Tourism Tuesdays December 15, 2015

  • 2016 Vacation Guide & Calendar will be available Christmas week
  • Governor’s Mansion celebrates the holiday season by opening its doors for annual Candlelight Tours
  • Alabama Music Hall of Fame enjoys increase in attendance
  • Werner will produce Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet show
  • Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, Sam Hunt, Little Big Town among nominees for 2016 Grammy Awards
  • Sheffield deeds property to development company
  • The Original Muscle Shoals Sound: Rebuilt by Cronin, backed by Beats
  • Mayors, tourism officials excited by representative’s proposal
  • New York Times music critic Jon Pareles choses Alabama Shakes “Sound & Color” as one of 10 best 2015 albums
  • names 2015 Travelers’ Choice: Top destinations on the rise
  • GulfQuest National Maritime Museum combines entertainment and education
  • Alabama-made gifts you can buy online for $25 or less
  • Bentley awards $1.6 million in grants for Alabama parks, trails
  • Governor announces grant to increase tourism in west Alabama
  • Sweet Home Alabama: 8 things to know about Alabama
  • 25 things you should know about Birmingham
  • Local film crew creates Star Wars fan film in Huntsville
  • Fort Morgan re-opens recently repaired portion of site
  • The Barbie doll of ‘Selma’ director Ava DuVernay is already sold out
  • Welcome Center Holiday Open House
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


2016 Vacation Guide & Calendar will be available Christmas week

State tourism’s 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide and Calendar of Events will be available at state welcome centers, local tourism bureaus and online at next week.  The 204-page magazine-size publication contains colorful photos and covers the state by geographic regions with an introduction section, a city-by-city listing of attractions and accommodations and profiles of the state’s major cities.  The calendar section lists more than more than 600 annual and special events from across the state. 

Feature articles include Alabama Road Trips, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the state’s culinary scene and a listing of free smart phone apps from different tourism organizations across the state.  There is a special 10-page section highlighting Alabama Makers and products made in the state.


Governor’s Mansion celebrates the holiday season by opening its doors for annual Candlelight Tours

By Amber Sutton,, Dec. 10

On Monday night, the Governor’s Mansion was filled with the sounds of classic Christmas hymns, the glow of twinkle lights and more as the public toured the grounds as part of its annual Candlelight Tour.

Each Monday before Christmas, the Candlelight Tour serves as an opportunity for the public to view the Governor’s Mansion holiday decor, enjoy live choir performances and sample Alabama-made goods at the gift shop.

During the tours, rooms open to the public, which include the main entrance, dining room, sitting room, sun room and more, feature holiday decor by volunteer designers from around the state. While each room displays a different decorating style, all showcase a classic and charming Christmas look.

This year, the decorators included Jerry Thrash with Capitol’s Rosemont Gardens in Montgomery; Millie Radney with The Arrangement in Birmingham; Cathy Wayman with C. Wayman Floral & Events in Auburn; Evan G. Cooper with Evan & Company in Montgomery; and Crystal Strickland with Southern Posies in Montgomery.

In addition, the Farley-Hill House, which is located next door to the mansion and typically used as a meeting space, is also decorated and open for public viewing during the tour. Connie Tozzi and Karla Dumas, with the Montgomery Women’s Facility, were selected to adorn the home with holiday garnish this year.

In addition, guests are able to listen to live music performed by different children’s choirs each night on the staircase of the mansion. On. Dec. 21, Mobile’s Singing Children Choir will perform.

The Governor’s Mansion, a 1907 Colonial Revival house, 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.

Brian Jones, Public Relations Director with the Alabama Tourism Department, said the candlelight tours are the only time the mansion, and the Farley-Hill House are open to the public. Typically, the mansion only allows group tours booked weeks or months in advance to view the grounds.

Jones said the mansion began opening its doors for the annual event 12 years ago during Gov. Bob Riley’s term. Since then, it has grown to be a popular holiday attraction with more than a 1,000 people expected to attend each year.

“It’s kind of become a part of people’s holiday tradition,” said Jones. “Families and groups from all over the state come. We will have people lined up and waiting to come in each week.”

