Tourism Tuesdays December 23, 2014

  • Hank Williams Museum calendar one-of-a-kind item
  • Donations fuel state parks’ legacy
  • Major triathlon coming to Oak Mountain State Park
  • Nearshore diving reef, ‘Poseidon’s Playground,’ becomes reality off Alabama coast
  • Bob Baumhower to open upscale restaurant in old Bienville Club spot
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Hank Williams Museum calendar one-of-a-kind item
By Alvin Benn, Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 17

The annual Hank Williams Museum calendar, a collectors’ item, took months to prepare and isn’t mailed to anyone unless requested.

Requests arrive from around the world, especially in Europe where Hank is idolized.  Some of his fans jet to Montgomery to take part in the anniversary event marking the date of his death on New Year’s Day in 1953.

Only 1,000 calendars have been printed and half have already been sold — a sure sign that Hank Williams’ fans are a loyal lot and anxiously await the annual salute to an Alabama legend whose music has stood the test of time.

The 2015 calendar is a glossy 32-page history book listing Hank’s appearances between 1949 when he hit it big to the end of 1952 when he died in the back seat of his baby blue Cadillac convertible as he was being driven to still another show.

“This is our 13th calendar and we hope there will be many more in the future” said museum director Beth Petty as she waited for Williams fans to arrive for a tour recently. “Each year we discover more about him and try to include as much as we can.”

A bonus for Hank fans is a detailed listing of show dates and places during his most productive years. I was surprised to learn he performed in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Aug. 1, 1950.

Beth oversees production of the calendar and when not handling administrative duties, she leads guided tours, sells souvenirs and is happy to educate visitors with details about Hank.

“We’re very pleased with our calendars especially the latest one because much of the articles read like short stories,” said Beth, whose late father, Cecil Jackson, created the museum that she directs with a loving touch.

Other members of the Jackson and Petty families pitch in to keep the doors open. The annual budget is tight and volunteers keep it that way by working without payment.

Those interested in buying one of the $10 calendars can obtain it by calling 262-3600, e-mailing: or dropping by the museum at 118 Commerce St in downtown Montgomery.

To read the entire article online, go to:


Donations fuel state parks’ legacy

Guest columnist,, Dec. 22

Since the first stone cabins were constructed at Cheaha State Park in the 1930s, Alabama’s State Parks have been bringing families and friends together. This holiday season, as Alabama State Parks nears the end of its 75th anniversary, I look back at an incredible year, one that was named “The Year of Alabama Parks” by the Alabama Tourism Department. As we celebrate with loved ones and open our hearts to give thanks, I want to thank all of our incredible partners who made this such a great success.

For more than three generations, families and friends have gathered at the parks to hike, fish, play games, bike, host weddings and anniversaries and much more. Through the years, the parks have continued to change with the times, bringing guests new attractions and amenities.

During this season of giving, I encourage you to remember the state parks. Countless memories have been made: Thousands of children took their first hikes here, numerous community events were hosted annually and millions of families bonded at the parks. With your help, millions more will be able to make memories, and future generations will continue to have a pristine parks system to enjoy.

Since more than 90 percent of the state parks budget comes directly from fees paid at the parks and generous donors, every donation makes a difference and leaves an impact on generations to come.

As wonderful as our parks are, there are still many critical maintenance and improvement projects that need to be planned. Additionally, since Mother Nature is not always predictable, the parks are in need of additional funds to make extensive repairs to multiple parks.

Chewacla and Oak Mountain state parks have won multiple national awards and designations for their biking trails thanks to the work of the Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers and the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers. Many groups donate their time to teaching children the basics of mountain biking, as well as teaching them stewardship through the importance of community service.

A few weeks ago, the Dr. Mac Porter family donated a new playground to Blue Springs State Park. Another playground at Oak Mountain is nearing completion, thanks to a partnership between Shelby County and the Park.

This year, two of our parks entered into Concession Agreements with private businesses, where a portion of their profit is given back the parks. At Oak Mountain, Flipside Water Sports built and now operates a water cable course (now closed for winter) that allows guests to wakeboard or ski without a boat. Gulf State has a Hummingbird Zip Line Adventure course, which takes guests on a beach and lake view zip line.

