Tourism Tuesdays November 21, 2017

Governor Ivey announces $33 million for restoration and conservation projects in Alabama

The ultimate Muscle Shoals music insider’s many lives

Heritage Area receives 2 grants

Fall tourism season

Governor Ivey to light official State Christmas Tree

The Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council celebrates the one year anniversary of the Mapguide Expansion

Alabama Music Hall of Fame hosts Christmas concert Dec. 5

Alabama 200 workshops conclude for this year in Fort Payne

Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours on Monday nights in December

Holiday events across Alabama

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Governor Ivey announces $33 million for restoration and conservation projects in Alabama
Governor Kay Ivey announced the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has approved more than $33.5 million for five new projects and amendments to two existing projects which focus on the restoration and conservation of Alabama’s natural resources.

“The harm caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill remains ever-present in our minds today,” Governor Ivey said. “This additional $33 million in funding for Alabama from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will further strengthen our long-term recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast. The commitment of our local, state, and federal partners to ensure the long-term sustainability of our coastal areas is greatly appreciated.”

In 2013, a U.S. District Court approved two plea agreements resulting from the criminal charges against BP and Transocean as responsible parties to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The settlement directs a total of $2.54 billion to NFWF to establish a Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) over a five-year period to support ecological projects in all five Gulf States. A total of $356 million will be paid into the GEBF for conservation projects dedicated to the State of Alabama.

Alabama 2017 Projects include:

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Acquisition – $5.9 million
This project proposes the acquisition of a 251-acre property identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as among its highest priorities in the state of Alabama. The parcel will be deeded to the USFWS for inclusion and management within Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (BSNWR). The property represents an important priority area within the authorized acquisition boundary of the Refuge and includes scrub/shrub, pine flatwood, saltwater marsh, and tidal creek habitats, with permanent and semi-permanent wetlands scattered across the parcel.

Dauphin Island Bird Habitat Acquisition and Enhancement Program – $4.5 million
This project will enhance coastal bird habitat along one mile of recently restored beach that is immediately adjacent to a 200 acre bird sanctuary on Dauphin Island. The project will include sand fencing, dune plantings, signage, stewardship, and, if necessary, additional sand placement. Additionally, funding is included to acquire and enhance important bird habitats on Dauphin Island to benefit shorebirds, wading birds and seasonal migrants. Due diligence and landowner outreach will be undertaken as the first step to acquire an estimated 13 acres of undeveloped habitat to protect critically important migratory stopover habitat and facilitate management of contiguous blocks of conservation lands. Lands acquired through this project will be deeded to and managed by the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary (DIBS). DIBS will also undertake prescribed fire and invasive species management to enhance the ecological value of these newly-protected habitats.

Little Dauphin Island Restoration Assessment –$1.4 million
This project will provide funding to study both nearshore and onshore restoration options for a future project to enhance and protect Little Dauphin Island. Included in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Little Dauphin Island is an important nesting and foraging area for several coastal bird species, including several imperiled shorebird species.

Mobile Bay Shore Habitat Conservation and Acquisition Initiative – Phase II – $6.9 million
Phase II of the Mobile Bay Shore Habitat Conservation and Acquisition Initiative will acquire, restore and preserve intact high-priority, undeveloped properties within three specific areas of the City of Mobile. These three priority intertidal habitat areas include riparian, wetland and upland habitats that are used by a variety of fish and wildlife species injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Salt Aire Shoreline Restoration – $12.7 million
This project leverages the earlier acquisition of the 233-acre Salt Aire property (2015 GEBF) and proposes protection of degraded shoreline and restoration of 30 acres of associated coastal marsh on the western shore of Mobile Bay. Construction of wave attenuation structures and the beneficial use of dredge material for marsh creation are both envisioned. The 2015 GEBF award funded both the acquisition of the property and engineering and design of the requested restoration work.

“Today’s announcement brings the total amount of NFWF GEBF-funded projects in the State of Alabama to $148 million, and it represents the culmination of close to a year-long process of coordinating with our local partners to identify those projects which will significantly enhance and restore our natural resources into the future,” Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship said. “We appreciate the hard work of all involved to bring these projects to fruition.”

Additional information on each project will soon be available on the following websites:

The ultimate Muscle Shoals music insider’s many lives
From the article by Matt Wake on

The first time Dick Cooper met Bob Dylan, Dylan asked him not to take his photograph.

