Tourism Tuesdays October 6, 2015

  • US Space & Rocket Center takes world stage
  • NASA Selects Science Education Partners for STEM Agreements
  • Delta Airlines Sky Magazine features Natalie Chanin
  • Montgomery #3 2016 Best Value City
  • Deadline for discount ads in Southern Living is Oct. 27
  • AMHOF comes to life during first ever ‘Night at the Museum’
  • New country music video features Florence
  • Our interview with Donnie Fritts and John Paul White plus an exclusive track premiere
  • Carnegie joins Florence-Lauderdale Tourism as President/CEO
  • Al Benn’s Alabama: Black Belt Treasures a boost to area
  • Chris Hastings’ new OvenBird restaurant takes flight; here’s a look inside
  • Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center receives ExxonMobil grant to increase Math education
  • Twenty-five photos to make you long for fall in Alabama
  • Sweet Dream Road Trip suggestions sought
  • 2015 Welcome Center Retreat partners registration open
  • 2015 Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference
  • Alabama artists and craftspeople
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


US Space & Rocket Center takes world stage
WAFF (NBC) 48 News Today, Huntsville, Oct. 5

The man who made the announcement about water on Mars…stopped in the Rocket City to talk about how this affects Space travel.  John Grunsfeld is NASA’s associate administrator for science missions.  He spoke at the Space & Rocket Center as part of its Pass the Torch lecture series recently.  He talked about his experience as an astronaut and his work on the Hubble Space telescope.   Grunsfeld says the latest news about Mars is eye opening.  “If we go to Mars and I think we will, we’re on a journey to Mars, we’ll be able to use that water or course to drink to break apart to make hydrogen and oxygen which is Rocket fuel to make oxygen to breathe.  Really that’s a critical element for the possibility of Maritan life so also we can extend human life to Mars. “In 20-20, NASA will send another rover to Mars for more exploration.

NASA Selects Science Education Partners for STEM Agreements

NASA has selected 27 organizations from across the United States, including the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, to begin negotiations for cooperative agreement awards totaling $42 million to implement a new strategic approach to more effectively engage learners of all ages on NASA science education programs and activities.

Selections were made by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC through the Science Education Cooperative Agreement Notice announced in February. Agreement awards can run up to five years, with an additional five-year option. Selectee activities will support Earth science, astrophysics, planetary science and heliophysics.

The Rocket Center’s selection is based on the proposal, “Space Racers: Educating the Next Generation of Explorers about NASA’s Missions.” For this project, the Center is partnering with Space Racers LLC and Athens State University to produce new episodes of the children’s program “Space Racers” and supplemental educational materials to engage the youngest learners. The award-winning space science program is geared for ages 3 to 6.

“When it comes to teaching science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM), we can’t start too early,” Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, said. “In its first season, ‘Space Racers’ did a phenomenal job exposing young minds to STEAM concepts through fun characters and exciting space science. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are looking forward to working with the ‘Space Racers’ team to take this educational resource to the next level and tell the NASA story to a whole new generation of future explorers.”
Negotiations for specific monetary awards now will begin and final awards are expected to be made by the end of this year.

“NASA seeks to innovate, explore, discover, and inspire and these selections build upon a legacy of excellence from our science education community,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of SMD. “STEM education is the enabler of future space exploration and these awards, together with efforts in NASA’s Office of Education and other partners, will advance STEM efforts in this country, improve U.S. scientific literacy, and help to inspire our nation.”

With a portfolio of approximately 100 science missions, NASA’s commitment to education places special emphasis on increasing the effectiveness, sustainability and efficient utilization of SMD science discoveries and learning experiences. Goals also include enabling STEM education, improving U.S. scientific literacy, advancing national educational goals, and leveraging science activities through partnerships.

The agency’s Office of Education in Washington supports the work of SMD by coordinating projects for students, faculty and institutions that broaden the base of those who compete for NASA research awards. All agreements will be evaluated through NASA’s Office of Education.

“The Office of Education will assist in working with the selectees for new approaches given their capabilities and priorities,” said Donald James, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Education. “Their efforts will help create and sustain the scientific and engineering workforce of the future.”

NASA’s education programs help inspire and support students from elementary school to college level, and beyond. The agency has provided lifelong learners around the globe the information to become science and tech-literate, a key asset being the inspiration NASA missions provide.

Contact: or for more details regarding this announcement.

