Tourism Tuesdays Nov. 26, 2019

Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours Monday night

Welcome Center relocates

Welcome Centers Open House

Hunters, anglers give Black Belt region $1.1 billion boost

Alabama Music Hall of Fame announces 2020 inductees

Bellingrath readies for Magic Christmas in Lights

Visit Mobile honors USA hospitality and tourism management department

Beer in the South: Hunting for good suds in Huntsville

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours Monday night
The Governor’s Mansion opens for candlelight tours Monday night 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.

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 Tea Olive Designs, Lynne Coker Interiors, CCI Premier ReDesign/Staging, Burrow Interior Design, Patrick Martin and Monday Morning Master Gardener Group.

Choirs and singers scheduled to perform include the Prattville First United Methodist Church Choir on Dec. 2, Albertville High School Show Choir on Dec. 9 and Kimberley and Darrell Glover on Dec. 16.

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. 2, 9 and 16. More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours by going online at

Welcome Center relocates
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is building an all new Welcome Center for those coming into Alabama on Interstate 85 from Georgia.

The Lanett Welcome Center will temporarily be relocated to the U.S.A. Town Center in Opelika. It will be there until the current ‘70s era building is demolished and rebuilt. Plans are for the Welcome Center to be in the temporary site for approximately 18 to 24 months. ALDOT hopes the project is completed by Summer of 2021.

The new Welcome Center, which will be built on the old site, will include a larger area for tourism and restrooms and will comply with ADA regulations.

The address of the Lanett Welcome Center’s temporary location is: U.S.A. Town Center, Suite 115, 1220 Fox Run Ave., Opelika, AL 36801

Welcome Centers Open House
The Welcome Centers of Alabama invite you to join them this year during the holiday season. Each center will have an open house in December.

Open House celebrations will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (CST)

• Lanett Welcome Center Dec. 5
• Ardmore Welcome Center Dec. 10
• Sumter Welcome Center Dec. 11
• Cleburne, DeKalb and Baldwin Welcome Centers Dec. 12
• Houston Welcome Center Dec. 17
• Grand Bay Welcome Center Dec. 18

Hunters, anglers give Black Belt region $1.1 billion boost
From the article by Alice Jackson on

Hunters and anglers visiting the 23 counties in the Alabama Black Belt had an economic impact of $1.1 billion on the region in 2018, according to a study by Southeast Research of Montgomery released at a press conference Wednesday.

Those outdoorsmen and women supported 24,716 jobs in the region that paid $364 million in salaries and wages. State and local taxes paid by those who spent their dollars in the Black Belt while hunting and fishing amounted to $62 million with $28 million going to the Alabama Education Trust Fund, the report said.

“This study shows that outdoor tourism is an incredible economic driver for the Black Belt,” said Thomas A. Harris, founder and president of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, a not-for-profit organization that works to market the region to outdoors enthusiasts across the nation. “The 24,000-plus jobs created are very important to the citizens in the region, many of whom might not have other employment opportunities. The local communities and our state are collecting $62 million in taxes that benefit everyone in the region. We’re proud that this year we’re celebrating 10 years of helping attract hunters and anglers and others who want to vacation in the Black Belt to enjoy the outdoors.”

According to the study, 1.2 million hunters in Alabama spent an estimated $3.2 billion in 2018. Statewide, an estimated 73,500 jobs were supported by hunters and anglers and $185 million was generated for state and local taxes with $84 million going to the Education Trust Fund.

Southeast Research used data from a national study from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association for its economic impact report. The company also polled hunting and fishing licensees who had shared their email addresses with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, assuming those to be representative of the total data file of hunters and anglers.

The survey also showed more than 40% of everyone who hunted in Alabama in 2018 were hunting in the Black Belt. Of non-residents hunting in the state, 66% were in the Black Belt. Hunters and anglers spent an estimated six million days hunting and 2.3 million days fishing in the Black Belt.

Southeast’s findings showed there were 363,900 visitors to the Black Belt in 2018 with 175,800 spending at least one night. The total number of overnight stays was 2.89 million, with 57,200 nights spent at a commercial lodge, 276,900 nights spent in a hotel/motel and 433,100 nights spent at a campground in a recreational vehicle. Just over half of the visitors — 50.6% — own or rent property in the Black Belt. The total amount of lodging taxes generated by hunters and anglers in the Black Belt was almost $1.4 million.