The songwriting legend was at Sheffield’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, co-producing a 1974 album by Barry Goldberg, known for playing keyboards at Dylan’s historic 1965 “plugged in” Newport Folk Festival set and with blues-rockers Electric Flag.

“Dylan told me very nicely, ‘Please don’t shoot me. It’ll distract me,’” Cooper says. “And so I wasn’t going to shoot any of him.” But soon famed Atlantic Records exec Jerry Wexler, who was co-producing Goldberg’s LP with Dylan, tracked Cooper down and gave him different instructions: “Listen this is Bob Dylan, I want you to get pictures.” Cooper then walked into a vocal recording booth, stood on a stool and leaned over an upright piano and snapped two photos of Dylan in the studio. “They’re certainly not great pictures by any means,” Cooper says in his charming, buttery drawl. Whatever the quality, those shots are historic: More than 40 years later, Goldberg’s self-titled album is the only release Dylan ever produced that wasn’t one of his own projects.

Cooper had more freedom to photograph Bob Dylan during Muscle Shoals Sound sessions for Dylan’s 1979 “Slow Train Coming” and 1980 “Saved” albums. Some 14 of Cooper’s photos from the singer’s so-called “Christian period” were licensed for use in new box set “Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981,” which also culls from 1981 LP “Shot of Love.” Released Nov. 3, the deluxe “Trouble No More” boasts eight CDs containing 100 previously unreleased live and studio tracks, including 14 unreleased songs. There’s also a DVD with 1980 concert footage. A two-disc standard version “Trouble No More” features 30 live cuts from Dylan’s 1979, 1980 and 1981 tours, including the hit “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Cooper told Dylan’s people he wouldn’t use any of his “Trouble No More” photos elsewhere for a year. So instead of showing you those images we’ll tell how they came to be, as well as detailing Cooper’s tributary-rich backstory. He’s the ultimate Muscle Shoals music insider. Even if he can’t play a single note.

Dick Cooper’s Minolta camera picked an inopportune time to cease functioning properly. It was during the “Slow Train Coming” sessions. He was shooting Dylan inside Muscle Shoals Sound, out front of the recording studio’s second, 1000 Alabama Ave. location and on a nearby riverbank. “The shutter started sticking,” Cooper says. “So I have a lot of pictures where things on the left side of the image are useable, but on the right the exposure was overblown. And obviously you can’t see it until you process the film so I didn’t realize my camera was going bad until it was all over.” Which is a shame because the “Slow Train Coming” session images would’ve offered a rare glimpse into Dylan’s psyche. Cooper recalls Dylan being “really nervous” about the album’s overtly Christian lyrics. “Wexler being a Jewish atheist, it was kind of interesting to watch the interaction between Bob and Wexler, because every so often they’d huddle up and he would be like telling him chapter and verse he ought to be reading.”

Unlike sessions for the 1974 Goldberg album, Dylan never specifically asked Cooper not to take photos of him, but “was out of the picture as much as possible.” Dylan was much more photogenic during the “Saved” sessions. “I have rock poses, where he’s striking poses in the studio and stuff like that,” says Cooper, who’d acquired a Nikon camera by then.

In late summer 2017, Cooper received a voicemail from a number and name he didn’t recognize. He didn’t get the message until after normal business hours, at which time he called back and was surprised when Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s longtime manager, answered the phone. “He was the only one left in the office,” Cooper says. After outlining plans for a Christian-era obscurities set, reps asked Cooper to submit photos for possible use thereof. He sent them 119 images via a Dropbox online photo sharing account. Mostly just low-resolution proofs. Dylan’s team wanted high-resolution copies though so Cooper mailed them his negatives for those to be generated from.

As of this interview, Cooper hasn’t seen the “Trouble No More” packaging, although a copy has supposedly been sent in the mail to him. All his images Dylan reps licensed were color, although they did get Cooper’s permission to convert some to black and white for the project. Copper has seen the November edition of Rolling Stone magazine’s Germany version, featuring a full-page collage of Cooper’s Dylan photos as part of a “Trouble No More” cover story. Those images include shots of Dylan, Wexler, bassist Tim Drummond, guitarist Mark Knopfler, Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham and Wexler’s co-producer Barry Beckett.

