Tourism Tuesdays May 1, 2018

Lynching memorial and museum in Alabama draw crowds, tears
Alabama’s new beachfront park unveiled as a ‘showcase’ for Gulf Shores
A lot in the works as Guntersville prepares for Guntersville Lake HydroFest
Brand USA filmmakers to highlight Shoals music heritage
The South’s best state parks
Dismals Canyon offers hidden natural beauty
More than 1,000 took part in April Walking Tours
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Lynching memorial and museum in Alabama draw crowds, tears
From the article by Beth J. Harpaz on

Tears and expressions of grief met the opening of the nation’s first memorial to the victims of lynching Thursday in Alabama.

Hundreds lined up in the rain to get a first look at the memorial and museum in Montgomery.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice commemorates 4,400 black people who were slain in lynchings and other racial killings between 1877 and 1950. Their names, where known, are engraved on 800 dark, rectangular steel columns, one for each U.S. county where lynchings occurred.

A related museum, called The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, is opening in Montgomery.

Many visitors shed tears and stared intently at the commemorative columns, many of which are suspended in the air from above.

Toni Battle drove from San Francisco to attend. “I’m a descendant of three lynching victims,” Battle said, her face wet with tears. “I wanted to come and honor them and also those in my family that couldn’t be here.”

Ava DuVernay, the Oscar-nominated film director, told several thousand people at a conference marking the memorial launch to “to be evangelists and say what you saw and what you experienced here. … Every American who believes in justice and dignity must come here … Don’t just leave feeling like, ‘That was amazing. I cried.’ … Go out and tell what you saw.”

As for her own reaction, DuVernay said: “This place has scratched a scab. It’s really open for me right now.”

Angel Smith Dixon, who is biracial, came from Lawrenceville, Georgia, to see the memorial.

“We’re publicly grieving this atrocity for the first time as a nation. … You can’t grieve something you can’t see, something you don’t acknowledge. Part of the healing process, the first step is to acknowledge it.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist, told reporters after visiting the memorial that it would help to dispel America’s silence on lynching.

“Whites wouldn’t talk about it because of shame. Blacks wouldn’t talk about it because of fear,” he said.

The crowd included white and black visitors. Mary Ann Braubach, who is white, came from Los Angeles to attend. “As an American, I feel this is a past we have to confront,” she said as she choked back tears.

DuVernay, Jackson, playwright Anna Deavere Smith, the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Congressman John Lewis and other activists and artists spoke and performed at an opening ceremony Thursday night that was by turns somber and celebratory.

Among those introduced and cheered with standing ovations were activists from the 1950s Montgomery bus boycott, Freedom Rider Bernard Lafayette, and one of the original Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford.

“There are forces in America today trying to take us back,” Lewis said, adding, “We’re not going back. We’re going forward with this museum.”

Singer Patti Labelle ended the evening with a soulful rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Other launch events include a “Peace and Justice Summit” featuring celebrities and activists like Marian Wright Edelman and Gloria Steinem in addition to DuVernay.

The summit, museum and memorial are projects of the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based legal advocacy group founded by attorney Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson won a MacArthur “genius” award for his human rights work.

The group bills the project as “the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.”

Several thousand people gave Stevenson a two-minute standing ovation at a morning session of the Peace and Justice Summit. Later in the day, Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, urged the audience to continue their activism beyond the day’s events on issues like ending child poverty and gun violence: “Don’t come here and celebrate the museum … when we’re letting things happen on an even greater scale.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama’s new beachfront park unveiled as a ‘showcase’ for Gulf Shores
From the article by John Sharp on

Sara Beth Sennett enjoys a lazy day at Alabama’s sugar-white sand beaches more than anyone else. But with an energetic 4-year-old son, the Orange Beach mother is looking for other things to do.

“We usually go to a basic beach with nothing,” Sennett said. “But the fact there is a green field here and a play area, it’s really nice.”

Sennett’s son, Corbin, was running around the sandy playground that is a featured part of a $15 million makeover to the Gulf Shores public beachfront. A ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday officially unveiled the public park, which is the second phase of the overall project, that now anchors Alabama’s most visible beach.

The unveiling comes just one month before the start of the busy summer traveler season that fuels Alabama’s $13.3 billion tourism industry.

“This is the first major redo of what we’ve had in this area in well over 50 years,” Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said.

Said Lee Sentell, the state’s director of tourism: “What people remember primarily as a parking lot at the south end of Highway 59 has been transformed into a pedestrian-friendly beach destination where families can play together close to the surf.”

Indeed, the changes are more noticeable than what visitors have encountered before. The new park greets visitors to the main entry-point of the city’s beach and includes green space, a 20-foot-wide beachfront boardwalk, shade structures, the playground and new landscaping featuring plenty of palm trees.

