Alabama Tourism Department Newsletter March 20, 2014

Alabama Barbecue Bracket 2014: State’s BBQ joints compete for best pork, chicken, ribs and sauce

U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism Workshop with National Geographic

New Civil Heritage Trail debuts in downtown Montgomery

Lee Sentell’s joke earns a headline

Go for the food: Seafood Row on Alabama Gulf Coast

Southern Hospitality Traveler magazine features state tourism’s Birmingham Road Trip

Birmingham makes list of top 10 best downtown areas

The one, must-do thing in Alabama? U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville

Public invited to first hike of the Forever Wild Coosa WMA Trail

UK based blogger visits Mobile and Muscle Shoals

Muscle Shoals documentary featured on BBC in UK

Huntsville/Madison County CVB’s 10th Anniversary Celebration

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Alabama Barbecue Bracket 2014: State’s BBQ joints compete for best pork, chicken, ribs and sauce

By Bob Carlton,, March 14

It’s March Madness time again.  And in the state of Alabama that apparently doesn’t mean basketball.  But it does mean barbecue.

And since there is no better argument than a good barbecue argument, the Alabama Tourism Department is stoking those fires again by bringing back its Alabama Barbecue Bracket, a social media contest pitting some of the state’s favorite pig palaces against each other to let voters decide whose ‘cue is Bama’s best.

Last year, as you may recall, Birmingham-based Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, which has multiple locations around the state, edged Montgomery’s Sam’s Bar-B-Q in the finals, sparking lots of heated debate about not only the worthiness of Jim ‘N Nick’s barbecue, but how unfair it was that little ol’ smoke shacks had to compete against the big, bad chains.

But that is another argument for another day.

Today, we are here to unveil the 2014 bracket that — unlike last year, which was divided into four geographic regions – is this year divided into four barbecue specialties: ribs, chicken, pork and sauce.

The participating restaurants were selected based on social media polling conducted this past fall, according to an Alabama Tourism Department press release, and many of the restaurants in this year’s field are represented in multiple categories.

Saw’s BBQ in Homewood, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Full Moon Bar-B-Q, for instance, are nominated in all four categories — pork, ribs, chicken and sauce.

Beginning March 17, voters will be able to go to the Facebook page to cast their online votes in each of those categories.

Here are the first-round matchups in each of the four categories:

Pork: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q vs. Top Hat Barbecue; Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q vs. Dreamland Bar-B-Que; Saw’s BBQ vs. Bunyan’s Bar-B-Q; Full Moon Bar-B-Q vs. Whitts Barbecue.

Ribs: Dreamland Bar-B-Que vs. Rusty’s Bar-B-Q; Archibald’s B.B.Q. vs Full Moon Bar-B-Q; Smokin’ On the Boulevard vs. Big Daddy Bar-B-Q; Saw’s BBQ vs. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q.

Chicken: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q vs. Saw’s BBQ; Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q vs. Dreamland Bar-B-Que; Full Moon Bar-B-Q vs. Johnny’s Bar-B-Q; Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q vs. Greenbrier Bar-B-Q.

Sauce: Dreamland Bar-B-Que vs. Big Daddy’s Bar-B-Q; Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q vs. Saw’s BBQ; Archibald’s B.B.Q. vs. Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q; Bob Sykes BarB-Q vs. Full Moon Bar-B-Q.

Voting in each head-to-head match-up will last for 48 hours, and those restaurants with the most votes will advance to the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight and then the Final Four.

[RELATED: Alabama has two BBQ chains on list of America’s 10 best]

The competition coincides with the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – aka, “March Madness” – that also starts next week and, unfortunately, is unlikely to include any school from the state of Alabama.  But at least we can be proud of our barbecue.

“Barbecue is part of our heritage,” Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell says. “The culinary tradition and cultural impact of our world-class barbecue make this bracket a source of local pride for Alabamians.  “We’re excited to see what the voters define as truly the best.”

“In the inaugural Alabama Barbecue Bracket, voters determined which restaurant has the best barbecue in the state, but now voters will determine what defines the most iconic Alabama barbecue dish,” Sentell adds.

“Whether that’s a rack of ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork or white sauce, this year’s bracket will shed light on the dishes that make our state’s barbecue portfolio so diverse. We’re excited to see what the voters define as truly the best.”

Online voting for the Final Four competitors to determine the “Alabama’s Ultimate Barbecue Champion” will begin April 2, and the winner will be announced Mon., April 7, the same day of the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Championship.