The study showed the Black Belt brand has a great deal of value among out-of-state hunters. Days spent hunting in the Black Belt was almost unchanged from a 2011 study at 66% and days spent fishing in the region increased by 11 percentage points to 29%.

The ALBBAA also unveiled two new 30-second TV advertisements that will reach 24% of the nation’s household viewers. Gray Television, which acquired Raycom Media early this year, will continue Raycom’s partnership with ALBBAA in broadcasting the commercials sharing the Black Belt’s outdoor tourism message on its almost 150 affiliates.

A book signing for “Black Belt Bounty,” a new coffee table book published for the 10th anniversary of the ALBBAA to commemorate the traditions of hunting and fishing in the Black Belt region, was held immediately following the press conference. Among the contributors to the deluxe hardcover book on hand were James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris and several wildlife artists, photographers and outdoors writers.

The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association is committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its citizens.

For the complete article please see

Alabama Music Hall of Fame announces 2020 inductees
From the article by Russ Corey on

A well-known, Grammy Award winning Shoals artist, a Birmingham entrepreneur, a Montgomery rhythm and blues pioneer, and a Grammy winning film and television composer will be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in January.

The 2020 inductees include:
• Gary Baker, a songwriter/producer/bassist from Sheffield, known for co-writing the Grammy-winning smash hit “I Swear” with Frank J. Myers.

• Mervyn Warren, a five-time Grammy Award winner and 10 time nominee from Huntsville, whose work crosses into several genres.

• Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, a Montgomery native known as the first artist to record Lieber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog,” which became her biggest hit.

• Elton B. Stephens, a businessman born in Barbour County who was instrumental in the rebirth of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

The 2020 induction banquet will return to the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence on Saturday, Jan. 25.

“We are excited about this slate of inductees because it demonstrates the diversity of the musical genres represented by Alabama’s music achievers,” hall of fame board Chairwoman Sara Hamlin said. “This will be a night to remember.”

Baker said he didn’t know if he would ever be inducted in the hall of fame since he is a native of New York state. But he’s spent the better part of his life, 42 years, in the Shoals.

“I’m really excited,” Baker said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. When I told my family, I told them it’s like winning a Grammy to me. I didn’t know if they’d let an ex-Yankee come in, but here I am.”

Baker is originally from Niagara Falls, New York, and moved to the Shoals to record with the LeBlanc and Carr Band. He later joined the group The Shooters and founded Noiseblock Recording Studio in downtown Florence.

“I hope I can continue to do right and hold down my end of the deal,” said Baker, who would like to perform at the event.

A resident of Sheffield, Baker said he will have several friends, some fellow musicians, attending the induction banquet.

Mervyn Warren is a highly accomplished film and TV composer, record producer, arranger, songwriter/lyricist, pianist and vocalist.

He has worked with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Barbara Streisand, Rascal Flatts, Chicago, Queen Latifah, Al Jarreau, Faith Hill and many more.

His numerous production credits include pop, rhythm and blues, jazz and country music.

Warren has composed scores for several feature films including “The Wedding Planner,” “A Walk To Remember” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” He’s written arrangements for Quincy Jones, David Foster, the late Arif Mardin and many others.

He was a founding member of the a capella group Take 6, which formed in Huntsville in 1988. The band won four Grammy Awards, six Dove Awards, two Stellar Awards and a Soul Train Award.

Warren lives in Los Angeles, California.

The daughter of a Baptist preacher, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton’s rhythm and blues style was heavily influenced by the gospel music she listened to while growing up. Her musical education began in the church, then continued when she discovered R&B singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie.

Her performances were characterized by her deep, powerful voice and strong sense of self. Scholars have praised Thornton for subverting the traditional roles of African-American women. She added a gutsy female voice to a field that was dominated by white males and her strong personality derailed stereotypes.

She wrote several blues songs, including “Ball ‘n Chain,” which is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the “500 Songs that shaped Rock and Roll.” She was the first person to record Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Hound Dog” which became her biggest hit. The song was also recorded by Elvis Presley in 1956.

Presley and Janis Joplin were said to be big fans of her work and incorporated aspects of her performances into their own work.