“Bob is eccentric in his own right,” Cooper says, “but he is one of the nicest people that I’ve ever worked with. I worked on two albums with him and he asked me literally to do two things, one on each album. And in both cases, we were in the control room, and rather than do like most people would’ve done in that situation, like ‘Hey boy, come over here I’ve got something for you to do,’ he would get up and come over to me and say, ‘Would you please do this for me?’ I know that’s minor. But it shows his politeness and his overall demeanor throughout things.”

Cooper had been involved with photography since he was age 7 and working in the darkroom for his father’s photo business. Born in 1946 and growing up in Birmingham, by the time Cooper was in second grade he’d started up a one-page mimeographed school newspaper, which chronicled classmates’ birthdays and other matters. Later graduating from Hewitt-Trussville High School, he became a Birmingham Post-Heraldreporter, covering the ’60s civil rights movement.

Writing and photography formed Cooper’s vocation axis. But things soon tilted on a new plane after his arrival at Florence Times-Tri Cities Dailyin 1972, following a Decatur Daily stint covering NASA. In the Florence newsroom one Wednesday, Cooper was fretting over what to write about for an upcoming Sunday feature story, when a staff photographer asked if he wanted to go to a session. “What’s that?” Cooper replied. The Times-Tri photog took him to Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios. There, they watched curly-haired pop-country singer Mac Davis record, “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” which later became a No. 1 smash.

“Three months later,” Cooper says, “I’ve got a music column because that takes care of my Sunday feature requirement, plus it gives me license to hang out at the studio. And I fell in love with the people that I ran into.” Cooper befriended audio engineer Jerry Masters, who was a motorcycle enthusiast – as were local session musicians David Hood and Roger Hawkins. Cooper purchased a dirt-bike and began “riding around in the woods” with these Shoals recording cornerstones. “It was a bonding experience,” he says.

As part of the original Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section with drummer Hawkins, keyboardist Beckett and guitarist Jimmy Johnson, Hood played bass on hits by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon and many others. Hood says Cooper, “was one of the first reporters that was very interested in the (Muscle Shoals) music business. He would spend extra time at the studio when we were recording people. You could tell he was more than just a newspaper guy because his articles were knowledgeable. He knew what he was talking about.”

Hood says while the Muscle Shoals Sound crew thought of Cooper as a reporter first, they respected his photography too. “He also had his camera hanging around his neck. Good photos. But it’s good to be able to disappear when you need to during the recording, and he could talk to his subjects and not creep them out or anything. It didn’t feel like there was a spy in the room.”

As a journalist, Cooper drew inspiration from William Bradford Huie, who once gave him the simple, solid advice that “writers write,” meaning work on your craft as frequently as possible.

Cooper’s favorite photograph he’s shot is an image of Wexler and country star Willie Nelson, standing outside Muscle Shoals Sound’s 3614 Jackson Highway location, when Nelson was recording the 1974 album “Phases and Stages” there. Using a roll of the newspaper’s film, he’d just taken a photo of Nelson wearing the top-hat Willie favored and Wexler wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap.

“If you shot with a roll of Florence Times film, it became theirs,” Cooper says. To stall for time so he could swap in his own film, and thereby retain image rights, he asked his subjects to switch chapeaus. “It turned out changing the hats actually made the picture better,” Cooper says. “It gave it a different symmetry than the one before. It’s without question the best picture I’ve ever taken.

“And it tells a phenomenal story: If you look at the picture up close, Wexler’s holding a pilsner glass half full of beer. Well, this is when Sheffield was still dry. But (Muscle Shoals Sound) had a beer keg down in the cellar of the studio and it was pretty much common knowledge. But the cops said, ‘Well you’re not selling it so we’re not going to give you any hassle about it.’”

Other musicians Cooper enjoyed photographing include The Band drummer Levon Helm (“the most gracious person I think I ever met, period”) and songsmith John Prine. Prine had driven down to Sheffield in a black 1950s Ford Victoria, taking “all backgrounds and never over 35 mph,” Cooper says, to record 1980 album “Storm Windows” at Muscle Shoals Sound. “I have some great photos of him out in front of the studio on the riverbank with that car,” Cooper says.

