Tourism Tuesdays October 10, 2017


Birmingham named Alabama’s top big travel destination

Expect vibrant colors this fall

From barbecue to oysters, Alabama offers some of the finest food in America

Music sculpture unveiled for city entrance

‘Crown jewel’ on Alabama’s beach to open in fall 2018

Statewide recreational sign program completed

10-foot fish statue planned as downtown Eufaula attraction

Bicentennial community workshop in Opelika

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Birmingham named Alabama’s top big travel destination
From the article by Hanno van der Bijl in the Birmingham Business Journal:

When visiting the Yellowhammer State, the Magic City is the must-see big city, according to a new ranking.

RewardExpert says Birmingham is the best big city in Alabama.

Alabama is the first installment of the website’s “State Spotlight” series, highlighting the must-see places in each state.

“We evaluated all 460 cities and towns in Alabama based on 27 relevant data metrics to provide informed insights with travelers visiting the Heart of Dixie,” said RewardExpert CEO and co-founder Roman Shetyn. “We also determined which cities are best based on certain categories of interest, such as the top cities in Alabama for food, history and music.”

In the best big city category, the study highlights Birmingham’s high number of music venues and performing arts centers and wineries, as well as its food scene.

Anniston is Alabama’s best midsized city, according to the website. It boasts four golf courses, two Civil War historical sites, three music venues, Cheaha State Park’s 10-mile Cheaha Mountain Express bike trail, and Talladega National Forest’s Nobbin Creek Trail.

Orange Beach is listed as Alabama’s top off-the-beaten-track destination. Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico, the town provides tourists the opportunity to see exotic fish, visit shipwrecks and enjoy 13 music venues.

“We learned a lot about Alabama through this state spotlight,” Shetyn said. “It truly is a destination where travelers of all stripes will find amazing things to do and sites to see. Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, a music fanatic, an outdoorsman, or simply a beach bum looking for a place to relax; the Heart of Dixie offers it all to its visitors.”

To compare all 460 Alabama cities and towns, RewardExpert used 27 weighted metrics scored on a scale from 0 to 100 within four categories: history, food, outdoor adventure and recreation and relaxation.

RewardExpert is an online service that helps travelers navigate frequent flyer programs and credit card rewards.

For the complete article please see

Expect vibrant colors this fall
From the article by Adam Smith on

After a less-than-colorful fall 2016, those who love the yellow, orange and red of the autumn season will be in luck this year.

Last year’s drought, combined with prolonged periods of above-average temperatures, took a toll on the Tennessee Valley’s oak, maple and hickory trees. This year has been milder, and we’ve had plenty of rainfall. Doug Chapman, regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, said both of those factors should make for a colorful fall.

“Last year, the trees went quiescent, which is just a big word to say they stopped growing,” he said.

Chapman explained, however, that quiescence can be reversed, whereas dormancy cannot. He said it would appear as though the trees have bounced back after this year’s rainfall. We’ll need some clear, cool nights, however, to help the color process along.

So when will vibrant colors be the most prominent? If forecasts are to be believed, hardwood trees should begin to transition from mid-to-late October through mid-November.

Color change causes
Temperature plays a major role in fall color. Trees get their green pigmentation through a chemical called chlorophyll. As long periods of daylight wane and temperatures tend to dip, chlorophyll in foliage starts to break down, creating the rich red, orange, yellow and brown synonymous with the fall season.

Chapman explained hotter, more humid nights results in less color, hence the reason why no one travels to Florida to view the leaves.

“That’s why they go to the mountains and places like Vermont,” he said. “The nights are cooler in the higher elevations. We have some very nice fall color in North Alabama.”

Fall Color Trail
There are five spots in North Alabama highlighted on the state Department of Tourism’s Fall Color Trail.
They are:

• The Natchez Trace Parkway in Cherokee;
• Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville;
• Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville;
• Russell Cave National Monument in Bridgeport; and
• Little River Canyon in Fort Payne.
For more information, visit

For the complete article please see

From barbecue to oysters, Alabama offers some of the finest food in America
From the article on

Alabama is an amiable state with a reputation for exceptional football and even better food. Which is a bold statement considering the University of Alabama football team is an absolute powerhouse.