Delta Airlines Sky Magazine features Natalie Chanin

Fashion visionary Natalie Chanin of Florence is featured in the October issue of Delta Airlines Sky Magazine.  The article highlights Chanin’s use of cotton in what she describes as “seed to shelf” fashion creation.

To read this article online, go to: Montgomery #3 2016 Best Value City

Every year analyzes cities across the US to reveal the year’s 50 Best Value cities and this year Montgomery was ranked 3rd, making it one of the Top 10 Best Value Cities in America for 2016.
Alabama’s own Mobile was ranked #15, joining the list of the US Top 20 bargain hotspots!

To view the complete release and full list of Top 50 Best Value US Cities, click HERE (PDF).

Deadline for discount ads in Southern Living is Oct. 27

The Alabama Tourism Department will co-op up to 36 directory ads in the 50th anniversary issue of Southern Living in February. Ads which normally cost $5,200 in the South Central U.S. edition will be billed at $1,500 each. Our ad agency will design each ad with the same uniform layout for maximum impact. Each ad requires a colorful vertical photo. The copy limit is 25-29 words plus your web address.

The spread of up to six pages will run in 700,000 copies delivered to subscribers in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Midwestern states, essentially the Interstate 65 corridor edition.

As a layout reference, look at the Georgia spread in the current issue of Southern Living, although the Alabama spread will have major differences. Your logo (not Sweet Home Alabama) will reverse out of the background color at the bottom of your ad. The web call to action will be your own web address, not the state’s.

We need your commitment by Oct. 27, plus your two best color vertical photos and your 25-29 words of copy. Also send your logo which will be reversed in white. Send these to Questions? Call Tommy at 334-242-4515.

AMHOF comes to life during first ever ‘Night at the Museum’

Exhibits at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia will come to life in October during a magical evening of fun, entertainment and music. The first ever Alabama Music Hall of Fame “Night at the Museum” begins at 7 p.m. Tues., Oct. 20.

Hall of Fame Manager Dixie Griffin said that it is going to be “a night to remember.” The event is a fundraiser for the museum that showcases and preserves Alabama’s musical heritage. “The guests will be able to tour the museum and mingle with some of the greatest music minds and talents in the area, asking questions and getting autographs like never before,” Griffin said.

Many of the music legends like Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, Rick Hall, Jerry Phillips, Travis Wammack, Harvey Thompson, Mark Narmore, Mickey Buckins, Secret Sisters, Gary Nichols, Marty Raybon, Mike McGuire, Jim Seales, Foster Family, Roger Clark, and Walt Aldridge who wrote, sang, played on or produced some of the greatest songs ever recorded will share their stories behind the hits.  Griffin said the Hall of Fame inductees and other music industry icons will talk about how they got started in the music business, where they are now and where they are headed.  “They will delve into what makes the Alabama and Muscle Shoals sounds so special,” she said.

Event participants could also come face-to-face with some of the biggest stars in the Hall of Fame, including Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, Percy Sledge and other impersonators who will add flavor and fun to the evening of music and adventure, Griffin said.

The iconic stage from the Country Boy Eddie TV Show that has been preserved at the museum will come back to life for the evening with Mitch Mann and others performing many of the songs that have made Alabama music popular around the world.

Tickets are only $40 and include admission to the museum, opportunities to meet and mingle with music legends, a gift and cash bar.

“It is going to be an unforgettable evening for music fans from all over Alabama or from anywhere,” Griffin said. “We’re expecting a huge crowd and for the tickets to sell out fast.”

For tickets, or more information, call 256-381-4417.

New country music video features Florence
By Lisa Singleton,, Oct. 2

Shoals residents undoubtedly will recognize the scenery in award-winning country singer Rodney Atkins’s latest music video.

The newly released video of his song “Eat Sleep Love You Repeat” was filmed in Florence earlier this year. It was released Wednesday.

The video features many well-known local spots including McFarland Park, Shoals Theater, Trinity Episcopal Church, Limestone House Bed and Breakfast, and various parts of Court Street and Gunwaleford Road.

The music video is the first in a series of videos including Florence venues that will be released in the future.

Florence was selected for the video after the niece of local businessman Rick Elliott suggested the city to the video’s director and producers. Her company, CMS Nashville, worked on the pro-ject.

As it turned out, the city was perfect for the video’s story line, which depicts a young man trying to get to the woman he loves before she marries another man.