The Governor’s Mansion, which is located at 1142 South Perry Street in Montgomery, will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 21.  Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop, located across the street from the mansion at 30 Finley Avenue.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Music Hall of Fame enjoys increase in attendance

By Russ Corey,, Dec. 14

Dixie Griffin’s voice is filled with excitement when she talked about how successful the recent “Night at the Museum” event at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame turned out.

The event was advertised as a night of music in the hall of fame and museum.

As Griffin told hall of fame board members last week, the event drew more than 200 guests and 25 musical achievers. She expected five or six, she said.

A highlight of the evening, she said, was Shoals songwriter Mark Narmore performing “Moon Over Georgia,” a song he wrote for the country band Shenendoah, with the original members of the band.

“It was wonderful,” Griffin said, adding that artists performed on the old set from the Country Boy Eddie Show.

A Christmas music themed event also sold out as the hall of fame continues to attract more visitors both to shows and to tour the museum.

“All of our events that we do at night are really doing well,” Griffin said. “And our third Tuesdays are doing well.”

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame opened in July 1990, but fell on hard times after budget cuts reduced its state appropriation to zero.

With the aid of the state Tourism Department, the facility reopened in October 2013 to much fanfare. By the time October 2014 rolled around, 10,943 people had visited the newly revitalized hall of fame and museum, Griffin said.

Those numbers increased by nearly 50 percent during the next year as the attraction drew 15,212.

It’s not clear if a renewed interest in the hall of fame or residual impact of the Muscle Shoals documentary is responsible for the uptick in attendance.

State Tourism Director and hall of fame board member Lee Sentell said it’s both.

“Dixie has done an amazing job creating special events that bring in new fans,” Sentell said.  “The continuing glow from the documentary keeps the spotlight on the local music community.  It is all working together to benefit the region from economic and image perspectives.”

Griffin said at a recent travel show people were “knocking the doors down” to get to the Muscle Shoals booth.

Board member Judy Hood said she’s been approached at travel shows by people from Japan, Australia and other countries about tour packages.

State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow recently met with north Alabama tourism officials and mayors about creating a north Alabama tour package that would include many music-related attractions.

First visitors to the U.S. like to go to larger cities, Griffin said. But when they return, they like to visit smaller, out of the way places.

Hood said they’re looking for authenticity.

“Everybody wants music,” Griffin said. “They want the music.”

During its Thursday meeting, the board approved the hall of fame’s 2016 operating budget of $350,000.

Griffin and the board members now are working on the 2016 hall of fame awards banquet that will be held Feb. 26 at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence.

To read this article online, go to:


Werner will produce Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction banquet show

By Russ Corey,, Dec. 10

A relative newcomer to the Shoals music scene will be the producer of the 2016 Alabama Music Hall of Fame Honors and Induction Banquet.

Andreas Werner, a native of Switzerland who resides in Nashville, is a fan of the Shoals and its music and has produced albums for songwriter/guitarist Mitch Mann, soul/rhythm and blues singer Carla Russell and most recently, the Shoals rock band, The Fiddleworms.

The announcement was made during Wednesday’s meeting of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame board of directors.

Werner was responsible for taking the Muscle Shoals All Star Band to the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy last year, and organized a similar show at Lincoln Center in New York City this summer. He also has organized Muscle Shoals music events in the Shoals.

“He has an amazing track record and he has been such a friend to Muscle Shoals music,” board member Judy Hood said. “His only motive is he cares and he wants it out there. He’s going to put together a great show.”

Werner said Hood approached him about producing the show.  “I’ve been a fan of the hall of fame and all that for a while,” Werner said. “She was always very supportive of what I was doing. When she asked me, I said I’d love to do it.”

Werner said he attended the 2013 banquet but has only seen other banquets on DVD.

“I’m going to be in charge of putting together the bands and selecting the material in conjunction with the inductees and Charles Rose, who is the band leader,” Werner said. “I already have some idea how it’s going to be.”

Another responsibility will be to find someone who knows the inductees or has worked with them at some point in their careers.

“We’re trying to make it special for all the inductees,” Werner said. “It’s going to be a good show and there’s going to be some very talented people involved. It’s a really great thing for me to be part of this.”

Board member and State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said his department is fine-tuning the sponsorship packages for the event, which is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 26, at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence.