Eventually, Prine and his photographer ended up reversing roles, in terms of who was documenting who. In a studio office while trying to finish one last song for the LP, “Prine” watched from a corner as Cooper, seated on the floor, called girls on the phone inviting them to an album wrap party. Prine crystallized the moment in his song “Just Wanna Be With You”: “While I’m sitting on my living room rug; I was looking at the numbers of the women that I thought I dug.”

High-wattage rock acts like The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart came to Muscle Shoals Sound seeking the funkiness of hit R&B records recorded there. The Shoals’ small-town pace was also largely free of metropolitan distractions and temptations. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was focused on recording music instead of talking about it, but when Cooper entered their orbit, they realized “we needed to publicize ourselves more,” Hood says. Cooper would also write about Muscle Shoals music for Billboard magazine.

His multifarious resume also included work as a roadie. Working with mellow-gold opening act LeBlanc & Carr, he was on the 1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd tour that ended tragically five shows in, when Skynyrd’s airplane crashed in Mississippi on the way to a Baton Rouge concert. Cooper and LeBlanc & Carr toured by car, so they weren’t on the plane. After the deadly crash, Cooper would later work with The Rossington Band, featuring Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington.

Eventually Cooper began working at Muscle Shoals Sound, as Barry Beckett’s production assistant from 1978 to 1984. With Beckett, he worked on albums by the likes of English rockers Dire Straits and guitar shaman Carlos Santana. And those two, aforementioned Christian LPs by Bob Dylan. He’d been a Dylan fan since the early-’60s. Muscle Shoals Sound sessions often found Cooper working with Wexler, who became “very influential in everything I’ve done.” The biggest thing he learned from Wexler was “when to stop. That was the one thing Jerry knew, when to quit messing with (a recording) – it was good as it was going to get – and that was one of the things that other producers I’ve worked with have struggled with.”

Around the early-2000s, Cooper befriended underground southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, whose members included Hood’s son, singer/guitarist Patterson Hood. The Athens, Ga.-based Truckers also featured singer/guitarist Mike Cooley, who at Florence’s University of North Alabama had been roommates with Patterson at a dumpy Howell Street rental home. Cooley and Hood were still in local alternative band Adam’s House Cat when they first met Cooper, at Muscle Shoals Sound.

Cooley says “There seems to be a guy like (Cooper) in most every scene, you know? That never became an artist or musician themselves, but just liked the company of the people and the personalities. And telling their stories. Being a young journalist during the civil rights movement might have sent him down that path. It might have gotten him more interested in hanging out with musicians instead of fielding death threats from white supremacists.”

In 2017, Drive-By Truckers are one of rock’s most respected bands and have a loyal fanbase. But back when they met Cooper the band was struggling to find a toehold. They’d spend weeks touring in a van only to, many nights, play to 30 people or less, with Atlanta’s Star Bar being one of few places they could pack out. They also did OK in Denton, Texas and Richmond, Virginia. Touring for the Truckers then involved “sleeping on floors” and “not eating much,” Cooley says. But inside that van on those long drives, ideas for what became their third album were taking shape. Songs about their complex, conflicted feelings about The South. Songs that would alter the band’s future.

The problem was, Drive-By Truckers didn’t have a record deal or financial resources to make their album in a proper studio. “We were going to do it our way regardless,” Cooley says, “and Dick’s somebody who’s really into doing it your way.” Following some unfruitful attempts at making the record, the Truckers asked Cooper to come to Birmingham for another pass. That summer they set up in a 3rd Avenue North space housing the uniform company Cooley’s mother-in-law worked for.

The third floor there was a big open room, with scratched hardwood floors and dingy greenish walls, and nothing in it except the Truckers’ instruments and bassist Earl Hicks’ recording equipment, including a Tascam analog tape machine.

There was no air-conditioning. The musicians worked from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., during the uniform company’s closed hours. “It was a volatile atmosphere because we didn’t really have a lot of fun doing that,” Cooley says with a laugh. “It was godawful. I don’t know why … August in downtown Birmingham, it never sounded like a good idea. There was one little room up in the front corner that overlooked the street, and it had a window unit in it. So, we would go in there and turn that thing on and cool off for a few minutes and then go back out to the sweatbox and start recording.” The band took forever to get a good take of one song, only to realize afterwards the kickdrum mic had been accidental muted. “We went ballistic.” During the sessions Cooley played a couple of cheap Japanese guitars, including a green zigzag-shaped instrument and Strat copy.