Suzie Shoemaker, special events coordinator for Florence-Lauderdale Tourism, assisted the film and production crew while they were in Florence.

She described Atkins as “the nicest guy ever.”

“He absolutely loved the area,” she said. “His director and producers said it was the best place they’d ever filmed, and they’d come back here in a heartbeat. I told them just to come on.”

Debbie Wilson, the north Alabama regional tourism director for the Alabama Tourism Department, said the Florence filming is “a new and different way to market our music destination through a celebrity with the star power of Rodney Atkins.”

Atkins has had six chart-topping hits with his latest single being a prelude to his sequel, which was also filmed in Florence.

Florence Tourism CEO Rob Carnegie said the video is a testament to the fact the Shoals is synonymous with music.

“The recognition of Florence by an acclaimed country music artist like Rodney Atkins gives our destination more credibility as one of the music icon hot spots in the world,” Carnegie said.

The video is available through national television outlets, as well as Atkins’s social media and online outlets including YouTube at

To read this article online, go to:

Our interview with Donnie Fritts and John Paul White plus an exclusive track premiere
By Hannah Hayes, The DailySouth/Southern Living, Sept. 2

The last thing John Paul White wanted to do was produce a record. The former Civil Wars frontman had settled back in the tiny creative town of Florence, Alabama, after touring around the world with the Grammy Award-winning duo. He wanted to work on a few personal projects, start a local label (Single Lock Records), and spend more time with his wife and kids. He was planning on renting an excavator to dig a pool in his backyard.

Then, he met Donnie Fritts.

As one of the early songwriters in Muscle Shoals, where artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Percy Sledge recorded their biggest hits, Donnie worked with Arthur Alexander and had a track cut by Ray Charles. Later, he went on to tour with his friend and country legend Kris Kristofferson as his keyboardist for nearly 20 years. (Kristofferson called him by his nickname “Funky Donnie Fritts.”) He even starred in a few Westerns, one with a young Bob Dylan.

But for all his accomplishments, Donnie’s face only appeared in the critically acclaimed 2013 Muscle Shoals documentary for a few seconds, sometimes flashing across the screen in a vintage photograph. Feeling peeved that other important musicians and friends had been left on the cutting room floor, he wasn’t too keen on playing the documentary’s premiere party.

Then John Paul, the event’s emcee, called. “I told him that the reason he was upset was exactly the reason why he should play the show,” he says. Reluctantly, Donnie played his set, then the two got to talking. He mentioned that he had spoke with producer T Bone Burnett about recording his first album in 10 years. But, T Bone had suggested another man to produce Donnie’s record: John Paul.

“I was completely floored,” says John Paul. “I said, ‘I think you’re both crazy. I’ve never produced a record in my life. We’ve only known each other one day.’” But Donnie persisted. “I said, ‘I don’t care, you’re the guy.’”

So in John Paul’s half built recording studio, they made Oh My Goodness. Some of the songs are raucous, some are heartbroken, and some of them delicate with only the sounds of a 72-year-old man and his Wurlitzer piano. All together, they show why Donnie could never be forgotten.

The two musicians, now friends, sat down at Single Lock’s studios in Florence to talk about making Oh My Goodness, which features Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, the Secret Sisters, andJason Isbell. Listen to the track premiere for “Tuscaloosa 1962” below, which features Isbell on guitar and celebrated songwriter, John Prine in the background vocals.

Donnie Fritts and John Paul White will play together at Nashville’s City Winery on September 15th at the Americana Music Festival. For ticket information, click here

To read this entire interview online, go to:

Carnegie joins Florence-Lauderdale Tourism as President/CEO

Rob Carnegie joined the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Office as President/CEO on Sept. 28.

“It’s a great privilege to be part of this vibrant community in the Shoals area and join the team that is doing such great work in this destination”, says Carnegie.  “There is so much happening right now and so many opportunities ahead as well.”

Before joining the Florence Tourism staff, he was the Director of Tourism Kingston, the tourism organization for his hometown of Kingston, Ontario, for 10 years. At Tourism Kingston, which was a division of the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, he developed key partnerships with municipal and provincial government agencies along with key local industry stakeholders. Carnegie oversaw the coordination and execution in multiple tourism industry segments including Leisure/Consumer, Meetings & Conferences, Travel Trade, Sport Tourism, Travel Media, Tourism Attraction and Visitor Services. Further to the marketing portfolio, he managed the Tourism Attraction & Investment file with a focus on developing Kingston’s product offering to visitors.