Hood said information concerning tickets to the banquet is forthcoming as is announcements concerning the entertainment that will be featured during the banquet.

“We’ve got some surprises in store,” Hood said. “It’s going to be a fun one.”

The 2016 Alabama Music Hall of Fame Inductees are Charles Rose, Harvey Thompson, Harrison Calloway and Ronnie Eades, known collectively as The Muscle Shoals Horns; former Grateful Dead member Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay; producer Johnny Sandlin; the Southern rock band Wet Willie; and keyboardist Chuck Leavell.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot of great response for the inductees that have been announced,” Sentell said. “it’s a great way to spread the attention all over the state because it’s not just people from the Shoals.”

Hall of Fame manager Dixie Griffin said they’re already receiving calls about the banquet.

Debbie Wilson, welcome center administrator for the State Tourism Department said rooms have been blocked off at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa for the event for the entertainers and those attending the event.

“We’ll pretty much kind of take over the hotel for the week,” Wilson said.

Sentell said he anticipates a quick sell-out like there was when the banquet was first held in the Shoals in 2013.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, Sam Hunt, Little Big Town among nominees for 2016 Grammy Awards

By Mary Colurso,, Dec. 7

Musicians with Alabama ties made a major showing today as nominees were announced for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.

Alabama Shakes, a soul-rock band from Athens, scored big with four nominations, including Record of the Year for “Sound & Color.” Two Grammy nods went to the producer and engineers for the album, as well. 

Jason Isbell,
 an Americana singer-songwriter from Green Hill, earned two nominations, including Best American Album for “Something More Than Free.”

Sam Hunt
, a country-pop artist and former quarterback at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, scored with two nominations, including Best New Artist. 

Little Big Town
, a country-pop group with ties to Sumiton and Birmingham, received two nods, including Best Country Album for “Pain Killer.”

Emmylou Harris,
 a country-folk artist and Birmingham native, earned two nominations with Rodney Crowell, including Best Americana Album for “The Traveling Kind.” 

To read the entire article online, go to:


Sheffield deeds property to development company

By Russ Corey,, Dec. 11

City Council members Thursday took the first steps toward the development of a proposed $160 million resort on the Tennessee River that could impact the entire Shoals area.

The council voted unanimously to convey roughly 160 acres of city-owned land to Inspiration Landing Development LLC and agreed to seek funding to construct roads and a new bridge over Spring Creek. The council also approved the rezoning of the property to resort/mixed use.

The property is east and west of Spring Creek near the mouth of the creek.

The council also agreed to seek funding to build a new fire station near the development and to acquire a permit from the Tennessee Valley Authority to lease a portion of Park West to the development company.

The development proposes a 150-room resort hotel overlooking the Tennessee River and 200 residential lots. It will include an amphitheater with 4,500 fixed seats and a lawn area that could accommodate another 6,000 people. Behind the amphitheater will be an enclosed facility that could serve as a 2,500-seat venue and a multi-use area that could be used for conventions and trade shows.

Sims Hinds, a member of the team involved in the project, said they envision as many as 150 different events each year. Hinds has been the senior vice president in charge of business development for AEG, a major entertainment company, and the Director of Business Development for Richard Childress Racing, according to his LinkedIn page.

“There is a very cool buzz in the music community for this region,” Hinds said.

John Elkington, the man who helped create the Beale Street entertainment district in Memphis, Tennessee, told a standing room only crowd in Sheffield City Hall auditorium the development will tap into the rich musical history of the Shoals area.

“I believe this is holy ground in Sheffield,” Elkington said. “This is one of the music centers of the United States.”

Included in the proposal is a marina with dry boat storage and a 130,000 square foot “town center” that would feature retail shops and restaurants, a motor coach park and recreational vehicle camping area.

Elkington, who lives in Germantown, Tennessee, said the development would employ about 1,000 people during the construction phase and 650 once the development is open.

Developers predict the project will bring in more than $1 million in sales tax and lodging taxes annually for Sheffield and generate more than $400,000 annually in property taxes.

“There is nowhere on the Tennessee River that compares with that property down there,” Sheffield resident Mike Davis said.

Judy Sizemore, special projects manager for the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, said the development fits with the three main aspects of the heritage area, which are the Tennessee River, Shoals music and the region’s Native American history.