Born in Barbour County, Alabama in 1911, Elton B. Stephens founded Military Service Co. in 1944 with $5,000. It later became EBSCO Industries, which is now one of the top companies in Birmingham.

Stephens formed the Metropolitan Arts Council in Birmingham in 1986 and in 1995, he initiated a $15 million campaign to restore the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to the stages and schools of the greater Birmingham area. His generosity and leadership encouraged others in the community to assist the orchestra.

Stephens died in February 2005.

Alabama Music Hall of Fame Director Sandra Burroughs said tables for the induction banquet can be purchased for $2,500-$5,000.

“This banquet celebrates our amazing music achievers,” Burroughs said. “It is also our biggest fundraiser and we have always had tremendous support from music lovers throughout the state. Some of our former sponsors have already reached out about the 2020 Banquet.”

Judy Hood, a member of the hall of fame board of directors, said specific ticket information will be released in early December. Hood has been involved in the last three banquets that have been held in the Shoals.

“We expect another sellout,” Hood said.

The show will include performances related to the four inductees and also special guest performers who will be announced closer to the show, she said.

For the complete article please see

Bellingrath readies for Magic Christmas in Lights
From the article by Lawrence Specker on

You’d better believe that there’s more to Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens and Home than simply flipping a switch.

By day, Bellingrath is one of the Mobile area’s top tourist attractions. Its seasonal light display extends its appeal into the night, with somewhere around 3 million lights used in 1,100 set pieces throughout the immaculately groomed 65-acre estate. It opens Friday, Nov. 29 (after a preview party on Nov. 24 that’s open to the public) and runs through Dec. 31, closed only on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

“Putting on the show is a year-round effort,” said Melissa Wells, Magic Christmas in Lights supervisor. Wells explained the process Thursday as she and two assistants made the rounds, replacing dead bulbs and adjusting the lines on angels and other custom-built displays.

“We probably have, I’m going to guess, at least 20 breaker boxes,” Wells said. “For me to turn on the power takes a solid hour, and that’s riding around on a golf cart.” An employee once compared the process to “Mr. Toad’s wild ride,” she said.

Wells, in her sixth year as supervisor said, “the scope of the process is vast.” “When the show ends every year, just taking everything down and storing it takes around six weeks.”

“We can’t leave anything out,” she said. Aside from fading and other problems related to weather exposure, “squirrels like to chew up our cords,” she said.

Then she and her crew spend much of the year replacing thousands and thousands of tiny incandescent bulbs. “They don’t re-use them year to year,” she said, “because the colors fade and reliability drops.”

Some of that headache is going away as Bellingrath continues an ongoing shift to LED lighting. The appeal of LEDs for an enterprise like this is much the same as it is for individual homeowners: “The idea is, we’re going to have brighter colors that last longer,” said Wells. LEDs also lower power usage.

Until recently, it was harder for Bellingrath staff to wire up customized LED strands in-house; the switch to a type of strand that allows that is a recent development. LEDs still don’t come in as many shades as incandescent lights, so it’ll be a while before that transition is complete. That means Wells spends a lot of time, by day as well as by night, on an eagle-eyed hunt for dead bulbs.

Throughout the year, Belligrath staff design and build new figures, with the maintenance staff welding up new frames. The process of putting everything out begins in August, when crews start wrapping trees.

It’s not hard work “but you definitely have to enjoy the outdoors,” Wells said.

“One of our biggest worries when we start putting the show out is hurricanes,” she said. “We do worry a lot about that.”

By November, it’s practically an all-hands-on-deck effort, with maintenance and grounds workers also involved.

Wells said that as usual, there will be some new features to keep the latest show fresh for return visitors. One is “supernova” lights in the North Pole display that are animated to mimic snowfall.

Wells offered one tip to local visitors: 3,500 to 5,000 nightly visitors are expected on Fridays and Saturdays, but Sunday and Monday evenings tend to be the most lightly attended.

Tom McGehee, Museum Home Director, encouraged visitors to remember that the 15-room house will be open nightly. Where visitors find their own way through the Gardens, the Home features tours conducted by guides who inform guests about Walter and Bessie Bellingrath and the story of how their home became a public attraction that has endured long after their deaths.

That story is “something you don’t get when you’re just walking through the gardens,” said McGehee. And the home will be decorated for the Christmas season as well.

