Tourism Tuesdays June 5, 2018


Gulf State Park Interpretive Center, pedestrian bridge open
Science-themed bar coming to Pepper Place
Andrew Zimmern returns to Birmingham to film new show
New boulevard means connectivity to Huntsville’s arts
Gardens of Myth opens at Huntsville Botanical Garden
Alabama tours in December already selling out
Restaurants, sign up now for Alabama Restaurant Week 2018
Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Gulf State Park Interpretive Center, pedestrian bridge open
From the article by David Rainer on

Editor’s note: David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

A glimpse of the rebirth of Gulf State Park’s beachside facilities was revealed by Gov. Kay Ivey last week during an unveiling of the park’s Interpretive Center and East Pedestrian Bridge.

Gov. Ivey, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship and other dignitaries cut the ribbon to the entrance of the Interpretive Center and Pedestrian Bridge, two significant parts of the Gulf State Park Enhancement Project located adjacent to the park’s Beach Pavilion.

As work continues to restore the facilities that were basically wiped out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the much-anticipated Lodge and Conference Center are expected to open in late fall of this year.

Blankenship said last week’s dedication was the first of many events that will occur at Gulf State Park to reveal the additions and renovations to this cherished area on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

“I’m sure you have very special memories of your experiences here at Gulf State Park,” Blankenship said. “This is a very special place to me. I’m proud to be the Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and oversee all our great state parks, including Gulf State Park. That’s one of the highlights of my job.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 3 years old, when we moved to Mobile from north Alabama. I have such great memories of the campground, the beach, the old pavilion and the old lodge and conference center. This is a great place. My daughter was married right out here on the beach. But this park is more than just the beach. At Gulf State Park, we have dunes, lakes, marshes, maritime forests, uplands, pine tree groves, oak bottoms, deer, raccoons, alligators, beach mice, insects like butterflies, and birds of all kinds, including birds of prey.”

In addition to the cabins and cottages, Blankenship listed the activities at Gulf State Park, including camping, hiking, biking, walking, swimming, fishing, boating, crabbing, birding, shelling, golfing, nature education, family gatherings and just relaxing.

For Gov. Ivey, that special status extends the length of the state.

“Alabama is indeed a special place we call home,” Gov. Ivey said. “From the Tennessee Valley, we have the beautiful mountains. In Birmingham, we have world-class food. We see the speed of the race cars at Talladega, and on down to the beautiful waters of the Gulf Coast.

“Let’s be honest. On a day like today, this is where everybody wants to be – in Gulf Shores. There’s no other place on the Gulf Coast that is more perfect and beautiful. That’s the reason we want to protect and continue to grow this part of our state.”

Ivey explained why the Interpretive Center and the East Pedestrian Bridge are crucial parts of the Gulf State Park Enhancement Project.

“Both are important to the public’s access to Gulf State Park and to cementing Gulf State Park as a world-class facility and premier tourist destination on the Gulf Coast,” Ivey said. “The Interpretive Center will be the launching point for the 28 miles of trails in the park. The Interpretive Center will have a variety of interactive exhibits telling the story of the natural history of this part of the state and how our ecology has evolved over time.

“The Pedestrian Bridge will be one of two bridges here. Visitors and citizens alike have told us loud and clear that we must make it possible to have a safe passage through this beautiful property. The new bridge will provide safe crossing over the East Beach Boulevard and serve as an entrance for the neighbors in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.”

Ivey said the environmentally sensitive aspects of the buildings and facilities at Gulf State Park set an example for sustainable tourism throughout the world.

Bill Bennett of Valor Hospitality, which is under contract to operate the new additions at Gulf State Park, said the sustainable aspects of the projects will generate about five percent more power and water than what the facilities need to operate. The Interpretive Center has been certified as a Living Building, passing the most rigorous certification process in the world.

“The building is made from materials that are safe for the planet, safe for the people and are all sourced here,” Bennett said. “The Living Building designation is very significant. In January of 2018, there were only 16 Living Buildings in the entire world, and we’re lucky to have one here on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.”