“This project is right down our alley,” she said.

Elkington said the development would not infringe upon the culturally sensitive Tuscumbia Landing, which would ultimately be surrounded by the development.

“We don’t want to pave over paradise,” Elkington said, paraphrasing a line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit “Big Yellow Taxi.”

The council will now have to figure out how to fund the infrastructure developers are seeking as part of the deal.

Those final details still must be ironed out by Inspiration Landing Development and the city.

To read this entire article online, go to:


The Original Muscle Shoals Sound: Rebuilt by Cronin, backed by Beats

By Jim Beaugez,, Dec. 9

It’s all there—the booth where Mick Jagger cut vocals, the toilet where Keith Richards finished writing “Wild Horses,” the original insulation tiles that heard a generation’s worth of landmark music.

Now, Muscle Shoals Sound is coming back to life at its original location, 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, thanks to a grant from Beats By Dre and the expertise of skilled acoustician Michael Cronin.

Since the documentary Muscle Shoals debuted in 2013, more than 25,000 people from 42 countries have made the pilgrimage to the studio where The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many others cut iconic recordings.

The interest sparked Judy Hood, wife of “Swamper” bass player David Hood, to team up with Fame Recording Studios principal Rodney Hall to establish the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. The nascent group raised the first funds to purchase the 3614 Jackson Highway building and adjacent properties while the movie screened at Sundance.

Beats got involved this year to help the foundation restore the historic building to its 1969-71 period and preserve it as an active studio.

“We see the recording studio as both an engine of sound production, as well as a center of community where creative people come together to make music,” says Beats President Luke Wood. “It is important that Muscle Shoals continues to be a vibrant, living studio that can help shape the next generation of players, producers and engineers.”

The Muscle Shoals Foundation plans to continue its tours—led by head “Swampette” Hood—and open the studio to musicians during off hours, similar to the model Sun Studios in Memphis uses to stay open.

In fact, Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Studios founder Sam Phillips, serves on the foundation’s board.

“Clearly it has to be open because of the music heritage,” Hood says, “but we also have the analog recording equipment. We feel like we have a moral obligation to keep it open. This is a pilgrimage for a lot of people.”

Beats brought in Cronin, the veteran studio designer whose credits include Blackbird in Nashville and many more studios around the world, to study and re-create the acoustical environment of the original studio.

“Barry Beckett [original Swamper] used to tell me about this place, about Aretha Franklin, and I never thought I’d be standing here,” marveled Cronin. “I had just watched the Muscle Shoals documentary, and a week later I got a call from Beats.”

For the foundation, acquiring the building felt like a coup—but that quickly faded as the financial reality of renovating the space set in.

Luckily, Beats arrived on the scene at the right time. “We thought we had to spend the next 10 years raising money to do something with it,” Hall says. “Then we got a call from Rafferty Jackson who was with Beats, and she said, ‘I think I can help you with your studio project.’ And they did.” Muscle Shoals Sound is scheduled to fully reopen in March 2016.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Mayors, tourism officials excited by representative’s proposal

By Russ Corey,, Dec. 9

The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association will begin promoting tourism packages aimed at bringing Japanese tourists to north Alabama.

About two dozen people, including the four Shoals mayors, the mayor of Waterloo, Colbert, Florence-Lauderdale County and Huntsville tourism officials, and others met recently at FAME Recording Studios to discuss a plan proposed by state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay.

During a recent trip to Japan, Morrow thought how great it would be to offer travel packages to Japanese tourists who could enjoy attractions in north Alabama such as FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Tuscumbia’s Ivy Green, which is the birthplace of Helen Keller, Florence’s Rosenbaum Home and other places.

Alabama Mountain Lakes President and CEO Tami Reist presented the group with a booklet containing descriptions of potential tours that could be offered.

“We created an itinerary for seven different tours across north Alabama,” Reist said.

Reist left copies of the tour book with officials so they could make additional suggestions or additions.

“Mountain Lakes is very much on board,” Morrow said. “Together we can make it happen.”

Once the tour book has been finalized, Reist said, Alabama Mountain Lakes would take it to various travel shows to try to promote the tours. It also would promote the tours to Japanese industries.