With a prime location bordering the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama has established itself as a world-class destination for seafood. Not to be outdone, the state’s pitmasters have honed their craft and turned Alabama into one of the finest barbecue havens in the country. And don’t get us started on the exquisite baked goods that are served from the northern hills of Huntsville to the southern marinas of Mobile.

Regardless of where your travels take you in Alabama, you are certain to be within range of marvelous cuisine. Let’s take a look at some of those offerings.

Unlike other barbecue sanctums like Kansas City, Memphis or Texas, Alabama doesn’t possess a definitive style of barbecue. The northern portion of the state tends to gravitate toward vinegar-based sauces whereas southern parts of Alabama feature variations of tomato-based sauces. Perhaps the most distinguishing element regarding the state’s barbecue is its white sauce, a mixture of vinegar, mayonnaise, apple juice and cayenne pepper that is poured over chicken, turkey or ribs. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur is credited with creating the white sauce in 1925 and still serves it to this day along with some of the country’s finest ribs and chicken. Big Bob Gibson’s is also renowned for serving chicken wings that are marinated in a spicy apricot sauce.

Perhaps the most legendary barbecue establishment in the state is Dreamland Bar-B-Que, which originated in Tuscaloosa in 1958, but has since expanded to Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Northport. Dreamland serves ribs cooked over a hickory fire that are seasoned with a dry rub and served with a signature red sauce consisting of vinegar with a tomato under-pinning. Another venerable barbecue institution is Archibald’s, which opened in 1962 in Northport. The small cinderblock building where George and Betty Archibald first served barbecue still stands and adheres to the original formula of utilizing hickory wood to add a smoky richness to their meat and sauce. The newest entry to the state’s heated barbecue competition is SAW’s BBQ in Homewood, which debuted in 2009 to rave reviews. SAW’s is esteemed for its smoked chicken, Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches, ribs and distinctive white barbecue sauce.

With only 53 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama harvests an incredible amount of enticing seafood. Historically, Alabama is one of the biggest oyster producers in the country, and few places can match Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery for the tastiest fare. While Capitol is acclaimed for serving top-notch seafood against a backdrop of captivating live music, it is hardly the only oyster game in town. Other lauded oyster establishments include the Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Bon Secour (a no-frills bayside destination that serves large oysters and classic fried green tomatoes); Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile (known for serving oysters fried, stewed, nude or chargrilled and topped with cheese and peppers); and Doc’s Seafood Shack and Oyster Bar in Orange Beach (best known for serving fried shrimp and oysters on the half shell since 1984).

Alabama is also recognized as a producer of some of the choicest shrimp in the country, be it fried, steamed, enveloped in a po’ boy or surrounded by grits. Among the best places to savor this delicacy are King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant in Gulf Shores, which serves steamed royal red shrimp alongside traditional red potatoes, corn on the cob and garlic toast; the Shrimp Basket in Evergreen, which features steamed, fried, grilled and blackened shrimp; and Classic On Noble in Anniston, a white-tablecloth destination that serves creamy shrimp and grits with andouille sausage and bacon.

Much like its barbecue scene, Alabama isn’t known for one particular dessert or baked good, giving it a multifaceted feel when one pays a visit to the bakery. If forced to choose, the buttermilk pie, an iconic Southern specialty, may be the dessert most affiliated with the state and few can match the Irondale Cafe in Irondale for its acclaimed pie. Opened in 1928 and made famous by the film “Fried Green Tomatoes”, the Irondale Cafe has been serving an exceptional buttermilk pie since those early days. Not surprisingly, the cafe is also extolled for its fried green tomatoes, which pairs nicely with the pie. For those craving a different style of pie, Peach Park in Clanton sells the popular combination of a peach pie with a scoop of peach ice cream. Peach Park also lays claim to a fruit market, fried pies and a fresh fruit bar.