While one restaurant will take home the overall title, each of the Final Four entries will be named winners in their respective barbecue categories. And it is a possibility that one restaurant could win in all four categories.
Find out more about the Alabama Barbecue Bracket at

Go to the barbeque bracket site at:

U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism Workshop with National Geographic

Approximately one year ago nominations were requested for a tourism project with National Geographic’s Map Division. The project which includes a website, mobile app and mapguide is being announced in Montgomery on Tues., March 25.  The 121 persons representing the 341 Alabama sites listed on the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism site are being asked to attend.

During the meeting, Jim Dion of the National Geographic Map Division will hold a short workshop.  Dion will explain how you can market your association with U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism and National Geographic.

This could be important information for your organization.

The free workshop will take place March 25, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon in the 7th floor auditorium of the Center for Commerce building at 401 Adams Ave, Montgomery, AL.

To let us know you are attending, contact Grey Brennan,
For a list of the sites in Alabama that are included, go to:

New Civil Heritage Trail debuts in downtown Montgomery

By Melissa Johnson,, March 14

Montgomery’s Downtown Business Association debuted a new Civil Heritage Trail Friday. The trail unifies a large number of Civil War and Civil Rights historic sites and attractions.

This trail highlights the fact that Montgomery is the only city in the country where both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement began. The tour includes stops that tell the story of how events in Montgomery, Alabama changed the world.

Inspired by Boston’s Freedom Trail, Jeff Dean, a native of Montgomery, introduced the initial concept of a civil heritage trail to the DMBA several years ago. The DBA adopted the project as a way to enhance tourism and commerce in the downtown area and to encourage awareness and interest in these historic sites.  Downtown business owners hope that as the trail grows in popularity, it will draw more people to the downtown area, increasing patronage of local businesses and enhancing the downtown area.

In order to make the trail easy to follow, each site is indicated visually by a blue bike rack near or on the grounds of each site. Brochures and maps are also available at the Montgomery Visitor Center for the self-guided trail 3.5 miles trail.

The trail begins at the Montgomery Visitor Center at 300 Water Street.  For a list of sites on the tour, go to:


Lee Sentell’s joke earns a headline

State tourism director Lee Sentell’s joke about anglers competing in the Bassmaster Classic was appropriated as the headline in Sports Illustrated’s eight-page spread on the Lake Guntersville tournament.

Sentell told fishermen and journalists at a media luncheon, “We hope when you go home, you’ll tell your wife, ‘Honey, I was up to my ass in bass.'” It drew a big laugh.

The headline on page 48 of the current issue was “Up To Your Ass in Bass.” Journalist Steve Rushin wrote that the state’s “Sweet Home Alabama” slogan on the state’s car tag “in the near future should be replaced by a slogan that is pithier, and on this weekend far truer: Alabama Up To Our Ass in Bass.” His article referred to the sport’s top tournament as “the holy grail of the outdoors.”

Sentell credited Florence tourism director Debbie Wilson and Bass Trail director Kay Donaldson with the clever phrase.

This was the first time the tournament has been held in Alabama since Hartselle native Don Logan and two other partners moved the company back to the state where Ray Scott founded it in Montgomery in 1967. Angler Randy Howell, who lives in Springville north of Birmingham, won the event.


Go for the food: Seafood Row on Alabama Gulf Coast

By Associated Press,, March 11

It’s easy to miss some tasty seafood restaurants on Alabama’s northern Gulf Coast: They’re hidden on a string of islands and peninsulas in the Mobile Delta.

Located along Battleship Parkway, which connects the eastern and western shores at the northern end of Mobile Bay, “Seafood Row” is a collection of more than a half-dozen restaurants with something for anyone who likes seafood in an informal, family setting.

Felix’s Fish Camp Grill offers a signature combination of gumbo, crab soup and turtle soup. Despite a rusty metal roof and an old fishing boat in the parking lot, Felix’s has the reputation of being the upscale spot on the parkway, even though its priciest dinner entrees are less than $20.

Less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) east is the Bluegill Restaurant, which has been in operation since 1958. Destroyed by Hurricane Fredric in 1979 and again by Katrina in 2005, the restaurant rebuilt after both storms and still serves Gulf shrimp and fish in a ground-floor dining room with an open-air back patio and a stage for bands along the bayou.

For decades the parkway was the main way to cross the Mobile Delta, a marshy region at the northern end of the 32-mile-long (52 kilometers) bay. The road, which links the cities of Mobile and Spanish Fort, was busy with a constant hum of cars passing seafood restaurants, bait stores, fishing camps, bars and the USS Alabama, the old World War II battleship and museum that gives the road its name.

The area began changing after tunnels constructed under the Mobile River opened in the early 1970s and funneled traffic to I-10. Some businesses closed and then Fredric leveled much of what was left on the parkway, which also is called the causeway locally.