Matt Leavell, a member of the Gulf State Park Project Development Team at the University of Alabama, said the team faced two hurdles in designing the Interpretive Center, which will include an open-air porch with interpretive exhibits that outline the nine different ecologies present at the park, a multi-use room for education and community events, restroom facilities, bike parking and amphitheater seating. At ground level, visitors can enjoy a water play exhibit and sky-viewing benches.

“The challenge was how do you make this international benchmark (Living Building) and introduce people to everything, not just the beaches,” Leavell said. “Those two challenges caused us the minimize the footprint. We set the building back as far as we could. We worked with a team of scientists to determine how these dunes move and want to grow. Then we created this multi-use space where the community can come and hold events, and we can show them how they can build in the coastal environment. They also get to learn about the park through the interpretive exhibits. The entire park is meant to be educational. That’s part of the park’s mission statement.

“The Interpretive Center is a gateway to the entire park, physically with the bridge and then educationally with the interpretive displays and activities.”

The facilities will also fill a need on the Alabama Gulf Coast that has gone unfulfilled for the past 14 years.

“More than 20 years ago, Mercedes was a game-changer for the auto manufacturing industry in Alabama,” Gov. Ivey said. “These enhancements we’re looking at today to Alabama’s Gulf will be a game-changer for tourism in our state. With Gulf State Park, we’ll keep conferences here in Alabama. Folks won’t have to go to Florida or elsewhere. They’ll stay right here in Alabama. This facility is going to attract visitors from around the world.”

Gov. Ivey said she joined Lee Sentell, Alabama’s Tourism Director, earlier in the week to talk about the good news in the Alabama tourism industry, which grew by seven percent in 2017. Gov. Ivey said for the first time, Alabama had more than 26 million visitors, an increase of 810,000 over 2016. That translated into an economic boost of $1 billion for a total economic impact from tourism of $14.3 billion. That economic expansion included 7,000 new jobs in the travel industry, which now employs 187,000 in Alabama.

“With these improvements, Gulf State Park will truly be a world-class facility and the crown jewel of Alabama’s tourism,” Gov. Ivey said. “I’m proud to lead a state that has so much to offer our visitors. People from around the world want to experience what we have here in Sweet Home Alabama.”

For the complete article please see

Science-themed bar coming to Pepper Place
From the article by Ingrid Schnader in the Birmingham Business Journal:

A science-themed bar and restaurant could open in Pepper Place by the end of July.

Rylie and Tim Hightower are developing Lumbar, named after the human spine, at 212 29th St. S. The father-daughter duo is originally from New Mexico, but Rylie Hightower is currently a graduate student at UAB.

Lumbar would serve as an interactive place where people of all ages could learn about science. Tim Hightower said he plans to open the restaurant early on Saturdays for the farmers’ market patrons and envisions kid-friendly events during those hours. Presentations could include slime-making or learning the hitting metrics behind a baseball game.

Although Tim Hightower said he has seen other science-themed bars and restaurants across the country, he said this one will be unique because of the learning aspect.

“I have never been to a bar that is actually centered around science and the presentation of that science and how it affects everybody here on a daily basis,” he said. “There are some themed places we’ve found around the country, but none that actually promote the education aspect of that.”

Rylie Hightower got the idea for the bar when some of the people she interacted with at UAB, such as lab groups, lab offices and principle investigator offices, expressed a need for a comfortable place to go to where they could eat, drink and have lab meetings. The restaurant will have a space for these lab meetings — tall glass walls will separate the space from the rest of the restaurant, but won’t reach to the ceiling.

This space, also known as The Incubator, will have dry erase markers so that people can write on the glass walls. Tim Hightower said patrons eating at the surrounding tables could look in the room through the glass walls and learn something new.

“Those labs that are at UAB are doing research on stuff that people don’t know about that would be great for people to know about,” he said.

The Incubator could also be used by customers seeking a quieter, more private spot when it is not being used for meetings.

Other elements of the bar will also follow the medical theme. The 26 beer taps will follow the shape of a spine. A 16-foot microscope will be the bar’s self-serve water and coffee station. The bar top will be designed to resemble a laboratory experiment bench.

