Alabama Tourism Department News March 26, 2014

  • National Geographic and Alabama Tourism collaborate on Geotourism project
  • Alabama parks drive $375M into state economy
  • Alabama State Parks to host second event as part of Baumhower’s ShrimpFest and BBQ Series at Gulf State Park pavilion
  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center seeks a shuttle training aircraft
  • ‘Happy’ song gets ahold of Birmingham in new viral video
  • Nine Southern towns you’re forgetting about but shouldn’t
  • Belle Chevre’s cheese, a goat named Valentine and an Airstream trailer invade downtown Huntsville
  • Could Alabama use a new license plate slogan? Sports Illustrated has an idea
  • Cornbread passes first hurdle in effort to become the official state bread of Alabama
  • The scenic route: culinary tour of coastal Alabama
  • Gulf Shores, Orange Beach among top spring-break destinations
  • St. Bernard’s signature event celebrates 30 years in 2014
  • Civil Rights pilgrimage group led by Congressman John Lewis visits Sumter Welcome Center
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


National Geographic and Alabama Tourism collaborate on Geotourism project

The National Geographic Society, in collaboration with the Alabama Tourism Department, unveiled a new four state geotourism project in Montgomery on March 25.

Some 341 Alabama listings, submitted by 121 Alabamians, are featured on the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism interactive website at and on a mobile app. The project also includes a large printed brochure with 200 points of interest from the four state regions.

“Partnering with National Geographic gives us a new way to bring attention to many of our unique destinations,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell.

Officials said the project is designed to showcase local natural, cultural and historical locations in the gulf coast states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“The U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism guide and website showcase what makes the region so culturally and geographically significant,” said James Dion of the National Geographic maps division. “This project underscores the importance of conserving the region’s tremendous scenic, historic and cultural assets for future generations.”

Grey Brennan, Alabama Tourism Department regional director, called the project a plus for the state. “The National Geographic society is known worldwide and to have Alabama destinations listed on a website developed by their map division is a boost for tourism.”

The tourism project started more than a year ago with a call for organizations and citizens to nominate local points of interest and a formation of the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism Stewardship Council. More than 100 Alabamians submitted nominations that included sites and attractions unique to their area such as local restaurants, wildlife and scenic trails, bed and breakfasts, historic attractions, fishing destinations, museums, and artist galleries.

Sites featured on the geotourism website in Huntsville include the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Huntsville Depot, the Huntsville Museum of Art and several restaurants.

In the Florence area, the Bankhead National Forest, the W.C. Handy Home and Festival and the Studios of Muscle Shoals are among the listings.

The 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the restaurants and shops of Five Points South are some of the sites featured in the Birmingham area.

Featured sites and events in the Tuscaloosa area include the Moundville Native American Festival, Lake Lurleen State Park, and the Battle-Friedman House.

In the Anniston area, Mount Cheaha State Park, the Berman Museum of the World, the Anniston Museum of Natural History and Frog Pond USA and listed.

The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, the First White House of the Confederacy and Historic Downtown Montgomery are among the Montgomery listings.

In the Selma area, Gee’s Bend, artist Charlie Lucas, Old Cahawba Archaeological Park and the Selma-to-Montgomery Historic Trail are among the listings.

In Tuskegee, the sites featured include the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Tuskegee University and the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center.

Chattahoochee State Park and Landmark Park are among the sites featured in the Dothan area.

The 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center, Mobile’s Mardi Gras and the historic Battle House Hotel are among the listings for Mobile.

The Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, Gulf State Park and Alabama’s Offshore Artificial Reef Zone are among the listings in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area.

The National Geographic society has developed similar geotourism projects around the world including the Western Balkans in Southeast Europe, Eastern Newfoundland, and California’s Redwood Coast.

Geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place; its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of its residents.


Alabama parks drive $375M into state economy

Alabama Tourism Department has named 2014 ‘Year of the Parks’

By Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser, March 24

They may be full of hiking, camping and fun on the water, but Alabama’s 22 state parks are serious business when it comes to their impact on the economy.

The parks system had a total impact of $375 million and supported 5,340 jobs in 2011, according to a new study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama. That includes $152.4 million spent by visitors along with spending by the parks system itself.

The study was commissioned by the State Parks Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“This study confirms what we who work in the parks system already know — that state parks are valuable tools to promote the state’s economy,” Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said in a news release. “But the study gives us real numbers for state parks’ overall economic impact and the many public and private jobs that depend on them.”