Carnegie is a graduate of Trinity University in Miami, FL with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Resource Management.

Al Benn’s Alabama: Black Belt Treasures a boost to area
By Alvin Benn, Montgomery Advertiser, Oct. 5

Alabama’s Black Belt region may not have much going for it in terms of economic development, but the future is much brighter today because of a gamble that’s paid off quite handsomely.

The reason is creation of a nonprofit organization known as the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center — an entity that has drawn praise far from Alabama.

To celebrate a decade of success, 250 artisans and supporters met in downtown Camden last Thursday night. In a way, the party answered a concern of organizers who created it on Sept. 30, 2005.

The worry was whether painters, sculptors, quilters, basket-weavers, wood-workers, potters, soap-makers and writers could help, in a small way, to change the complexion of an area where welfare is the main source of income for many who live in the sprawling region.

Worry soon turned to elation and, with more than $1 million in sales during the decade, a booming self-perpetuating business shows no signs of fading.

John Clyde Riggs, executive director of the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission, was one of the organizers of the group — a man fed up with claims of doom and gloom about the future of the region.

“All I’d hear would be negative comments about our area; that we’d never succeed in much of anything,” Riggs said. “Well, we’ve shown that we’ve done just that.”

Riggs was so sure creation of the organization would work, that the commission provided about $400,000 in cash and in-kind services to buy the Black Belt building and to get it off the ground.

“We wondered at first if we could come up with enough art work to keep it open,” said Black Belt outreach coordinator Judy Martin. “It didn’t take us long to see that we could and then some.

The initial group of artisans numbered about 75. Today, more than 450 have an opportunity to display their creations in a 2,600-square-foot building that soon became filled to overflowing.

Instead of roadside tables and flea markets, Black Belt Treasures has become a preferred retail outlet for artists who live in 19 counties, including 12 that are part of the Alabama-Tombigbee Commission.

“Tour buses make it a point to stop here for their passengers to take a look at what we have,” said Riggs. “Before, we had trouble attracting tourists. Now we’ve become a destination point.”

He said shoppers from all 50 states and 30 foreign countries have browsed through aisles featuring works of acclaimed “Tin Man” artist Charlie Lucas to goodies from Priester’s Pecans.

Another popular artist is John Sheffey, a retired Army colonel whose intricate bird carvings have earned him a wide following. Several of his creations are on display at Black Belt Treasures.

To make sure the gamble had a chance of succeeding, Black Belt volunteers scoured the region, asking artists if they’d take part in the project. Money wasn’t the opening topic of conversations.

Artists whose works are on display receive 70 percent of the sale prices — money used to buy more supplies as well as paying their other bills.

Riggs knows the initial investment by his regional planning commission might be considered steep, but more than justified.

“Our financial records show that what we put up at first has resulted in incredible returns,” he said. “It’s been money well spent.”

The success of Black Belt Treasures has spread to other states, and Riggs said inquiries have been made about learning more, perhaps doing the same thing.

“Several states are looking at our model,” said Riggs, who points to national awards for what once was a business experiment that continues to pay big dividends.

When the Black Belt idea was first discussed, calls were made to artists as well as political leaders to ask what they thought about it.

Legendary author Kathryn Windham, whose books are available at the site, was one of the first called, and she didn’t waste words when asked for her opinion.

“She said ‘Go for it,’ and that was all we needed,” recalled Black Belt Treasures Executive Director Sulynn Creswell.

Windham knew it would be a success and, while she isn’t around to help celebrate, her books continue to be sold there.

For details about Black Belt Treasures, call 682-9878, visit or email Creswell at

To read this article online, go to:

Chris Hastings’ new OvenBird restaurant takes flight; here’s a look inside
By Bob Carlton,, Oct. 4

Like a lot of good stories, this one began around a campfire.

The Hastings family — Charles and his wife, Angelica, and their four kids, including Chris, the oldest — pitched their tents on the banks of the river that runs through North Carolina’s primitive Linville Gorge Wilderness.
Chris, who was maybe 10 years old at the time, grilled a rainbow trout he had just caught over a wood fire.

It sparked a passion and a fascination that would only intensify over the years, as the boy grew into a man, and the campfire cook became a celebrated chef.