The bar might also appeal to sports fans — there will be a small number of TVs and projectors to show select sports. They plan for many different seating options, including cozy couches, high-top tables, barstools and family-style farmhouse tables.

Lumbar plans to be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, but Tim Hightower says they may stay open later, depending on the response they get.

Lunch-sized portions will be served all day. Many of the menu items will include green chiles from New Mexico, such as the Green Chile Cheese Burger and the Lumbar Chile Cheese Dog.

“We’re bringing some different food from New Mexico that people aren’t used to,” Tim Hightower said. “So we can bring something new and teach people something that they haven’t seen before.”

There also will be complimentary chips and three seasonal salsa flavors.

Because the bar is science themed, Tim Hightower said the opening will be based on the Apollo 11 launch and landing. The shuttle launched on July 16 in 1969, so Lumbar will have a soft opening on that day. They will have a grand opening on July 20, the same day that the shuttle landed on the moon.

“Our anticipation is really growing,” Tim Hightower said. “Every time I talk about it, people are like, ‘I so want to go to that.’ People are looking for new things to do.”

For the complete article please see

Andrew Zimmern returns to Birmingham to film new show
From the article by Bob Carlton on

Television chef Andrew Zimmern is returning to Birmingham this week to film an episode of his new Travel Channel series, “The Zimmern List.”

Zimmern visited several Birmingham restaurants in 2013 for a memorable episode of his show “Bizarre Foods America,” and three years later, he featured more Magic City eateries in his “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations.”

This time, Zimmern will return to a couple of the restaurants he first visited in 2013, including Eagle’s Restaurant and Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q, as well as visit Highlands Bar and Grill, OvenBird, Saw’s Juke Joint and The Market at Pepper Place.

Crews from “The Zimmern List” are already in town and have been filming B-roll footage at some of the restaurants, and Zimmern will film here Friday through Sunday, according to a producer with the show.

On Saturday morning, Zimmern is scheduled to follow Highlands Bar and Grill executive chef Frank Stitt around as he shops for fresh produce as The Market at Pepper Place, according to Leigh Sloss-Corra, the market’s executive director.

Zimmern’s visit here is yet more national attention for the Birmingham food scene, which is still basking in the glow of Highlands Bar and Grill winning the James Beard Foundation Award as the most outstanding restaurant in America earlier in May.

On Wednesday, The New York Times featured Highlands pastry chef Dolester Miles, who won the James Beard Award for the country’s outstanding pastry chef, on the front of its Food section.

“The Zimmern List,” which is in its first season on the Travel Channel, has been described as “a love letter of sorts” to Zimmern’s favorite food towns and the places he likes to visit in them.”

Previous episodes of the show, which debuted on March 13, have taken Zimmern to New Orleans, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Nashville, Seattle, Chicago, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Austin, Texas.

For the complete article please see

New boulevard means connectivity to Huntsville’s arts
From the article by Renata Di Gregorio on

The ribbon’s been cut, the light is green, and the new gateway to downtown Huntsville is officially open.

The new boulevard connecting Big Spring Park to Twickenham Square isn’t just about paving streets. It’s about connecting people to all of the artistic activities downtown and paving the way toward a more connected community.

Dr. Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard goes from Governor’s Drive to Williams Avenue. Or in other words…

“This is really the heart of downtown Huntsville. Right here,” said Arts Huntsville Executive Director Allison Dillon-Jauken.

As downtowns die across the country, leaders in the Rocket City are making sure theirs stays evergreen.

“For those of us who work in the arts so much of what we do is centrally located here in downtown,” Dillon-Jauken said. “We have the Von Braun Center, we have Huntsville Museum of Art, and we have Big Spring Park which is a huge canvas for the whole arts community. And so this boulevard brings us right to the center of all that activity, all that entertainment, all of that action.”

Connecting people to art and to the community isn’t just for those of you who live here. The Alabama Tourism Department reports last year tourists brought in more than $1 billion to Madison County.

“There are other modes that are coming in, other phases of this,” announced Mayor Tommy Battle.

Battle said the gateway was around five years in the making. Another phase is turning a culvert into a greenway.