Shoals mayors and north Alabama tourism officials are excited about the prospect of bringing more international tourists to north Alabama.

State Rep. Phil Williams, R-Monrovia, said he supports his fellow representative’s idea. Williams said he would help Morrow tap into funding sources through the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Congressional Caucus. He said the tour packages also would help boost local economies when visitors shop and eat out.

“This gives us an opportunity to work together from the western corner of the state to the eastern corner,” Williams said.

To read this entire article online, go to:


New York Times music critic Jon Pareles choses Alabama Shakes “Sound & Color” as one of 10 best 2015 albums

“A soul-revival time capsule was too confining for Alabama Shakes.  The band still shows its roots, from Brittany Howard’s swoops and shouts on down, and its songs still have down-to-earth messages like “Don’t Wanna Fight.”  But the music steers away from echoes of particular eras; with arty determination, the band uses different tempos (sometimes daringly slow), different production approaches (sometimes barbed, sometimes subdued), different instrumental sounds and colors.  For Alabama Shakes, soulfulness isn’t a thing of the past.”

To read this article online, go to: names 2015 Travelers’ Choice: Top destinations on the rise

Gulf Shores makes #2 spot

A great family beach vacation spot, the Alabama Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer wonderful dining experiences, dolphin siting cruises, championship golf courses, fishing charters and nature hikes. Choose from national hotel and motel chains, camping or a variety of beach houses for your stay. There are numerous options for nightlife, from family entertainment to rocking roadhouses, enjoy your pick of plays, free concerts, dancing or just listening to any number of musical stylings at a local hot spot.

To read this entire article online, go to:


GulfQuest National Maritime Museum combines entertainment and education

By David Rainer,, Dec. 10

With the holiday season upon us, plenty of people will be traveling around the state. Usually there is a bit of “down” time during the holidays, and a new exhibit on the Alabama coast should be on everybody’s must-see list.

It’s called the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf Coast on the banks of the Mobile River in downtown Mobile.

I need to add one cautionary note: Allow plenty of time to enjoy the enormous museum. An hour or two is just not going to be enough time. Plan to spend at least four hours or more to do justice to the bountiful knowledge and experience that can be gained from exploring the five decks of a simulated sea-going vessel. The 90 exhibits, many of them interactive, provide examples of the shipping industry, the ship-building industry, marine recreational opportunities and the natural resources utilized to make life on the Gulf Coast so enjoyable and important to our nation’s economy.

Other than the exhibits, the 120,000 square-foot GulfQuest includes a museum store, a museum café and event space. In addition to the excellent entertainment value, the museum provides a major educational attraction for Mobile and the state of Alabama.

Mike Beasley, GulfQuest’s Development Director, and Diana Brewer, the museum’s Marketing and Public Relations Director, shared the history behind the genesis of the museum idea and how it was accomplished.

“Even in the gift shop, we have screens that are tracking the ships coming up and down the bay and the river, whether it’s tugboats or barges or container ships,” Beasley said. “It tells you where they’re coming from and what they have on board. We get ships from all over the world.”

And at the entrance of the museum, the café and gift shop are open to the public without paying the museum fee.

“People don’t have to have a ticket to come have lunch and enjoy the view of the river,” Beasley said. “They can watch the river traffic with the best seats in Mobile.”

For those who buy a ticket to the museum, visitors are urged to sit in the state-of-the-art theater and watch an introduction video that highlights life on the Gulf Coast, from harvesting oysters to the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo to loading enormous container ships for voyages to the far side of the world.

After the video, visitors walk into the main exhibit and look up four decks at the stern of a container ship with stacks and stacks of simulated containers.

“The idea is that the museum is a container ship docked along the Mobile River,” Beasley said. “The first deck is designed for kids and adults to learn about the basic concepts and history of navigation, how propulsion works on a ship and how sails propel vessels. There are interactive stations where visitors can load barges and containers. It shows them just how hard it is to do this.”

One exhibit is a joint effort with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that is called “Science on a Sphere.” Images are projected onto the carbon fiber sphere from a wide variety of datasets, including shipping activity, commercial airline traffic, current weather pattern, as well as historic weather events like hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Alabama-made gifts you can buy online for $25 or less

By Anna Claire Vollers,, Dec. 10

There are shop-local gift guides everywhere this time of year. Which is good, because buying Alabama-made supports the small business owners, makers and artists who contribute to our communities.