“This project really showcases what we have here in Gulf Shores,” said City Councilman Jason Dyken. “I believe this open space and what we have created here, that it will become a new city central area on the beach.”

The newly unveiled portion is located in the most visible stretch of the city’s public beach area, just west of the iconic Hangout restaurant at Alabama 59 and Beach Boulevard. The area is a hub for shopping, dining, festivals, and sightseeing attracting 350,000 visitors annually, for an annual estimated regional economic impact of more than $100 million.

As city spokesman Grant Brown has said, “it’s probably the most traveled place in the state.”

Dyken said the city’s beachfront is poised to continue adding new development. In the works, he said, is a new full-service hotel and conference center that will be built across West Beach Boulevard from the newly minted park. “It will be a jewel here on the coast,” he said.

Other future projects include more retail and residential development and a parking deck.

Meanwhile, there have been upgrades to West Beach Boulevard that include a center median, bike lane and wider sidewalks. The project, city officials have said, was aimed at improving pedestrian and cyclist access which had grown difficult in recent years as traffic congestion through the area has increased.

“The main focus was improved access to the beach,” Craft said. “As much as we are aware of the economic return on investment, we are aware that our citizens need a safe and easy way to get to the beach.”

The project was split into three phases. The first phase, completed about one year ago, includes new landscaping, expanded parking, renovated restrooms, new seating and shade structures and a new beach safety headquarters.

The third and final phase will begin in the fall and will open in about one year. It will include the further extension of the beachfront boardwalk past the Phoenix All Suites condominiums. A new parking lot and a new beachside police station will be added.

The entire project was first added in the city’s Vision 2025 plan, approved in 2014. Plans to revitalize the beachfront date back more than 13 years after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina caused damage to the Gulf Coast.

In recent years, the plans for a redesigned beachfront were discussed at town hall meetings, with the public providing insight on what they wanted to see at the beach.

“This is really your plan that we have executed,” said Councilman Phillip Harris. “We have a unique space here that is unparalleled anywhere on the Gulf Coast. This is your beach, and I hope you are all proud of this space as we are.

“Gulf Shores, along with Orange Beach, remain Alabama’s top tourism draws. Summer visitors to Alabama’s coast continue to be a main reason why the state continues with its record-breaking pace each year for tourism.”

The beaches draw 5 to 6 million people annually, and the number has only risen each year since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill nearly crippled coastal tourism.

Craft, during his remarks, said the beach revitalization project faced obstacles from the oil spill and the economic downturn that occurred around the same time.

But, he said, “we never lost sight of the vision and the value this place could create and the opportunities we have here.”

For the complete article please see

A lot in the works as Guntersville prepares for Guntersville Lake HydroFest
From the article by Laura Christmas on  (WHNT-News19)

One of Guntersville’s oldest and most popular tourism events returns to the lake this summer after decades with the Guntersville Lake HydroFest, and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to prepare for it.

“We’re very excited,” Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau president Katy Norton said. “Of course every championship race with the H1 Unlimited hydroplanes has a name, and so we have named ours The Race for the Southern Cup.

“Guntersville Lake HydroFest will be the biggest event in Marshall County this summer, with two classes of hydroplanes racing at speeds of 200 miles per hour as they compete in the first points race to be held in Alabama since 1969.

“The entire hydroplane family is looking forward to Guntersville as our kick-off event in 2018,” said Charlie Grooms, Vice Chairman of H1 Unlimited, the national governing body for hydroplane racing. “The community has done an excellent job of getting things together for a fantastic racing weekend.”

There’s a lot to do before the races thunder into Marshall County. “A lot of activity is going on behind the scenes as we prepare for this event,” Norton said, “We’re coordinating everything from cranes to food vendors, to making sure we take care of all of our sponsors, so a lot of that is going on behind the scenes.”

Boat racing used to be held on the lake decades ago, so that makes this event even more special. “Alabama is celebrating its bicentennial, and this was the first event that we held on our lake, and we are just really thrilled to be bringing it back during this summer’s celebration,” Norton said.

Guntersville joins other cities, like Detroit’s APBA Gold Cup and Tri-Cities HAPO Columbia Cup, in naming this celebrated event.

“The Guntersville Lake HydroFest features a new trophy soon to be coveted by all—The Southern Cup. The H1 Unlimited Hydroplanes will race for the Southern Cup at this extreme event on the South’s fastest water,” said Larue Kohl, 2018 Guntersville Lake HydroFest Chairman.

The event is slated for June 22-24.

For the complete article please see

Brand USA filmmakers to highlight Shoals music heritage
From the article by Russ Corey on

Filmmakers from Brand USA, a national organization that markets the United States as an international travel destination, are documenting the Shoals music heritage in an effort to increase international tourism in the area and the state.