For more than 80 years, All Steak Restaurant in Cullman has been serving fabulous orange rolls, which have brought scores of tourists to the modest town. Made from a secret recipe, these slightly buttery sweet rolls are topped with tangy orange glaze instead of the classic sugar coating. Another fabled locale is Trowbridge’s Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop in Florence. Opened in 1918, Paul Trowbridge developed a recipe for orange pineapple ice cream that is the shop’s signature flavor and most popular product. Sisters’ Restaurant in Troy has been serving what many consider the state’s best banana pudding since 1997. The pudding consists of layers of vanilla custard, banana slices and wafers and can be garnished with whipped cream or meringue and served either hot or cold.

For the complete article please see

Music sculpture unveiled for city entrance
From the article by Robert Palmer on

A trumpeter will greet motorists crossing O’Neal Bridge into the city of Florence next year.

The 20-foot aluminum abstract sculpture will depict a jazz/blues musician in the birthplace of W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues. It is part of an area-wide acknowledgement of the role of music in the Shoals.

The City Council this week approved a $35,000 contract with the University of Alabama for art professor Craig Wedderspoon to create the sculpture.

“I hope the work is finished by September or October 2018 in time for our bicentennial,” Mayor Steve Holt said.

Muscle Shoals and Sheffield have erected sculptures of musicians. Sheffield’s resembles Elvis Presley, who performed there in the early part of his career. Muscle Shoals’ resembled rhythm section bassist David Hood.

Tuscumbia has commissioned a sculpture of a Native American musician.

Money to erect the sculptures has been raised privately, but the city governments are paying for the pedestals and lighting. In Florence, about $27,000 has been raised.

Holt said the Florence sculpture will be placed on an empty lot on South Court Street and Bluff Street, where the State Trooper post was once located. The city owns the land around it, as well.

The sculpture projects began about five years ago when retired University of North Alabama professor Bill Matthews suggested the cities create tributes to the Shoals’ music heritage, which most recently was recognized in the documentary movie “Muscle Shoals.”

He said his inspiration came during a hike in Ireland a few years ago. At the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, he came across a sculpture grouping at a roundabout of five musicians and dancers called “Let the Dance Begin.”

“I took a picture at the base of one to get a sense of scale,” he said. “I was overwhelmed.”

Matthews and David Anderson went to work generating interest, and money, in the project.

Sandra Vetters, who works with Matthews and Anderson to get the sculpture up, said several travel magazines have noted the sculptures in Muscle Shoals and Sheffield.

“They’re getting attention from the art community, especially,” she said.

Holt said the sculpture will face south or southeast, and will be a prominent landmark for those entering town from the south.

“I think that’s a great location,” he said. “It’s two feet taller than the others, and is a little different from the others.”

For the complete article please see

‘Crown jewel’ on Alabama’s beach to open in fall 2018
From the article by John Sharp on

The state’s huge new beachfront hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park is “on schedule and on budget,” according to Gov. Kay Ivey.

“A world-class facility,” she declared Friday during remarks at a South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Foley. “A crown jewel. … A destination point like no other.”

Indeed, the compliments have been coming fast in recent weeks about the estimated $140 million complex that is expected to be finished and opened in the fall 2018.

But many of the project’s specifics and contract details have yet to be made public. Meanwhile, still lingering in federal court is a two-year-old lawsuit that protests the project’s funding mechanism. Ivey said Friday that it’s been settled, but two representatives of the plaintiffs wouldn’t go that far when questioned Monday.

“It’s not final,” said Hank Caddell, a Mobile attorney who is vice chairman of the board of the Gulf Restoration Network, the New Orleans-based environmental conservation group that’s the lead plaintiff.

Said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the GRN: “We hope to have some resolution to the suit within the next few weeks.”