In this literal hot mess, Cooper served as “sort of a spiritual advisor,” to Drive-By Truckers, Cooley says. “He had so many connections to so many of the things we were writing about. He was just kind of there as a presence and maybe provide some context to some of the material from time to time.”

The album got made. Titled “Southern Rock Opera” and initially self-released in fall 2001, the songs were clever and raw. Electric-rust clang and dusky storytelling fueled tracks like “Birmingham,” “Zip City” and “Angels and Fuselage.”  “It was the pivotal record,” Cooley says. “It was the one that put us on the map, led to us getting a deal, securing a booking agent that’s still with us today, getting management and getting all the necessary people on board to go out and build an audience and make it our living, our vocation. And if that album hadn’t worked that way none of that would’ve happened, I don’t think.”

Reading the “Southern Rock Opera” liner notes, Cooper was shocked to see he’d been given a producer credit, along with the band and mixer David Barbee. “I didn’t go there with the intention of being a producer,” Cooper says. “But that made me feel really good, to say the least.” The Truckers were in their 30s at the time, paying dues many bands pay in their 20s. However, the 40-something Cooper was right there in the trenches with him, even sleeping underneath a table at Cooley’s mother-in-law’s house. “If you stay under the table then you don’t get stepped on in the middle of the night,” Cooper explains.

At one point during the “Southern Rock Opera” sessions, he drove the band in his station wagon to a gig at a Conyers, Georgia. shopping-center opening. On the way back, Cooper’s vehicle broke down so they all had to hitch the last 40 or so miles back to Birmingham with a rollback wrecker. After the LP’s released, Drive-By Truckers and Cooper crisscrossed the country several times in a newly acquired Dodge Van supporting “Southern Rock Opera,” putting 70,000 on the odometer. David Hood, Patterson’s dad, says, “I’m amazed he had the stamina and strength to do it. I think he helped them avoid a lot of trouble.”

Lately, Cooper has been working on two book projects: one, a narrative-driven project on his time with Drive-By Truckers (he also took photos of every gig he ever did with them); and two, a coffee-table book about Muscle Shoals music. There are also plans for a travelling photographic exhibit. His photo archive contains roughly 53,000 images.

“I got asked a question on Facebook not too long ago,” Cooper says, “about, ‘When you were doing all of this did you understand what the potential was down the road?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was a journalist for 10 years before I got into the music business and I knew exactly what I was going for. There was always a loaded camera in my office in the studio.” In recent years, Cooper has served as Alabama Music Hall of Fame curator and on the Alabama Folk Life Association board. He’s also worked with younger artists, including Americana group Mississippi Stomp and talented singer/guitarist Jay Burgess, who now fronts Florence alt-rockers The Pollies. “I’ve tried to spread what little I’ve learned about the business as far and wide as I can, to help people out,” Cooper says.

He credits his lifelong malleability to early lessons learned from his grandfather, a half-Cherokee iron worker/baseball player. “I picked up a lot of survival skills from him. To think on my feet. And the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing is not a problem as long as you keep your head up and keep moving.” As a youth, Cooper had to do just that as his mother was often in the sanitarium or hospital. “Things were very mercurial for me at that time.”

Cooley says one of Cooper’s strengths is “he’s able to get these artists and musicians in the same room and actually create some of their stories rather than just being on the periphery.” An example of this is Dick Cooper’s Shoals-famous house parties, held thrice annually on regularly scheduled dates. “That way I don’t have to invite people,” Cooper jokes.

Set at his 3,500-square-foot St. Florian home, located on a bluff overlooking Shoals Creek, the parties usually attract 150 or so guests for a day of Southern food and live music. Cooper’s 60th birthday soiree drew 350 people and boasted sets from five bands including Drive-By Truckers. During set breaks, younger local musicians often get up and play the seasoned musicians’ instruments. “It’s a good training ground,” David Hood says.

At one of Cooper’s parties, Drive-By Truckers were scheduled to play an acoustic set. When guitarist Rob Malone “kind of no-showed,” Cooley says, the band asked a University of Memphis dropout from nearby Greenhill named Jason Isbell to sit in. “That was just in the living room,” Malone recalls, “and a lot of people crammed into a fairly small room.”

