decatur.

For more information on the 75th Anniversary celebration, visit:


AMLA’s Tami Reist receives Gilmer Blackburn Legacy Award

Nov. 14

Tami Reist, President and CEO of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA), has been presented with the Gilmer Blackburn Legacy Award. The award was presented by the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCCVB) and the Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association (DMCHA) during the annual Tourism Breakfast and Awards Program Nov. 14, at Ingalls Harbor Pavilion in Decatur.   “Mayor Blackburn laid the foundation for the tourism industry in Decatur many years ago. In 2012, travel-related expenditures exceeded $176 million in Morgan County and is an important economic driver for the city and county. Today, Tami Reist continues the effort to develop and showcase the tourism resources of the entire Alabama Mountain Lakes region. No other name is as synonymous with tourism as that of Tami,” said Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau President/CEO Melinda Dunn.


Alabama Tourism representatives attend World Travel Market

Lee Sentell, Grey Brennan and Della Tully, Alabama Tourism’s UK representative, met with 40 UK travel industry partners and media during World Travel Market, the leading global event for the travel industry, which took place Nov. 4 – 7 in London.  The recent launch of the “Muscle Shoals” movie in the UK and Ireland, in addition to the new “Scottsboro Boys” musical currently playing at the Young Vic Theatre in London, boosted interest in the Alabama stand.  World Travel Market is an annual four-day business-to-business exhibition now in its 34th year of attracting 48,000 travel industry professionals, international press and government ministers. This year saw a 5% increase in delegates.


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Dec. 12         Welcome Centers – Open House

Feb. 23-26, 2014         Travel South Domestic Showcase, Charleston, WV

The Alabama Tourism Department News is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry. The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

Alabama Tourism Department