The Original Oyster House is one of the largest restaurants on Seafood Row with seating for 250, a banquet room for 100 and a private conference room that seats 18. Windows facing the west offer a colorful view as the setting sun turns the sky orange and red over downtown Mobile, about 6 miles away.

But there are plenty of other places with gorgeous views including Tropic’s, Ed’s Seafood Shed, R&R Seafood, Tacky Jack’s, John Word’s Restaurant Jazz Cafe and Lap’s Grocery and Grill, which has entrees including stuffed flounder and also sells bait. Diners might see a fishing boat, shore birds or an alligator at any one.

To read the entire article, go to:


Southern Hospitality Traveler magazine features state tourism’s Birmingham Road Trip

By Apryl Thomas, Southern Hospitality Traveler, January 2014

“I’m like an archeologist,” comments Jim Reed, proprietor of Jim Reed Books and the Museum of Fond Memories, located on 3rd Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, Ala. “I am always going out and digging through things, looking for special stuff.  Looking for, and finding treasures is the fun part.”

He adds his shop has rescued a lot of stuff from perdition. While he admits it is sad to see the things he recovered once thrown away, he is very happy to adopted them and give them a second life.

The shop itself is a combination of a book store (Reed says he has books from the 1500s to current titles) and an older relative’s (think aunt or grandmother) attic. When you walk in, it might seem a little overwhelming at first, but then you have this sudden urge to start pawing through stuff until you locate something of interest, and then sitting down and getting lost in it.

And Reed sees nothing wrong with that.  “We have people from all over coming in, sitting for the day and reading the love letters here. It’s a perfect place for time travelers and collectors. The shop is also ideal for people who want to find a book they can’t find elsewhere.”

He points out that his shops is the “kind of bookstore he would like to discover when traveling.”

Of course, not everything is out in the shop.  “There’s a lot more in storage. No one will see it all, and that’s the way I want it to be. It would be too overwhelming. People need to see everything in increments.”

When it comes to his favorite piece, Reed is quick to say “everything” is his favorite.

Reed Books and the Museum of Fond Memories is one of many sites highlighted in Alabama Road Trip No. 6Birmingham: Taking it to the Streets, Downtown. This is one of many is part of state tourism’s campaign, “100 Alabama Road Trips.”

The downtown Birmingham itinerary can either be a three-mile daytime walk, or a one-or two-day experience.

Other sites mentioned include:

First Presbyterian Church (2100 4th Ave. N.), one of Birmingham’s first churches.

Redmont Hotel (2101 5th Ave. N.), oldest continually operating hotel in the city and has ties to Hank Williams.

Historic Alabama Theatre (1817 3rd Ave. N), home to the Mighty Wurlitzer.

Kelly Ingram Park (corner of 17th St. N., and 5th Ave. N.), Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (520 16 St. N.) and SixteenthStreet Baptist Church (1530 6th Ave. N.), sites that played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement.

To see the article online, go to:


Birmingham makes list of top 10 best downtown areas

By Madison Underwood,, March 17

Some folks have taken notice of Birmingham’s downtown revitalization. has compiled a list of the top 10 best downtown areas for 2014, and Birmingham made it on the list by the skin of Vulcan’s teeth.

The site – which “explores what makes small to mid-sized cities great places to live, work, and visit” – named Fort Worth, Texas as the best downtown, with Providence, Rhode Island following behind. Birmingham was on the list with Indianapolis, Alexandria, Provo, Fort Lauderdale, and Eugene.

Birmingham was at the bottom of the list – right there in that number 10 spot. But the important thing is that The Magic City made it at all. It’s difficult to imagine Birmingham making that ranking 10 years ago — or even being in the ballpark.

Speaking of ballparks, many of the amenities that cited in placing Birmingham on its list were not in existence ten years ago. Railroad Park and Regions Field are seen as drivers of Birmingham’s downtown revitalization, stirring interest in apartments and office space in the Parkside area.

“Projects like Railroad Park, which includes ponds, an amphitheater, a skatepark, a playground and pathways, and a recently completed 8,500-seat minor league baseball stadium (Regions Field) lure people downtown for events and activities,” the Livability write-up states. “They’ve also caught the eye of a group of investors who recently purchased a warehouse and several buildings near the ballpark. The investors plan to develop office and residential space, envisioning the rooftops of some living units overlooking Regions Field.”

The ongoing renovation of the Lyric Theatre gets a mention. Even Alabama’s state legislators get a shout out for doing something good: passing the historic renovation tax credits that are helping make the renovation of the Pizitz Building and the Thomas Jefferson Hotel a reality.