After that Malone, who’d played on “Southern Rock Opera,” and earlier Truckers releases including “Pizza Deliverance,” was out of the band. Isbell, later to become a solo country-rock star, was in. (Malone remains a skilled guitarist and currently plays with rising local combo Rob Aldridge and The Proponents.) Patterson Hood and Isbell had both frequently crashed on the couch at Cooper’s previous residence, a three-story A-frame residence about a mile away. What about Muscle Shoals music moves him? “It’s the people as much as anything. The reality is this has always been a musical area. You can go back to Chief Colbert, the Chickasaw chief who had the ferry down near where Cherokee, Alabama is now, he was known for his musical events.”

Cooper’s photographs appeared in the 2013 “Muscle Shoals” documentary about the area’s impressive recording history. The film sparked new worldwide interest in music made there and the locals who help make it. Subjects that Cooper had been championing for 40 years.

“I think a lot of times Dick has maybe been underappreciated by some of the Shoals, and has been frustrated trying to make something cool happen,” Mike Cooley says. “But he would just bounce back. He’s very resilient. And he lived to see some of those things he always dreamed of actually happen there. People are coming to town as tourists, and I think that’s something Dick has always seen the potential for and couldn’t get others to realize it. There’s live music there now, which there wasn’t really other than top 40 covers bands, but people are playing live original music. There are young artists that are writing great stuff. I think it’s more than fair to credit him with some of that.”

Cooper says, “Initially I was telling people in the Shoals what was happening here, but it was real easy to move from that to telling people in the rest of the world.”

For the complete article please see

Heritage Area receives two grants
From the article by Jennifer Edwards on

The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area received two grants from Alabama state agencies for projects.
The Alabama Tourism Department awarded $3,937.50 to the Heritage Area to update the organization’s website.

The Alabama Humanities Foundation awarded a grant of $1,260 for a traveling exhibit to accompany the upcoming book “The Tennessee River and Northwest Alabama” by Heritage Area Interim Director Carrie Barske and the University of North Alabama public history graduate students Brian Murphy and Brian Corrigan.
The book is set to be released in the fall of 2018.

“The Tennessee River has influenced culture and life here in northwest Alabama for hundreds of years, and as we move into the 21st century, it continues to do so,” Barske said in a news release. “Focusing on the river’s impact, the exhibit will travel to libraries, museums, community centers, colleges, archives and other venues.”

For the complete article please see

Fall tourism season
From the article by John Dersham on

Tourism has had a banner year during the summer and fall seasons. One of the primary factors in our growth is the great support we have received from the City of Fort Payne in the way of providing additional lodging tax income to be assigned to us for the purpose of advertising and promotion.

During the course of summer and fall we ran radio commercials, social media ads, magazine ads, ads on Pandora and a host of web-based ads and blogs using a variety of media companies. In addition, we re-branded our logo and have a brand new website ( which is state of the art with visitor interactive features, videos and lots of information and photographs.

In addition to all of these items, we were featured in New York City with a major promotion for Little River Canyon National Preserve and Lookout Mountain. We had a 20-story-tall skyscraper art at Madison Square Garden of Little River Canyon and a miniature Lookout Mountain with Little River Canyon at the Flatiron North Plaza. Visitors would walk up eight steps and once on top of the mountain would get to watch a 360 degree virtual reality video of the canyon. It appeared as though you were floating in the sky above the canyon and as you turned your body around you saw the entire canyon, the Little River, the falls, the sky and the cliffs of the canyon.

This project was funded by Alabama Tourism carrying the “Sweet Home Alabama” brand. Intermark Group which created the promotion on our behalf said there were more than 8 million viewer impressions. There was record growth at Little River Canyon this year and the visitor growth has been steadily increasing for a number of years.

It takes money to grow. Our potential visitors have many choices for their vacation days or weeks. We have to be aggressive in order to get our share. We have two things that happened this year. Our new first time visitors grew at an increased level due to our marketing and advertising plan and our return visitor population continues to come back to visit us once or twice a year. People love us from all over the southeast and it was very evident this fall. Mentone Colorfest in Mentone and Boom Days in Fort Payne both had record crowds of visitors spending the weekend or at least one night. In addition, fall visitors have filled our hotels, campgrounds; B&B’s and cabins since late September.