Because there are so many good gift options from this fair state, here are the rules for items in this particular guide;

1. They have to be made in Alabama.

2. They have to be available for sale online, so readers can purchase them easily, no long-distance traveling needed.

3. No foods, drinks or candles. There are way too many great products in these categories that there’s no way to fairly narrow it down.

4. They have to cost $25 or less. It’s an easy price point that covers relatives, coworkers, friends, family stocking stuffers and everything in between.

And finally, the best part about buying local is getting to know the makers behind the products. With that in mind, read on to meet the Alabama craftspeople behind all the gifts you’ll want to give.

Green Pea Press, Huntsville; T-shirts, $12-$25

The maker: Rachel Lackey and Martin Blanco. Buy it:

Bawston & Tucker, Florence; Solid cologne, $15

The maker: Andrew Schutt. Buy it:

Happy Tatts, Mobile; Temporary tattoos, $2 and up

The maker: Christen Strang. Buy it:

Stately Made, Birmingham; Alabama Food Tote Bag, $20

The maker: Jordan Jarvis Hughes. Buy it:

Loyal Stricklin, Opelika; Aviator Mug, $29.99 + 15% off with code “Christmas”

The maker: Michael Stricklin. Buy it:

Little River Sock Mill, Fort Payne; Knee High Socks, $22 + 10% off with code “WELCOME10”

The maker: Gina Locklear. Buy it:

Holtz Leather Co., Huntsville; Fine Leather Field Bracelet, $19.99

The maker: Rick and Coleen Holtz. Buy it:

To read this entire article online, go to:


Bentley awards $1.6 million in grants for Alabama parks, trails

By Paul Gattis,, Dec. 11

Parks and trails from Huntsville to Gulf Shores received $1.6 million in grants from Gov. Robert Bentley on Friday to preserve and enhance the state’s Recreation Trail.

Altogether, 15 projects were announced by Bentley and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

The grant money was provided to the state by the Federal Highway Administration.

The largest grant went to Bucks Pocket State Park in northeast Alabama, which received $526,996 to construct a 15-to-25-mile-long trail for all-terrain vehicles.

“Outdoor recreation is an important aspect of Alabama life,” Bentley said in the announcement. “This year’s recreational trails projects extend from the mountains in the north to our coastal shores on the gulf. I thank the state and local officials and countless volunteers who are devoted to developing and maintaining recreational opportunities for our residents and visitors.”

The announcement said $856,996 will benefit Alabama’s state parks, which has received budget cuts for the past five years. Five parks were closed earlier this year as a result of the cuts, according to parks director Greg Lein.

To read this entire article online and see a list of the grant recipients, go to:


Governor announces grant to increase tourism in west Alabama


Gov. Robert Bentley has announced a $46,728 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to the University of Alabama for a project to boost tourism in six west Alabama counties.


The funding will enable the university to start the second phase of the project. A previous ARC grant helped develop a framework to connect regional tourism partners and destinations. This funding will help put that plan into action in Bibb, Fayette, Hale, Lamar, Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties.


“Tourism not only showcases the wonderful things to see and do in Alabama, it also provides an economic boost,” Bentley said. “I am looking forward to seeing the positive economic impact of increased tourism resulting from this project.”


The tourism development plan includes branding, social media marketing, and a web site that includes an events calendar, maps and more. The project will establish six county-based tourism committees and host three hospitality workshops in the region.


Bentley notified Cynthia Hope, assistant vice president for research at the University of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.


The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.



Sweet Home Alabama: 8 things to know about Alabama

By Lisa McElroy, YahooTravel, Dec. 11

Some people go to Italy or Africa to immerse themselves in a new culture. But for me, a Northeasterner, my road trip to Alabama was just as educational. Turns out, Alabama is a world of its own … and you’d better know how to navigate the territory.

Heading to Alabama? Answer eight easy questions to help you decide if Alabama is the destination of your dreams.