The Magic Christmas in Lights Preview will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24. The Preview is a fundraiser for the Bellingrath Gardens and Home Foundation, a nonprofit that assists with Gardens enhancements, special events, educational programs and capital projects. Tickets are $50 per person, which includes heavy hors d’ouevres, beer and wine; they can be purchased online at or by calling 251-459-8868.

Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens and Home opens Nov. 29 and runs through Dec. 31, closed only on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for children ages 5-12. Children ages 4 and younger are admitted free. Additional attractions include appearances by Santa is in the Magnolia Café every night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. until Dec. 23. The café is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, and from 4 to 8 p.m. nightly.

Bellingrath is closed on Thanksgiving Day.

For the complete article please see

Visit Mobile honors USA hospitality and tourism management department
From the article by Alice Jackson on

Visit Mobile, the city’s official point of contact for leisure travelers, convention and meeting planners, bus tour operators and travel agents, has named the department of hospitality and tourism management at the University of South Alabama (USA) as recipient of its 2019 Hospitality Partner of the Year award.

Visit Mobile recognized the department, which prepares students for careers in a variety of businesses, including the hotel industry as well as nonprofits and government agencies that promote tourism and travel, for its strategic workforce recruitment development and sustainability plan for the area’s hospitality and tourism industry.

Dr. Robert Thompson, department chair, and Dr. Evelyn Green, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, said the award is affirmation that the department’s business-education partnership model approach is successful in meeting the needs of the industry. Outside the classroom, students regularly interact with local businesses through volunteerism, internships, mentoring, guest lectures and industry networking. Gaining on-the-job experience has helped the department’s graduates achieve a 92 percent industry job placement rate.

“As much as this award recognizes our faculty and staff, the recognition also belongs to all our industry partners,” Green said. “It is this symbiotic relationship that allows the program to strengthen instruction and enrich the education process for the students.”

Thompson noted that for years the area suffered from a workforce shortage, particularly during high visitor periods. However, since USA started the department several years ago, talent recruitment has addressed the gaps in workplace training and development needs with the establishment of the Hospitality & Tourism Workforce Innovation Alliance. The unit of the University’s Office of Research & Economic Development, supported by USA’s College of Education and Professional Studies, is a catalyst for public-private collaboration to ensure workforce growth and sustainability for the hospitality and tourism industry with special emphasis on the Gulf Coast region.

The alliance “creates ‘check us out’ opportunities for high school students through summer work programs, such as Y.E.S. to Hospitality, offered by the city of Mobile and USA for Baldwin County hospitality employers,” Thompson said. “These programs also serve as recruitment opportunities for hospitality and tourism management where students are groomed for future leadership and managerial roles.”

Thompson added, “Once placed in the workplace, USA continues to serve our graduates and help our employers invest in their human capital through customized professional development training offered through Serving Southern Hospitality certification workshops.”?

For the complete article please see

Beer in the South: Hunting for good suds in Huntsville
From the article by James Roberts on

The South, or at least Huntsville and Nashville grew up immensely in terms of craft beer since my last visit to that area about five years ago.

If you’re a regular follower of my foamy drivel, you’ll know that I hate to travel. You’ll also know that business takes me outside of Alaska on occasion, and despite being a miserable traveler, new beer is often the reward at the destination and I do a lot of homework to make sure I can spend more time drinking the local beer in various communities than searching for it.

I would never visit Huntsville by choice, but during my first visit, I was able to discover three breweries and one in the making. Local grog shops featured more outside beer than Alabama beer and the ubiquitous growler bar as unheard of back then. Nashville wasn’t too far ahead, although I did enjoy a little more diversity there.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying the beer then was bland and insipid, but it certainly didn’t wow my palate like it does up here in Alaska. I’m forgiving in that respect when I travel; regional palates reflect the tastes of their areas, and not everyone is enamored with the big, bold, enticing beer we Alaskans take for granted.

With a jaded palate, I discovered that IPAs back then were emergent and few good examples stood out. I especially noticed this in hop aroma and flavor. The southern style of IPA back then packed the requisite bitterness for the style, but missing was the complex, intermingling spicy elements that make these beers so exciting. The blondes and pilsners were lacking the crisp punch and balance I was accustomed to and I was surprised to discover that despite more hot weather, the southerners had a real penchant for flavored dark beers including coffee, chocolate and notably, pecan stouts and porters. There just wasn’t a lot of middle ground.