This year, the Bob Baumhower Shrimpfest series brought thousands of Alabamians to four of the state parks for a day of celebration with great food and music. Dozens of parks hosted summer and holiday festivals for their communities and brought thousands together for family fun. These are just a few of the ways the state parks have strengthened the community.

As families and friends gather this holiday season, I encourage you to unplug for an afternoon and make a memory at your local state park with family and friends. The additions to the parks, festivals and celebrations are only possible with your help. Please remember your parks during your holiday gift-
giving and give one that can leave a lasting footprint on the Alabama State Parks as well as on your local community.

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Major triathlon coming to Oak Mountain State Park, Dec. 17

A major triathlon event is coming to the Birmingham area next year.

USA triathlon says the USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championship will be held at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham on May 16, 2015. The race will be part of the 10th XTERRA Southeast Championship, and it will also double as a qualifying event for world championships.

Athletes will compete over a 1½-kilometer swim, a 30-kilometer mountain bike ride, and a 10-kilometer trail run.

Participants will be vying for $15,000 in prize money.

Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest state park.  Runner’s World Magazine has honored it as one of the 25 best locations in the United States for trail running.

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Nearshore diving reef, ‘Poseidon’s Playground,’ becomes reality off Alabama coast

By Marc D. Anderson,, Dec. 22

Riding the successful sinking of “The LuLu” as Alabama’s first whole-ship diving reef last year, the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation continues its push to make the state a recreational diving destination.

Three miles off the Alabama Gulf Coast, “Poseidon’s Playground” was christened on Wed., Dec. 17, with the deployment of three Greek mythological statues — Poseidon, Apollo and Venus — and a table-like, grouper reef topped with marine life ornamental images.

Orange Beach-based Walter Marine deployed the structures at a state-permitted site south of Perdido Pass on the eastern edge of the R.V. Minton Artificial Reef Zone.

Reef Foundation President Vince Lucido said the new diving reef was the brainchild of local scuba instructor Lila Harris, who wanted to establish something closer to shore that’s accessible for younger divers and other beginners. The reef’s depth is about 38 feet, and 40 is the limit for novice divers.

“It’s the beginning of a long-term project,” Lucido said. “We hope to add more to it as people become more aware of what we’re doing out there. It will have different types of statues that have gotten really popular all over the world with people just putting statues, art, sculptures, things like that underwater. It makes a great photo op.

“Instead of a walk through the park, it’s going to be a swim underwater.”

Fittingly, Harris was the first to dive to Poseidon’s Playground after it was deployed.

“We had a great day (Wednesday),” said Harris, a foundation board member. “We had a beautiful, clear, calm day so it was just the best day to have them deployed. I was the first one on it. I’m so excited.”

As a professional underwater photographer and certified diving instructor with a focus on youth, Harris said she saw the popularity of underwater sculptures first-hand during her travels.

“There is a mermaid in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, and a lot of people like to have their picture taken with the mermaid and I started thinking, ‘Well OK, what else can we do?” Harris said.

The discussion, she said, evolved into not just having “one statue or two statues but a virtual playground underwater and how fun that would be. And how it would be very useful for the young divers and the families from around the country who have young divers who may be limited to where they can take them at those depths.”

And the possibility for new divers as well a seasoned ones drove the project to succeed.

“We started this in July and here it is in December and we’ve got four things out there,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a progression instead of one big ship like The LuLu. We’re just going to continually add and my dream is to have 40 to 50 structures out there. They may not all be mythical statues like we’ve started with. We would love to have some more sea life, turtles, some manta rays, sharks and just some whimsical things. We’re looking at just some really silly things, like reproduce a bathtub in some concrete or a couch or something that could be fun for people to sit in and take a picture.”

Harris said the foundation aims to involve local artists, schools, organizations and others. A reef could celebrate someone’s life.