There are seven national parks in Alabama, and a separate study by the National Parks Service showed that they spent another $281 million in 2012, supporting 381 jobs.

Conservation department spokesman Collier Craft said the timing of the two studies was coincidental but that together they show how much the parks influence the state’s economy.

Lein said the system relies on fees paid by park users to fund the operations.

“Our slogan is ‘Partners Pay the Way,’ ” Lein said. “But it’s more than a slogan. We really do rely heavily on our customers — campers, boaters, fishermen, bikers, golfers, etc. — to pay the bills. We want them to know their dollars count in the parks and in the state’s economy.”

The report was compiled by CBER’s Samuel Addy and Ahmad Ijaz, two of the state’s most prominent economists. They also found that state parks generate $10.9 million in state and local taxes.

They noted the variety of attractions at the parks, ranging from cave tours to golf trails.

“Clearly, state funding for Alabama State Parks is an attractive investment as the parks system generates more in tax revenues, promotes tourism, attracts both in-state and out-of-state visitors, creates jobs, and provides numerous educational, recreational and environmental benefits that are difficult to quantify,” the report states.

Lein said he hopes the study can be expanded in 2015 to include a survey of park guests to better understand their spending outside of the park.

The Alabama Tourism Department has named 2014 “Year of the Parks.” It’s the 75th anniversary of the parks system, and each is holding a variety of hikes, nature walks and programs, dining and camping specials to mark the milestone.

To view the article online, go to:


Alabama State Parks to host second event as part of Baumhower’s ShrimpFest and BBQ Series at Gulf State Park pavilion
By Collier Craft,, March 20

The Alabama State Parks System is hosting the second event as part of its Baumhower’s ShrimpFest and BBQ series on Saturday, March 29 at the Gulf State Park Pavilion in Gulf Shores.

Joining the State Parks Director, Greg Lein, will be former NFL and Alabama football great, Bob Baumhower; Alabama First Lady, Dianne Bentley; among others.

Admission to the event is $3/per person and includes BBQ, boiled shrimp, seafood gumbo, Conecuh Sausage, live music, children’s entertainment, and much more.

“This series is a prime example of why we chose this year – our 75th anniversary – to focus on our partners who allow the parks to function and continue to meet the needs of our visitors,” Greg Lein, Alabama’s State Parks Director said. “From our park visitors who spend countless hours improving our parks by volunteering their time, to the communities where our parks exist, to the First Lady and Bob – these partners pay the way, and this series is a way for us to recognize them for all they do.”

To read online, go to:


U.S. Space & Rocket Center seeks a shuttle training aircraft

Space Camp alumni and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Foundation hope to land a Grumman Gulfstream II Shuttle Training Aircraft. The GII was used by astronaut pilots and commanders to train for flying landing approaches in the orbiter vehicle.


‘Happy’ song gets ahold of Birmingham in new viral video
By Cliff Sims,, March 24

A YouTube video of Birminghamians dancing to Pharrell Williams’ popular “Happy” song is starting to make the rounds online after being posted over the weekend.

The video was produced by Over Fork Over Films’ Ian J. Cunningham, a longtime staple in the Birmingham film community. Cunningham shot, directed and edited the video, and was assisted by camera operators T.J. Burks and Sarah Orr.

Birmingham residents of all shapes, sizes and colors can be seen throughout the video dancing to “Happy” in different areas of the city. Even The Vulcan breaks it down at several points during the video, a portion of which was filmed on The International Day of Happiness, which is celebrated around the world on March 20.

Are you #BirmingHappy? Share it!

To view the article online, go to:


Nine Southern towns you’re forgetting about but shouldn’t
Huffposttravel, March 24

The South can be pretty damn charming, true, and there is certainly more to it than places like Nashville or Charleston (which are admittedly great).

There are some cute towns strewn across the region, each with their own unique vibes that make us want to visit stat.


Forget what you know about Birmingham and embrace the present: It’s increasingly becoming a foodie’s and culture-lovers destination. Sure while there you should check out the historic sites like the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Institute, but you should also go to the much-buzzed about Hot & Hot Fish Club or head to Homewood for a quaint town feel and great shopping.

For the entire list, go to:


Belle Chevre’s cheese, a goat named Valentine and an Airstream trailer invade downtown Huntsville
By Lucy Berry,, March 21

A silver-bullet Airstream travel trailer and baby goat named Valentine invaded downtown Huntsville this afternoon during a sidewalk party kicking off Belle Chevre’s cross-country tour.