For the complete article please see

Governor Ivey to Light Official State Christmas Tree
Governor Kay Ivey will light the state’s official Christmas tree during a special ceremony Friday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps of the state Capitol.

“Lighting the Christmas tree at the Capitol is a wonderful, tangible, example of the peace and warmth the Christmas season brings,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “I hope every Alabamian will join us for this special event, as we kick off the holiday season.”
The tree-lighting ceremony will also honor first responders and other heroes. Christmas music will be performed by Will and Janet McFarlane, the husband and wife singing and songwriting duo from Muscle Shoals, and the 151st Army Band of the Alabama National Guard.

The Christmas tree is a 35-foot Eastern red cedar grown in Bullock County that was donated by Ray Allen owner of Feather’s Properties. It is adorned with more than 40,000 LED lights and 67 stars representing each of Alabama’s counties.

More information is available about the Capitol Christmas tree-lighting ceremony online at

The Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council celebrates the one year anniversary of the Mapguide Expansion
From the article on Cision

November marks the one-year anniversary of the expansion of the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism Mapguide. The expansion made all of the counties located in the Tennessee Valley eligible to participate in this unique program designed to help communities build economic and community sustainability using their natural place-based assets.

In November, 2016, the TRV Stewardship Council, with the support of the Tennessee Valley Authority, began an expansion of the mapguide from its original eastern boundaries to include the full Tennessee Valley. This decision brought the number of eligible states from four to seven, creating a multi-state, multi-partner organization of both rural and metro communities.

Over the past 12 months, the TRV Stewardship Council has been hosting meetings and training sessions across the seven-state area. The first west region state to complete the training was Alabama and the counties of the North Alabama Tourism Association, followed by counties in Mississippi, Middle West Tennessee, and Kentucky. “The mountain lake counties in North Alabama were leaders in not only understanding the benefits for small business and rural counties, but have been leaders in assisting other states,” said Julie Graham, site administrator. “They have been instrumental in giving small businesses a nationally recognized brand and Explore Tennessee River Valley social pages.”

The benefit to participating communities and businesses is the potential economic impact of the project. The U.S. Travel Association cites economic data for Public Land as supporting 378,000 jobs and generating 12billion in revenue in 2016. The Tennessee Valley Authority partnered with the University of Tennessee to study the economic impact of aquatic recreation on the Tennessee River Valley lakes. The final report published in March 2017, estimated the economic value at $ 1.1million per 1 mile on TVA managed shoreline. The report also concluded that rural communities had the most potential to benefit from recreation revenue.

The Tennessee River Valley is already recognized as a premier destination for fishing, boating, natural beauty, golfing and for its acres of public lands. What is not recognized is the wealth of history and cultural assets that define the region. The ongoing work of the TRV Stewardship Council is to connect the stories of these communities to the river’s ever-changing landscape with an end goal of creating sustainable socio-economic impacts.

This abundance of recreational streams, lakes, rivers and public lands coupled with the rich cultural assets, are located within a day’s drive of major urban centers such as Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Jacksonville, Florida. The Tennessee River Valley Geotourism Mapguide is providing opportunities to locals to share their stories, conserve the beauty of the region, and to inspire visitors to explore authentic experiences, while improving the lives of the people who live there. Now that is reason to celebrate!

For the complete article please see

Alabama Music Hall of Fame hosts Christmas concert Dec. 5
From the article by Lisa Singleton-Rickman on

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame will host “We’ll Be Home for Christmas” on Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.

The third annual Christmas concert is the Hall of Fame’s kickoff to the holiday season.

For the second consecutive year, entertainment will be provided by the trio of Aaron Wilburn, Bobby Tomberlin and Mark Narmore.

Wilburn is a singer/songwriter and comedian from Bobo who has been featured in the Gaither Homecoming Tour and videos.

Tomberlin is a singer/songwriter from Luverne who co-wrote the country hit “One More Day,” recorded by Diamond Rio. He has other songs recorded by artists Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, Chris Young and Josh Turner.

Narmore, a singer/songwriter from Center Star, had the hit song “That’s What I Love about Sunday,” which earned the title of most played country song of 2005.

For the complete article please see

Alabama 200 workshops conclude for this year in Fort Payne
The Alabama Bicentennial Commission will hold its last community workshop for 2017 in Fort Payne on Nov. 28 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Little River Canyon Center.