“I’m telling you, those memories of those places — of fly-fishing for native fish, catching these beautiful trout, bringing them back into the camp, cooking them over an open fire — are unbelievable,” Chris Hastings says, recalling those family outdoor adventures.

And now, decades later — after he and his wife, Idie, have built their Birmingham restaurant Hot and Hot Fish Club into one of the country’s finest fine-dining destinations; after he won a James Beard Award for best chef in the South; after he beat down Bobby Flay on the Food Network — Chris Hastings is playing with fire again.

After a long build-up that began when Food & Wine magazine proclaimed it one of America’s “8 Amazing New Grill Restaurants” nearly a year and a half before the first fire was even lit — the Hastings will finally fling open the doors to OvenBird, a casual, live-fire restaurant that not only rekindles memories of Chris’ childhood camping trips, but also pays homage to Birmingham’s history as city forged by fire.

“My feeling is, I’m excited,” Idie Hastings says, as the OvenBird kitchen and service staffs go through their last week of training. “It’s finally happening after working on this project for so long. It’s ‘go’ time.

“The doors are going to open. I’m going to say hello to everybody. ‘Welcome, come in. This is my home. Let me serve you. Enjoy yourself.'”

The restaurant is comfortably nestled among the heirloom roses and crepe myrtles outside Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery in the Pepper Place complex in Birmingham’s Lakeview District.

To read this entire article online, go to:

Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center receives ExxonMobil grant to increase Math education

The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center has been awarded a $10,000 grant by ExxonMobil for a new program,

“More Math Now” which seeks to integrate additional math concepts into all Exploreum school field trip programming.

The grant provides funding for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum advisor who specializes in mathematics.  The advisor will work with Exploreum educators on all of the science center’s field trips. The grant also supports the creation of a 4th grade math field trip program that will be offered to schools beginning next spring.

“We are pleased to continue our long-standing relationship with the Exploreum,” said ExxonMobil Mobile Bay Operations Superintendent Chris Golden. “This grant underscores our company’s commitment to increasing science and math learning that will not only make a difference in the lives of our community’s children but also in the future of the nation.”

With more than 150 interactive exhibits, thought-provoking larger-than-life IMAX films, and fun, hands-on educational programming, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center aspires to increase science literacy for students, residents and visitors throughout Alabama and the Gulf Coast region.

The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is one of 495 professional science centers worldwide that hold membership in the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

The Exploreum offers a wide range of tours and educational activities for school children on field trips and for home school groups. Average annual school attendance stands at 25,000 students.

ExxonMobil’s Mobile Bay Operations operates seven offshore platforms and 15 well templates in state and federal waters in and around Mobile Bay. An onshore gas treating facility located in Mobile County processes the produced natural gas streams. The company first produced natural gas in Mobile Bay in 1988 and has invested more than $3 billion in its operations since first locating in Alabama. In 2014, the company paid the state of Alabama approximately $80 million in state and local taxes, as well as state royalties on energy production from Mobile Bay. Mobile Bay Operations has approximately 200 employees and contractors.

Twenty-five photos to make you long for fall in Alabama
By Kelly Kazek,, Sept. 7

The calendar may say September but the thermometer still says August. It’s hot outside, y’all. If you’re longing for crisp mornings and cool nights, if you’ve been missing pumpkin pies and brightly colored leaves, the accompanying photos will help you visualize the coming Alabama autumn.

Several of the sites are along Alabama’s Birding Trail. Location information is included in each caption but you can learn more at

Joe Watts with the Alabama Birding Trail said: “Alabama provides critical habitat for hundreds of bird species, from the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker to the now flourishing bald eagle. From whooping cranes to painted buntings, you’ll be amazed at what you can see. Here are just a few of the sites. In addition to seeing some amazing birds, if you get outside during Alabama’s fall season, you are sure to enjoy some of our spectacular fall color.”

To read this article online and view the images, go to:

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 partners registration open

The 2015 Welcome Center Retreat registration is open for partners around the state. The Retreat provides partners with direct access to Welcome Center employees from our 8 Alabama Tourism Department operated Centers.
Educational sessions include state tourism updates on social media, travel and health benefits.  The Retreat is November 8-10 in downtown Tuscaloosa at the recently opened Embassy Suites Hotel.

For registration, agenda and/or vendor information contact Tina Tones at the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission, 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.
For more information, go to:

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

Oct. 19 – 21                            2015 Al-Miss Rural Tourism Conference, Rogersville
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.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at:

Alabama Tourism Department