The small table-like reef, deployed last week, was made possible thanks donations from current and former students of Harris, among others. A plaque on it reads, “Ms. Lila’s Dive Explorers ‘the inspiration for this playground’ Caelan T, Gracie A-R, John Avery B, Tony H, Kaiden I, Camille H, Walter Marine 12/2014.”

The cost of an average statue or reef structure would be in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, which includes the statue, mounted base, plaque and deployment, according to Harris. Because of the depth, reefs are limited to 6 feet in height.

Lucido said the project wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Stewart Walter and David Walter of Walter Marine and their crew.

“They donated all their time and made the foundations for the statues,” Lucido said.

As with the sinking of The LuLu, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources permitted the use of the reef zone through its Marine Resources Division. “We’re blessed,” Lucido said, adding that reef-making is a much more difficult process in other states, such as Florida.

While the first structures of Poseidon’s Playground are on the seafloor, the coordinates will not be released until a safety zone is established.

“We are preparing the site for boats to be able to tie into a separate anchor/structure rather than throw an anchor,” Harris said. “We are asking the boats use the ‘no anchor zone’ policy to preserve the statues and structures. It would be a shame if an anchor accidentally destroyed a part of this unique underwater playground.”

As soon as the site preparations are complete, the state and the Reef Foundation will release the exact location to the public. Harris said it would be announced “as soon as possible, early spring at the latest.”

In the meantime, the Reef Foundation will continue to drum up support to expand the reef and explore other projects such as near-shore snorkeling sites.

Anyone interested in the Poseidon’s Playground project, can email, call 251-968-6904 or visit

To read the entire article, go to:

Bob Baumhower to open upscale restaurant in old Bienville Club spot

By David Holloway,, Dec. 17

Plans are under way by Bob Baumhower to open a pair of restaurants in downtown Mobile in one of the city’s most iconic pieces of real estate.

Baumhower, owner of a string of restaurants in Alabama, will open a high-end restaurant on the 34th floor of the RSA Trustmark Building in the space once occupied by the Bienville Club.  At the same time, he will also open a more casual bar/restaurant in that building’s basement that features small plates and a cigar bar.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for some time. It’s a project that I’m very excited about; I can’t wait to get them open,” Baumhower said.

The restaurant on the top floor will be named “Dauphin’s,” which pays tribute to the region’s French heritage and is a play on words for the National Football League team that Baumhower played for in the 1980s. “We wanted to come up with a name that was fun and also had some meaning and history,” he said.

It will have a seating capacity of 160 and plans are for an art-deco style restaurant with a menu laden with familiar Gulf coast favorites. The chef will be Baumhower’s corporate chef, Steve Zucker, who plans to offer a lunch menu anchored by what Baumhower called “Creole/Soul cuisine.”

They are also redesigning the restaurant’s footprint to include a chef’s table in the kitchen that will overlook the Mobile River looking south.

The basement eatery will be named “Floridita’s” and it will have a decidedly Caribbean feel, he said.  The “Cuban piano bar” will be located adjacent to the old bank vault in the basement and Baumhower said he intends to turn that bit of hardware into a humidor for cigars.

Seating will be about 120 and the menu will be a late night spot with what Baumhower called “a speakeasy feel” to it with a casual upscale atmosphere.

The opening date has not been announced, but Baumhower said plans are for the work to be complete sometime in 2015. “I’m excited about the future of Mobile and especially what’s happening in downtown Mobile. We’re happy to be a part of what’s to come,” Baumhower said.

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Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Jan 10 – 13                       American Bus Association Annual Meeting – St. Louis, MO
(America’s Center Convention Complex)
Jan 16 – 18                       Cincinnati Golf Show – Cincinnati,OH
Jan 16 – 18 & 21 – 25      Cincinnati Travel, Sport & Boat Show – Cincinnati, OH
Jan 18 – 22                       National Tour Association (NTA) – New Orleans, LA
Jan 22 – 25                       Louisville Boat, RV & Sportshow – Louisville, KY
Jan 27 – 28                       Snowbird Extravaganza Show – Lakeland, FL


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