Despite the contractual and legal mysteries, it’s clear that the project’s construction timeline has progressed. And the state acknowledges that it’s reached an agreement with Atlanta-based Valor Hospitality, to operate The Lodge at Gulf State Park. The complex features a 350-room Hilton Hotel, interpretative center and learning campus.

State Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores, who sits on a committee that agreed to hire Valor, said representatives with the company will visit with state and local officials this month. “We are going to have some conversations about the operations and how that will work and who will interface with Valor,” said McMillan. “Some of the stuff they do is absolutely world class.”

State officials claim that The Lodge at Gulf State Park will be an “international benchmark of economic and environmental sustainability” which will demonstrate “best practices for outdoor recreation, education and hospitality accommodations.”

“The Lodge at Gulf State Park will be the crown jewel of the entire system,” said Lee Sentell, the state’s director of tourism. “One, because it has a sleek design and sits on the beautiful beach and second, it will be loaded with nature-friendly features that the entire family can enjoy.”

The hotel and conference center will be connected to bike paths and over 30 miles of trails within nearby Gulf State Park.

But the project’s use of certain BP restoration funds stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been the subject of scrutiny and litigation.

The federal lawsuit filed in 2015 challenged the process by which the project was approved. The Gulf Restoration Network has long argued that the hotel and conference center represent a misuse of money that is supposed to go to restore natural resources.

The project became a centerpiece of then-Gov. Robert Bentley’s coastal development plans after the state sought it through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. NRDA trustees, who consist of representatives from the five Gulf states affected by the spill, approved the project in 2014.

The complex, when it opens, will replace the old Gulf State Park Lodge that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

The new hotel and conference center will feature 40,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space, a ballroom with beach views that will accommodate groups up to 1,500 guests, a Gulf-front pool, a pool bar and grill with terrace seating, and Gulf-front restaurant and bar with outdoor terrace seating.

The expansive complex will be connected by a pedestrian bridge over Alabama Route 182, leading visitors to the park area.

McMillan said, “The best way to describe it is that it’s the only place in the world with the amenities we offer with the miles of trails, the hiking and the biking, and the emphasis on environmental education.”

McMillan said the entire complex will be completed and ready to welcome guests by the time it opens sometime within the next 12-13 months. He said one “statewide group” has asked to host its annual meeting within the conference center in November 2018.

McMillan said it’s too early to try to pinpoint an opening day, but added, “If they keep going the way they are going, it will be sooner than later.”

He emphasized that the complex, with its connections to the State Park, will be a place that everyone can enjoy. “We get a lot of people who say that the average Alabamian cannot afford it,” said McMillan. “But we are hoping to have students come here and stay in a dormitory type of facility for $20 a night, and the same facilities will be available for family reunions, class reunions and Scout troops.”

For the complete article please see

Statewide recreational sign program completed
The Alabama Scenic River Trail and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh will meet in Montgomery on Friday, October 13 to announce the completion of a statewide recreational sign program.

One of the state’s 232 new signs will be on display at the event, which will be held in front of the Gun Island Chute on the Alabama River at 2:30 p.m. in Riverfront Park. Sen. Marsh, Chairman of the Senate Marketing and Tourism Committee, has advocated for ASRT funding and supported the organization since its inception.

“It is welcome news that Alabama is going to lead the nation in using signs to guide people across our creeks and rivers,” said Senator Marsh. “The safety of those who use our waterways for recreation is important.”

This project takes Alabama to first place in the United States for having a statewide network of blueway destination signage.

“It’s really helpful for folks who have never been on that waterway,” said Alabama Scenic River Trail Founder Fred Couch referring to the sign program. “The whole thing is to promote safety.”

The signs feature maps, emergency contact numbers and put-in and take-out locations along the routes. When applicable, the signs also include Alabama Scenic River Trail campsite locations, historical information and other regional attractions.

The signs are located at boat ramps and boat rental shops along the state’s expansive waterways including the Black Warrior River, the Tennessee River, and the Alabama River. They have also been installed along smaller rivers and streams including the Elk River and Terrapin Creek.