Tasia Malakasis, cookbook author and one of north Alabama’s best-known entrepreneurs, is taking Valentine, her Airstream and signature goat cheese across the U.S. during a two-month road trip called Belle’s Big Adventure, which begins tomorrow at Whole Foods Markets in Birmingham.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau President Judy Ryals and Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell were among leaders involved in today’s event across the street from the new Clinton Row Project.

“The fun part of this is one of Alabama’s best artisans is going to be taking this product across the country – not just for a tour of Alabama or even a tour of the Southeast,” said Downtown Huntsville, Inc. CEO Chad Emerson. “This is really us exporting our creativity and our talent across the country.”

This year marks a quarter century in business for Belle Chevre, which has received U.S. and international accolades for its handmade goat cheese products. The small company in downtown Elkmont was founded in 1989 by Tom and Liz Parnell, who sold the business to Malakasis in 2007.

The tour will include stops at Whole Foods store across several states, where hungry customers can sample Belle Chevre’s cheeses and learn more about how they are made. Fans are encouraged to follow the tour and share multimedia by tweeting @BelleChevre or using the hashtags #BelleChevre and #BellesBigAdventure.

Downtown Huntsville, Inc. recently announced Belle Chevre will be the new anchor tenant at the Clinton Row Project, an incubator at Clinton Avenue and Jefferson Street that helps jumpstart new businesses.

For the entire article, go to:


Could Alabama use a new license plate slogan? Sports Illustrated has an idea
By Bob Carlton,, March 20

Maybe the state of Alabama has discovered a new tourism slogan.

Sports Illustrated, after all, likes it enough to make it the headline of an eight-page spread about last month’s 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

“Up to Your Ass in Bass,” it says.

The headline is a reference to a joke Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell made at a media luncheon in Birmingham to kick off the Bassmaster Classic, which took place on Lake Guntersville, with weigh-ins at the BJCC in Birmingham.

“Addressing the world’s top professional anglers at a luncheon on the eve of tournament, Sentell says, ‘We hope when you go home, you’ll tell your wife, ‘Honey, I was up to my ass in bass,’” Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin wrote in the magazine’s March 17 issue.

“It’s easy to imagine Bear Bryant — squinting into the distance on his plinth outside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex — watching that phrase go by on Alabama license plates in the near future, Sweet Home Alabama replaced by a slogan that is pithier, and on this weekend, far truer: Alabama – Up to Our Ass in Bass,” the story continued.

To read the article online, go to:



Cornbread passes first hurdle in effort to become the official state bread of Alabama

By David Holloway,, March 20

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama House of Representatives passed on a voice vote a resolution designating cornbread as the official state bread of Alabama.

The resolution, introduced by Rep. David Sessions (R-Mobile), had the support of a large bipartisan coalition in the lower chamber.

It now moves on to the Senate for further consideration.

The resolution (HJR 379) cites a number of reasons to designate Southern cornbread as the state’s official baked good. It traces the roots of cornbread to the region’s earliest inhabitants, and points out how it became a staple of the Southern sideboard because wheat flour was more expensive than cornmeal.

For the entire article, go to:


The scenic route: culinary tour of coastal Alabama
From shrimp boats and seafood shacks to old neighborhood pubs, Alabama’s gulf coast is a foodie mecca.
By Jennifer V. Cole,

Day 1: Mobile to Fairhope (20 miles)

Start out in Mobile, with an “L.A. Burger” (Lower Alabama, of course) from Callaghan’s Irish Social Club (251/433-9374), a pub-style restaurant in the Oakleigh neighborhood. This juicy hunk of meat is a hearty mix of ground beef and Conecuh sausage (the state’s unofficial smoked link). The kitchen makes only a handful each day at lunch, so get there before noon. For dessert, swing by the Visitation Monastery Gift Shop (251/471-4106) on Spring Hill Avenue, where the cloistered nuns make the best Heavenly Hash this side of the confessional. Creamy milk chocolate, pecans, and their secret weapon—homemade marshmallows. Continue on to Fairhope and check in to Emma’s Bay House (251/990-0187), a recently renovated historic home turned light-drenched inn overlooking Mobile Bay, just above South Park. For dinner, it’s The Wash House (251/928-4838), a rustic sort of place where staff know regulars by name (and wine preference) and more attention goes to the food than the decor. Rightfully so. Don’t miss the Key Lime Bread Pudding for dessert: a tangy hybrid of Key lime pie and rich bread pudding that will have you practically licking your plate.