Conspicuously absent back then were Belgian, brettanomyces and sour beers. For many, these styles are an acquired taste. Again, no indictment; it’s just fun to watch a regional palate evolve.

I attended a very agenda-filled conference in Huntsville. Despite being consumed by the conference and the requisite social trappings during the evenings, arriving a full day early and getting away later in the evening allowed me to sample 47 different local beers there to get a feel for how far beer’s come along since my original visit.

Disclaimer: I did not drink 47 pints of beer in three days. Instead I visited breweries and tasting locations where I could order samplers, which typically range between two and five ounces per pour, and even then, I’d often turn back the samples unfinished, which raised some eyebrows and the inevitable question “what, you don’t care for our beer here?”

“Oh, no; that’s not it at all,” I’d reply. “I’m not here to get hammered; I want to sample as many beers as I can during my visit and be able to walk away to the next place and still enjoy the beer. Here’s a hint, though: the beers returned with empty glasses turned out to be my favorite.”

That always resulted in a warming southern smile from servers who I find as a whole are proud of their beer and know what they’re serving. In many cases, they’ve got us beat up here with that feature.

This time in Huntsville, I found out that the beers are still “softer” in terms of bold and robust flavors and less aggressive than what you and I might enjoy, but I found many more standouts.

The laws in the south are different too. Visiting a recommended liquor store for some singles to bring back to the room with me, with low expectations, I entered the unassuming stucco storefront at Liquor Express and Craft Beer and my jaw dropped when I discovered untold local beer variety, but better yet, over 100 beers on tap that I could sit at a bar in the liquor store and enjoy on the spot, then take a crowler or growler away with me. The barkeep knew her beers down to the hop, malt and yeast level, resulting in me spending a couple of hours in the store; something that never happens up here.

The selection was not only primarily local, but the outsiders include very high-end beer, making choosing my samples challenging when I want to focus on Alabama beer. I don’t think I could live in Huntsville, but I could certainly do a lot more drinking there.

I got a late start when I drove from Huntsville to Nashville, and with just a night and a day, I had to hustle to get through the 45 beers I sampled there.

I didn’t discover a vast difference between beer in Huntsville and Nashville, but there seemed to be a lot more of it in the latter location. The IPAs have the same, more subtle approach. The servers in Huntsville get the nod for not only a slightly deeper hospitality and a more intimate knowledge of their suds. Although our local grog shops up here feature craft beer a little more readily, the good stuff in the south seems to be cloistered in high end specialty beer stores. Still, I never had to go far in either location to find an abundance of local craft beer.

This go-round – in both locations – I found more specialty craft beers. Tailgate Brewery in Nashville has as many sour beers on their menu than they do IPAs. I still didn’t find a huge influx of funky brett beers except in specialty breweries that featured them.

On a parting note – and as a nod to the emerging importance of craft beer in the south, the Nashville International Airport boasts four different kiosks featuring a local brewery. We’ve got Silver Gulch and Humpy’s in our airport — and these are solid venues — but ply the crowd equally with extensive food menus in a more sit down and stay format. This isn’t a differentiator, but the people in the Nashville airport crowded these kiosks just to grab a pint of something local and unique on the run, so the focus is entirely on the beer.

I was blown away at Yazoo Brewing’s kiosk. The busy server there stopped what she was doing when I pointed out that the menu offered six, 5-ounce samplers in addition to the standard pint format. The server – a cute southern lass that punctuated every sentence with “sir” – pointed out that the sampler feature wasn’t available at the airport. She didn’t have the smaller sampler glasses, but said “hon, you just wait right here,” as she locked her register, dashed over to another food kiosk and commandeered small sample glasses just for me. I wanted to give her a big hug, but compensated her with a more generous tip instead.

Two of the samples included a seasonal cinnamon milk stout which was incredibly well done and didn’t come across as an alcoholic flavored latte – something I get a lot of in the easily overdone style – and an incredibly well balanced dark smoked beer named ‘Sue’ that seemed to be a local favorite.

“We like everything smoked down here, so why not in a beer?” my server quipped.

Again, I don’t think I could live in the south – or anywhere outside of Alaska for that matter – but I could sure spend a ton of time drinking local craft beer there.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
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