The Alabama Scenic River trail includes more than 5,300 miles of navigable streams, rivers and lakes, and it has been designated as a National Water Trail. The main corridor of the trail spans 650 miles and stretches from Northeast Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico. It exists to promote recreation on Alabama’s waterways.

For more information please contact The Alabama Scenic River Trail at

10-foot fish statue planned as downtown Eufaula attraction
From the article by Tiffany Woo on

Move over Leroy Brown. Eufaula will soon have a new big fish in town.

Mayor Jack Tibbs and Main Street Eufaula Director Ann Sparks announced this week a 10-foot largemouth bass statue has been ordered for Eufaula as a tourist attraction.

The idea, said Sparks, came from Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell, who suggested Eufaula look into getting some sort of large fish to draw tourism in for photo ops, as a point of interest, and as a “hook” to the downtown area.

Since March 1 when the project began, the city has bid out the project and met with bid winners Replica Plastics of Dothan to create a life-like largemouth bass statue towering 11 ½-feet tall including the pedestal and 5 ¼-feet wide.

Wiregrass area residents may be familiar with their work. Replica Plastics is responsible for the large peanuts for the Dothan area, as well as huge projects for Major League Baseball Teams such as the New York Mets.

Sparks said they are glad to be working with Replica Plastics. Their location in Dothan makes it easy to coordinate on the design of the attraction, and she’s glad to know that their project will be “Made in Alabama.”

The project was funded by a donation from the State Tourism Department, as well as a large private donation.

Eufaula’s Big Bass will be located in the lot beside the Eufaula-Barbour Chamber of Commerce.

“This lot has snowballed into a ‘destination’ which means planning will play a big part of this area,” said Sparks.

Main Street will be holding a contest to name the lot next to the Chamber, as well as a contest to name the big fish. Details about these contests will be published in a future edition of the Tribune and on Main Street Eufaula’s Facebook page once details are set. The contest could even include a few prizes for the winners.

“Main Street Eufaula is very excited about this new adventure and the fact that it has turned into a destination featuring the new Splash pad, Big Bass and the Walking trail,” said Sparks. “We can now promote this area of downtown with our State of Alabama Welcome Centers. We are developing rack cards to advertise with out-of-town guests, promote to incoming and potential conventions, fishing tournaments, family reunions, and the list goes on.”

Sparks said she expects the big bass to be completed by Thanksgiving.

They also plan to offer smaller, customized versions of the statue for purchase by local businesses and industries to jumpstart a way-finding signage project much like Dothan’s peanuts called the “Fish Trail.”

“Visitors will be able to find our Bass through our beautiful new signs. Our visitors will have something new, interesting and exciting to do,” said Sparks.

Details on the way-finding project are near completion.

For the complete article please see

Bicentennial community workshop in Opelika
The Alabama Bicentennial Commission community workshop is Oct. 20, in Opelika.

The workshop will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Lewis Cooper Jr. Library on 200 S. 6th St.

It has been developed by the Alabama Bicentennial Committee to share information, resources, and funding opportunities regarding Alabama’s three-year bicentennial commemoration. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required at

From family reunions to school service projects, from museum exhibitions to common reading programs and from recipe collections to oral-history interviews, there will be many ways that individuals, groups and communities can involve themselves in the state’s milestone birthday.

The Alabama Bicentennial Commission works to support, create and execute programs that commemorate the past 200 years of Alabama places, people and stories.

From 2017 to the end of 2019, the commission will engage residents and visitors in educational programs, community activities and statewide initiatives that teach, inspire and entertain.

For more information, visit or contact Sam Blakely at, 334-242-5864.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Have great video footage of your business/event? Add it to your partner page! Videos can significantly enhance engagement, interest, and click through. When adding a YouTube video, simply copy and paste the series of letters/numbers following the “V=” in your YouTube URL – rather than the entire URL – into the text box. For additional help, click the adjacent link for an instructional video.

Ready to add a video to your page? Go to today.


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