The workshop 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.

For more information about the workshop and how you can be involved, visit or contact Sam Blakely at, 334-242-5864.

Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours on Monday nights in December
Gov. Kay Ivey will open the Governor’s Mansion for candlelight tours on the first three Monday nights in December from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours. “This is the people’s house and I want to share it with them during this special Christmas season,” said Ivey.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day. The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Southern Posies, Lynne Coker Interiors, Invision Events, Hollyhock Gallery, Limerence Design, Hibiscus House & Interiors and Katherine Trantham Interior Design.

Choirs scheduled to perform include the Trinity Presbyterian Church and Tuskegee University Golden Voices on Dec. 4, Albertville High School Vocal Ease on Dec. 11 and Prattville First United Methodist Church on Dec. 18.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and 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 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, 11 and 18. More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours by going online at

Holiday events across Alabama
Great family entertainment highlights holiday celebrations across Alabama. Events include everything from the Galaxy of Lights Tour at the Huntsville Botanical Garden to the lighting of the Christmas tree at the state Capitol in Montgomery. The Governor’s Mansion will also be open for special Christmas candlelight tours on the first three Monday nights in December.

More than 60 historical homes in Opelika will be part of the Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour and Mobile will celebrate New Year’s Eve with their annual MoonPie drop.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following holiday events. For a complete calendar of events listing see

Birmingham- Christmas at Arlington
Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens celebrates the holiday season on Dec. 1-3 with decorations of Christmas past by local floral

Decatur- Christmas Tour of Homes
Decatur’s historic districts will be decorated and several homes will be open for tours during the Christmas Tour of Homes on Saturday, Dec. 9.

Dothan- Victorian Christmas
Celebrate a Victorian Christmas on Sunday, Dec.10 at Landmark Park. Sample turn-of-the-century desserts, sip hot chocolate or cider and try your hand at making traditional Christmas decorations.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach- Christmas lighted boat parade
Enjoy a lighted Christmas boat parade along the intercostal waterway in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on Saturday, Dec.

Huntsville- Galaxy of Lights Tour
The Galaxy of Lights Tour is Nov. 24-Dec. 31 at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. Experience North Alabama’s largest holiday light extravaganza with a two-mile driving tour of the garden.

Mobile- Moon Pie drop
Downtown Mobile welcomes more than 50,000 people each New Year’s Eve for an evening of celebratory activities leading up to the giant 600-pound electric MoonPie drop, laser light show and fireworks at midnight. The celebration begins with the cutting of the world’s largest edible MoonPie, followed by a second-line parade led by the Excelsior Band.

Montgomery- Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting
Governor Kay Ivey will light the state’s official Christmas tree during a special ceremony Friday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps of the state Capitol. Christmas music will be performed by Will and Janet McFarlane, the husband and wife singing and songwriting duo from Muscle Shoals, and the 151st Army Band of the Alabama National Guard.

The Christmas tree is a 35-foot Eastern red cedar grown in Bullock County that was donated by Ray Allen owner of Feather’s Properties. It is adorned with more than 40,000 LED lights and 67 stars representing each of Alabama’s counties.

Montgomery- Candlelight Tours at the Governor’s Mansion
The Governor’s Mansion will be open for special Christmas candlelight tours on the Monday nights of Dec. 4, 11 and 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The historic 1907 Governor’s Mansion will be aglow with holiday lights and decorations.  Admission for the tours is free.

Opelika- Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour
The Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour is Dec. 6-10. Sixty historic homes in downtown Opelika will be transformed with colorful, nostalgic reminders of Christmas past.

Theodore- Magic Christmas in Lights
Bellingrath Gardens and Home presents Magic Christmas in Lights from Nov. 24-Dec. 31. Bellingrath will be ablaze with poinsettias, Christmas mums, snapdragons, and more. Stroll through 3 million sparkling lights and more than 950 displays throughout the 65 acre garden estate.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Featuring a video on your Partner location or event page is a great way to increase engagement. When doing so, remember these guidelines! Your video must first be on YouTube. Links from Facebook, Vimeo, etc. will not be approved. 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. To see how it’s done, check out this quick instructional video:

Need to update your Partner pager? Head over to today!


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