Day 2: Fairhope to Dauphin Island (71 miles)

Drink your morning coffee on the bay-front porch upstairs at Emma’s before making your way down to the dining room for breakfast. Owner Betty Rejczyk does a meansherry-hinted grits and grillades that might make you stay another night. Once you hit the road, follow U.S. 98 to the Foley Beach Express into Orange Beach. Join Captain Skip aboard Sailaway Charters (251/974-5055) for a two-hour pontoon cruise through Wolf Bay and Longs Bayou, where he teaches you—hands-on—how to harvest oysters, shrimp, and crab straight from the bountiful waters. It’s a veritable seafood sampler. Get your land legs back at the Flora-Bama (251/980-5118) over an order of royal red shrimp, a local Gulf variety that’s dense and sweet like lobster. This beachside dive bar, best known for its annual mullet toss (the fish, not the hairdo), cooks the best royal reds on the coast: perfectly steamed, and served with nothing but melted butter. Unadulterated awesomeness. Load up for Fort Morgan to catch the Mobile Bay Ferry (45 minutes; $16 one way) to Dauphin Island. From here, you can head north to Bellingrath Gardens and Home, a 65-acre estate lush with azaleas (the Bay area’s unofficial flower), such as the deep pink ‘Pride of Mobile.’ Or stick around the island for some beach time. En route to the sand, pick up a loaf of fresh-baked French bread at Lighthouse Bakery (251/861-2253), then go to nearby Skinner’s Seafood(251/861-4221), where the slogan is “The seafood you buy today was swimming in the Gulf last night,” to purchase blue crab and shrimp steamed to order. Take your fare over to the public beaches off Bienville Boulevard, the island’s main thoroughfare, for a sunset picnic to cap off the trip.

To view this article online, go to:


Gulf Shores, Orange Beach among top spring-break destinations

By Marc D. Anderson,, March 24

Gauging from beach-related check-ins on Facebook, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are among the top 10 destinations in the nation for spring break, according to USA Today.

Facebook traffic during last year’s spring break show that while Gulf Shores is a preferred locale for college students, Orange Beach is sought by those over 25 years old.

The U.S. city with the most Facebook check-ins for college students on spring break was Panama City Beach, Fla., and Gulf Shores came in fourth. For those over 25, Myrtle Beach, S.C. topped the list with Orange Beach coming in sixth.

For complete top 10 listings, see the article at, or go to:


St. Bernard’s signature event celebrates 30 years in 2014

Approximately 150 artists and craftsmen will make their way across the United States to set up shop in Cullman the first weekend in April. Hosted by the St. Bernard Abbey and Prep School, the Bloomin’ Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary and is expected to attract more than 25,000 visitors to its campus for two days of arts and crafts, demonstrations, and family-friendly entertainment.

During the two-day event, more than 150 artists from across the United States will showcase their finest work – featuring everything from decorative wood silhouettes and handmade lanterns to Bavarian art wax and magazine art pottery. Demonstrations such as glass blowing, blacksmithing, corn grinding, spinning and weaving and live entertainment performed by the students of St. Bernard Abbey and Prep School will also be held throughout the weekend. The event concludes with prize drawings for a 2014 Jeep Patriot, a Nikon digital camera, a Garmin portable GPS, a Blu-ray Disc Player, and an iPod Shuffle.

Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 per person with children 5 years old and under admitted free. Pets are not allowed. Proceeds benefit St. Bernard Prep School, a private co-educational boarding school for grades 9-12.

For more information, visit or call 800.722.0999.


Civil Rights pilgrimage group led by Congressman John Lewis visits Sumter Welcome Center
Congressional Civil Rights pilgrimage group, led by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, stopped at the Sumter Welcome Center March 9, on their way to Selma for the Bridge Crossing Jubilee. The group toured the welcome center hosted by the welcome center staff.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events
Mar. 27-30 Nashville Southern Women’s Show, Nashville, TN
April 3 ATD Workshop in Tuscumbia
April 5 Annual Spring Walking Tours begin
May 3-6 Alabama League of Municipalities, Mobile
July 19-22 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism, The Hotel at Auburn University & Dixon Conference Center, Auburn
Sept. 7-14 World Leisure Congress, Mobile

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.
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