The Second Avenue district – where residents from out of the area “bustle in and out of funky new shops and restaurants that have sprouted up” – is also highlighted, as is the Uptown development anchored by the Westin Hotel.

The real highlights are the numbers – a drop in retail vacancy downtown, a 36 percent increase in population in the downtown area 2000-2010, income growth, and other indicators. Those were the criteria for the rankings, according to a release from Livability.

“Having a great downtown is about more than just having a great main street,” Matt Carmichael, editor, said in a release. “A downtown should have a cultural and retail focal point, like a main street, but it has to expand beyond that, providing a solid core for the entire community.”

For the article online, and to see the complete list of the top 10, go to:


The one, must-do thing in Alabama? U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville

By Pat Ammons,, Feb. 27

You know those “if you have this much time in a city, here’s what you should do” lists? Well, Huffington Post has come up with a list of the “one thing” that must be done in each of the 50 states. For Alabama, that’s U.S. Space Camp at Huntsville’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

“Space Camp” is a place for “aspiring astronauts ages 9 to 99” to come “for a chance to sleep in bunks, spin in the Multi-Axis Trainer, and handle a crisis on simulated intergalactic missions.”

More than 27,000 kids from 83 countries attended the week-long Space Camp in 2013 alone, Tim Hall, the center’s spokesman said.

The site makes the HuffPost list along with a drive along California’s coastal highway, visiting the Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair, and sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Listening to the blues at The Lyric in Oxford, Miss., and spending the night on the floor of the Grand Canyon in Arizona also made the list.

HuffPost editors came up with list by talking among themselves and asking friends to come up with what they call “the ultimate American travel guide.” It’s not a comprehensive list, the site assures, just one that’s a good place to start for those who want to “travel back to your American roots.”

The folks at Huffington Post aren’t the only ones who think the Space & Rocket Center is a pretty cool place to go. The center was the most visited paid tourism destination with more than 584,000 visitors in 2013, according to Alabama’s Tourism Department.

To see the article online, go to:


Public invited to first hike of the Forever Wild Coosa WMA Trail

The Alabama State Lands Division and the Alabama Hiking Trail Society (AHTS) will host a grand opening hike of the new Forever Wild Coosa Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Trail on Sat., March 22. The public is invited to join the hike, which kicks off at the west trailhead located on Coosa WMA Road 153 at 10 a.m. West trailhead GPS coordinates are: 32.894439, -86.417871.

AHTS members will lead the grand opening hike, which covers approximately 6.6 miles of the 11.4-mile trail. Refreshments will be provided for all hikers who attend. Those who wish to hike the entire trail may do so.

The Coosa WMA trail is predominately moderate with a few semi-strenuous climbs. The west end of the trail is not as steep, while the east section offers more climbs and switchbacks. The trail is free to use and open year-round. Trailheads and parking areas are conveniently located on either end of the trail. The east trailhead is located at the Hatchet Creek bridge (Double Bridges) on Highway 29. GPS coordinates are 32.862305, -86.339755.

For information about the grand opening hike, contact Doug Deaton, State Lands Natural Resources Planner, at 334-850-7158, or by email at

For a complete list of Forever Wild tracts with recreational opportunities including hunting, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing and more, visit


UK based blogger visits Mobile and Muscle Shoals

Chris Osburn, a UK based blogger, recently visited both Mobile and Muscle Shoals resulting in some wonderful posts on his site and social media channels. Chris receives 15,000 unique hits every month and approximately 21,000 overall hits per month and has more than 6,500 followers on Twitter.

Links to all his posts in the series are at:

Also find links pertaining to the trip made by Chris across a range of social channels:

Facebook – Google+ –

Tumbler –

Instagram –

Glipho –


Muscle Shoals documentary featured on BBC Four in UK

The award winning Muscle Shoals documentary movie was featured on BBC Four in the UK on both Mar. 7 and Mar. 10 and is now also available until April 7 on BBC iplayer which is the ‘catch up’ BBC channel.

To view on the BBC (available only in the UK), go to:


The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Tenthanniversary celebration

A new interactive photo addition to Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (CVB) Visitor Center was unveiled on March 15, at the birthday bash celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Visitor Center.

A part of the Huntsville/Madison County CVB, the Visitor Center offers visitors to, and residents of, Huntsville and Madison County a wealth of information on what to see and do in the Rocket City and surrounding areas as well as local sporting, art and attraction discounts.  Open seven days a week, Visitor Information assistants stand ready to answer any and all questions about sights to see, dishes to savor, attractions to visit and more.


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


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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Alabama Tourism Department