1. Moon or Mars? 

I road tripped to Alabama because my daughter was going to Space Camp in Huntsville. Little did I know that Huntsville isn’t just a destination for astronaut-wannabe kids; it’s actually known as the “Rocket City,” because tons of space technology was developed here, and it’s got a long history of close association with space missions.  

You can spend a whole day at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, home to authentic rockets, space memorabilia, a museum tracing the history of the space program, and an IMAX theater that shows exclusively movies about space.  

Believe me when I say that you’ll want to attend Space Camp yourself after just a few hours there — and, yes, even adults can be trainees (Space Camp’s designation for campers).

And if you’re into to camping, like I am (I am a proud owner of a teeny weeny trailer), there’s a very nice campground right on Space Camp grounds.

2. The Civil War or Civil Rights?  

Any student of American history knows that Alabama figured prominently in both the Civil War and the civil rights movement.  

If you’re a war buff, check out the Civil War Trail, which winds across the state to battlefield sites, depot museums, forts, and even an armory.  

To learn about the civil rights movement, follow the Civil Rights Trail from the site of the Birmingham church where four little girls died in a bombing to voting rights outposts and museums to Selma and Montgomery, where Martin Luther King led marches, gave speeches, and started his ministry.

To read this entire article and see the remainder of the list online, go to:


25 things you should know about Birmingham

By Cliff McLafferty,

Birmingham packs a lot of history into its relatively short 140 years. Below, a few things you might not know about the Magic City.

1. Although Hernando De Soto journeyed through Alabama in 1540, the area around Birmingham wasn’t settled until about 1813. For almost 60 years, only farm towns populated the area around the railroad crossroads. In 1871, the Elyton Land Company merged several of these to create Birmingham. In the early 20th century, other surrounding towns were annexed by the city, leading to the substantial growth that inspired its nickname, “The Magic City.”

3. Birmingham is the only place in the world where all three raw ingredients for steel (coal, limestone, and iron ore) occur naturally within a ten-mile radius.

5. Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, watches over the city—and moons one of its suburbs. The statue was originally commissioned to advertise Birmingham’s industry at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

7. Downtown’s Kirklin Clinic was designed by noted architect I.M. Pei, the man behind the National Gallery of Art’s East Building and Paris’ Grand Louvre.

8. Frank Fleming’s The Storyteller was created to celebrate Southern storytelling traditions. Colloquially, the installation of the ram-headed man and his friends is referred to as the Satanic Fountain.

9. With a population of approximately 212,000, Birmingham is Alabama’s largest city—for now. According to census projections, Huntsville is expected to take the top spot within 10 years.

11. Barber Motorsports Park, located just outside city limits, boasts the world’s largest motorcycle museum. Guinness World Records made it official last year.

14. Other famous folks from Birmingham include Emmylou Harris, Courteney Cox, rapper Gucci Mane, authors Fannie Flagg and John Green, who lived there as a kid, and Condoleezza Rice.

17. The oldest and largest Veterans Day celebration is in Birmingham, which is also known as the holiday’s founding city.

18. Birmingham transplant Mary Anderson invented and patented the windshield wiper in 1903.

20. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute—both, as its website notes, “a time capsule and a modern-day think tank“—is the permanent home of some of the Civil Rights movement’s most powerful images, including photojournalist Spider Martin‘s pictures of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

22. Birmingham is said to be home to the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” That nickname came courtesy of an admiring early 20th century magazine article about the corner of 20th Street and First Avenue, where four massive skyscrapers—then the South’s biggest buildings—had recently been constructed.

25. The city’s Red Mountain Park, a 1200-acre public space, is one of the biggest urban parks in the country and a full

40 percent bigger than New York City’s Central Park.

To read this entire article, and see the full list of 25 things, online, go to:


Local film crew creates Star Wars fan film in Huntsville

By Kelsey Kern, WHNT19 News, Nov. 23

The highly-anticipated 7th installment of the Star Wars franchise opens in theaters in just a few weeks. But here in North Alabama, a crew is working on their version – a fan film. Currently, the film is underway in Huntsville.

Writer/Director of the film “Star Wars Battle of Rocket City” Jeffrey Parker says it’s amazing to be able to make a film like that as a fan.

“The story that I wrote, it just really encompasses you know the question of what if the star wars franchise, you know what if they were able to come here,” says Parker.