The video will highlight Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia.

According to Brand USA marketing research, American music is the number one interest to international travelers to the Southeast.

For the complete article please see

The South’s best state parks
From the article by Carrie Rollwagen on

Editor’s Note: America is blessed with an abundance of beautiful state parks. This is an excerpt from an article in the May 2018 issue.

Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, AL
Over 50 miles of trails crisscross this park near Birmingham. Take in the incredible overlook at Kings Chair; swim at the base of the 65-foot-tall Peavine Falls; or rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to fish in the park’s lakes. Bikers will find a pump track and Alabama’s oldest continuously running BMX track at Oak Mountain. Flip Side Watersports, which features one of the longest wakeboard cables in North America, attracts amateurs and professionals. For more information about Alabama parks go

For the complete article please see

Dismals Canyon offers hidden natural beauty
From the article by Tom Smith on

The Dismals Canyon is a secluded wilderness filled with natural wonders nestled deep within the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northwest Alabama.

The canyon is an 85-acre privately owned Natural Conservatory that was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975 by the U.S. park service’s National Natural Landmarks Programs.

The Dismals Canyon is one of more than a dozen area attractions featured in the Alabama Bicentennial PastPort project, which offers a guide for visitors at Alabama sites with historical significance.

The PastPort is a 174-page book available at welcome centers, the Alabama Department of Archives and History, various commercial outlets and online at Cost is $10 each.

Dismals Branch flows through the canyon and empties into a pool at Rainbow Falls.

Tourists can enjoy a 1.5-mile hiking trail along the canyon floor that follows the stream. Ferns and giant trees highlight the trial.

The Dismals are located at 901 County Rd 8, Phil Campbell, AL.

The park is currently only open on weekends — Friday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, call 205-993-4559 or go to

More than 1,000 took part in April Walking Tours
More than 1,000 people across the state took part in the April Walking Tours program this year. The towns who have reported their numbers include: Mooresville, 145; Fairhope, 136; Cullman, 104; Decatur, 95; Foley, 75; Athens, 67; Huntsville, 53; Tuscumbia, 51; Madison, 45; Sheffield, 38; Elkmont, 36; Mobile, 26; Moulton, 19; Attalla, 16; Elba, 14; Prattville, 8; Courtland 7. Several of the towns had to cancel the first two Saturdays of the walking tours because of storms.

Media coverage of the April Walking Tours included the Associated Press, ABC, U.S. News & World Report, San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, Yellowhammer News, The Decatur Daily, Florence Times Daily, Moulton Advertiser, The News-Courier, Limestone Ledger, Sand Mountain Reporter, The Clay County Dispatch, Moulton Advertiser,  The Cullman Times, Troy Messenger, St. Clair News-AEGIS, Selma Times Journal, Anniston Star, WSFA- NBC 12, WBRC-FOX 6, WAAY- ABC 31, WVTM- NBC 13, WKRG- CBS 5, WVUA-23, WNCF- NBC 5; WVTM- ABC 9, WJTV-CBS 12, WIAT- CBS 42, WTVY- CBS 4.

Some 30 towns across the state participated in the April Walking Tours that were coordinated by the Alabama Tourism Department each Saturday morning during April. The free tours were based around the historic districts or courthouse square areas of the participating towns. The hour-long tours started at 10 a.m. on April 7, 14, 21 and 28.

Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours were: Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Attalla, Gazebo at 4th St. and 5th Ave.; Bayou La Batre, Mariner Park; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Courtland, Courtland Heritage Museum; Cullman, Cullman County Museum; Decatur, Rose Garden at Delano Park; Elba, Chamber of Commerce; Elkmont, Elkmont Depot; Enterprise, The Rawls Hotel; Eutaw, Prairie Avenue; Eufaula, Eufaula Barbor County Chamber of Commerce; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations; Foley, Welcome Center.

Huntsville, Confectionary Shop at Constitution Village (April 7 & 14 only); Livingston, McConnell Field on University of West Alabama campus; Madison, Madison Roundhouse (April 21 & 28 only); Mobile, Welcome Center at The History Museum of Mobile; Monroeville, Old Courthouse Museum; Montgomery, Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Mooresville, Post Office; Moulton, Lawrence County Archives; Pell City, City Hall; Prattville, Prattaugan Museum; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Shelby, Iron Works Park; Troy, Pike County Chamber of Commerce; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore.

The tours are being coordinated by Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department. “Alabama is the only state in the nation to hold statewide, simultaneous walking tours. These walking tours are a great way to get out and enjoy the spring weather and find out about the history of our state. More than 35,000 people have participated in the walking tours since the beginning of the program 15 years ago, and the tours keep increasing in popularity every year,” Jones said.

More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
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Time to register! Follow the link to get started.


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