“That will be a beautiful opportunity for the extension perhaps of the space and sculpture trail or new public art opportunities in downtown,” said Dillon-Jauken.

They say that’s in the cards, but because of the price tag, not for a while. It’s one step, bike ride, drive at a time, this time through the heart of the city.

For the complete article please see

Gardens of Myth opens at Huntsville Botanical Garden
From the article by Bob Carlton on

Have you ever heard of a kappa? Found in Japanese folklore, these turtle-like creatures usually inhabit rivers and streams, but occasionally they venture out to trade with humans for their favorite snack: cucumbers. Perhaps you’re more familiar with leprechauns, mischievous beings found in Irish folktales who guard pots of treasure and grant wishes if caught.

A Kappa and a leprechaun, as well as goblins, trolls, and other fantastic folk will take up temporary residence in the Huntsville Botanical Garden on June 1 as part of the Gardens of Myth exhibit. This series of sculptures, handmade and painted by Kendall R. Hart, are sure to delight visitors of all ages. Ranging in size from the tiniest fairies to an impressive 25-foot dragon, each piece is accompanied by a sign detailing interesting facts about the creatures, including country or region of origin, habitat, lifespan, and character.

“It was the beauty and fantasy inherent in a botanical garden that first inspired my vision for Gardens of Myth,” says Hart. “Botanical gardens so easily transport us into a world too lovely to believe – really, a fantasy realm.”

Hart, an award-winning sculptor, painter, illustrator, and graphic and web designer, specializes in the sculpture of life-size creatures. Inspired by fantasy and surrealism, his art and design can be found in graphic novels, websites, major haunted attractions, natural history museums, private collections, and, of course, botanical gardens.

Gardens of Myth will be on display at the Huntsville Botanical Garden from June 1 to Oct. 31.

For the complete article please see

Alabama tours in December already selling out
Alabama and several other southern states have offered tour operators attending the Travel South showcase in Nashville trips to their states to research tourism destinations. While the show isn’t until the week after Thanksgiving and the trips not until early December, Alabama is already in demand.

These trips are called “Super Fams” and this is the notice that was on the Travel South website on May 31, Super FAM Tour #1 – Music Legends, Juke Joints & Civil Rights – Sold Out.

Super FAM #1 visits Muscle Shoals, Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham and is one of nine trips offered. Another trip that includes Alabama, FAM #3 with stops in Huntsville and Tennessee is already two-thirds sold out.

“Tour operators use these trips to introduce themselves to destinations they have not visited and believe may be good places to send their clients. A quick sellout is an indication that these tour operators want to research Alabama as the next place to send their clients,” said Grey Brennan, Alabama Tourism Department’s Deputy Director.

Super FAM #1 is the only trip in which all stops are in Alabama.

Another item that is in hot demand for the show is booth space. Destinations that want to attend the Travel South International show in Nashville should reserve their space now as it will sell out. Already Huntsville, Florence, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Gulf Shores have requested space. Other destinations should contact Travel South soon by phone or website.

Restaurants, sign up now for Alabama Restaurant Week 2018
Restaurants, sign up and be a part of the locally owned and operated restaurants that participate in Alabama Restaurant Week 2018. This year the more-than-weeklong event is Aug. 10-19. Last year almost 100 restaurants were a part of the event showcasing local food, fun and flavor.

This year, participating restaurants will receive in-store promotional items and be listed on the website along with their meal offerings. Participating restaurants set meal prices at $10, $20, $30 and $40 for dinner and $10 and $15 for lunch. In all cases, the price is per person and does not include tax, tip and drink. Restaurants have the choice of offering one or more meals at the preset price.

There is no cost for restaurants to participate in this statewide promotion. For more details and sign-up information, please see or contact Courtney Austin at 334-242-4674 or Grey Brennan at 334-242-4545.

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 4-7 at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa.

The conference provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and celebrate achievements.

For an agenda, list of speakers and registration information please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Summer is here which means travelers are making their way to Alabama for family vacations and weekend getaways. Give website visitors a great experience by keeping information and photographs up-to-date on your Partner page. Need an example of an excellent Partner page? Check out Lulu’s!

Ready to update your page? Head over to today!


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