Much of the filming is taking place at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and will be shown once completed at the IMAX theater in the spring.

“When you think of Star Wars, what an ideal location to shoot a fan film, and to be able to tell their side of that story so we’re very excited about it, we’re glad to have these people at our house and this is going to be significant for our community, for them, and hopefully for the star wars genre as well,” says US Space and Rocket Center Director of Communications Tim Hall.

The fan film will feature favorite characters from the early trilogy, including the villain you love to fear, Darth Vader.

“I just want to create some new characters, and combine them with the classic and I hope the audience likes them,” says Parker.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be played at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and staff say there will be an announcement coming up in the near future about a special event opening night.

To read this article online, go to:


Fort Morgan re-opens recently repaired portion of site

A portion of Fort Morgan that has been closed for repairs since 2014, as part of an upgrade to the public safety features, is now open to the public again. 

The new staircase and handrails leading up to the first level of Fort Morgan’s Battery Duportail replaced an older set of metal stairs that were installed during the early 1960’s. New stairs lead to a walkway that runs across the west side of Battery Duportail giving visitors a great view of the Sand Island Lighthouse, Dauphin Island, and Mobile Bay.

“We received several concerns from visitors, especially during the summer tourist season about this section being inaccessible,” said Mike Bailey, Site Director at Fort Morgan State Historic Site. “These concerns were expressed by visitors to the site as well as on TripAdvisor, where Fort Morgan has received excellent ratings for the past two years.

The staff listened and our top priority was to finish this project in a timely fashion that would result in increasing visitor safety, but also help preserve this National Historic Landmark. The installation of new handrails and stairs allowed for the removal of deteriorating components that were damaging the site. New materials will help to minimize long term damage to the fort caused by the harsh weather conditions of Mobile Point.”

The repairs to the fort were inspected by officials from the Division of Construction Management of the Alabama Department of Finance, as well as representatives of the companies that performed the work.

For more information about Fort Morgan State Historic Site contact Mike Bailey, site director, at 251-540-7202 or


The Barbie doll of ‘Selma’ director Ava DuVernay is already sold out
By Ashley Rodriguez, Quartz, Dec. 7

Selma director Ava DuVernay has been immortalized as a Barbie doll, and now you can bring her plastic likeness home for the holidays for $65.

Well, you could have. The doll sold out in a matter of minutes, much to the dismay of fans who queued up online and still missed out.

The special edition doll went on sale to the public at 10 am PST today (Dec. 7) on Amazon and through Barbie’s microsite,, the Mattel-owned brand announced on Twitter.

The doll wasn’t searchable or promoted on Barbie’s website. Within 20 minutes, tweets that it sold out began rolling in.

Mattel unveiled the DuVernay doll back in April at Variety magazine’s Power of Women luncheon where the Golden Globe-nominated director was deemed a “Barbie Shero,” or female hero. She was honored alongside five other women, including actresses Emmy Rossum and Kristin Chenoweth, who also had one-of-a-kind dolls created in their likenesses.

Barbie did not immediately announce plans to put the dolls on sale to the public. However, DuVernay’s doll in particular seemed to strike a chord with consumers who lauded its creation on social media with the hashtag #AvaBarbie.

DuVernay said on Twitter that proceeds from the sales would support the charities and Witness, which advocate for civil and human rights.

The company did not say how many dolls would be released. And Mattel did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for comment.

Recently, Barbie has worked to make its collection more diverse and inclusive, amid criticism that its dolls promote unattainable body types. Barbie’s new Fashionistas line, which began rolling out this summer, featured eight skin tones, 14 facial structures, 22 hairstyles, 23 hair colors, and 18 eye colors.

To read this article online, go to:


Welcome Center Holiday Open House

Welcome Centers around the state are always helpful, friendly and welcoming to guests from around the world.  Our talented Welcome Center staffs also work with the communities where they are located.  During December they have a Holiday Open House to celebrate the holidays with food and fun. 

See the Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events below for each center’s open house date.


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Dec 15                         Holiday Open House – Grand Bay Welcome Center

Dec 17                         Holiday Open House – Baldwin Welcome Center

Dec 21                         Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tour – Montgomery



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.

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Alabama Tourism Department