Tourism Tuesday July 7, 2020

Public television will air Bicentennial Park documentary on Aug. 16

Liberty Bell tolls for sites where history is alive and ringing

Ben and Erin Napier announce the town selected for new HGTV series ‘Home Town Takeover’

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach tops 
Lonely Planet’s hottest summer destinations

The perfect weekend getaway: Montgomery from Atlanta

Alabama self-drive vacation included in UK 
Travel Weekly magazine

Alabama’s beaches manage surge of visitors, spike in coronavirus

Montgomery BLM mural artist featured on TODAY

Lincoln begins work on $6 million, 38-acre fishing park

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer

Public television will air Bicentennial Park documentary on Aug. 16

Alabama Public Television will premiere a new documentary on Sunday, Aug. 16 on the creation of the Alabama Bicentennial Park that was unveiled in front of the State Capitol six months ago.

Under the guidance of the Alabama Department of Archives and History and the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Tuscaloosa artist Caleb O’Connor sculpted 16 panels that span the history of Alabama from the era of dinosaurs through the past 200 years and anticipates space travel in the future.

Bicentennial Commission Executive Director Jay Lamar praised the film for giving proper credit to the talented visionaries who managed the project to completion in a relatively short period of time. State Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur, the chair of the commission, said the film will be an important educational resource about Alabama’s history when shown in classrooms for years to come. Orr said financial support from members of the Alabama Legislature and private corporations were largely responsible for building the historic park.

Public television executives released clips that introduce the Tuscaloosa artist and interviews with two civil rights veterans who advised him on the events that occurred. Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1965 shaped the panel representing civil rights history in the state.

FYI, here is a link to a teaser for the documentary:

And the Bloody Sunday Panel Sneak Peek version in process

And here is the park website created by the Department of Archives and History:

The park was revealed on the exact date two hundred years after Congress declared Alabama as the twenty-second state on Dec. 14, 1819. The film will receive its initial airing at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 16.

Liberty Bell tolls for sites where history is alive and ringing
From the article by David Colman on

Little did she know.

Back in the spring of 2019, when the Los Angeles artist and curator Nancy Baker Cahill entered into discussions with Art Production Fund about a public art project to be unveiled on July 4, 2020, her vision was still modest. She wanted to create a piece conceptualized around Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell — that quintessential American symbol of independence.

The piece, “Liberty Bell,” a special 3-D animation of an enormous abstraction shaped like a swaying bell, was planned for Philadelphia. But Ms. Baker Cahill’s chosen medium is the ultralightweight, fast-advancing technology known as augmented reality, and she was used to being ambitious with it. In 2018, she helped curate “Defining Line,” a show of AR artworks along the Los Angeles River that tackled issues including the environment and immigration.

Last year she and Jesse Damiani organized an AR show in New Orleans, “Battlegrounds,” with locations chosen by 24 local artists for their works, from polluted waterways to Confederate statues to slave trade sites around the city. So before long, Ms. Cahill and Casey Fremont, the executive director of Art Production Fund, were wondering if this project could be produced in half a dozen different locales along the Eastern Seaboard. It wouldn’t be that much more work than doing one, right?

Fifteen months and much more work later, “Liberty Bell” is being unveiled on Saturday, in six spots where American history is still being interpreted, its Constitution tested and its identities forged. From north to south, the pieces will be at the site of the Boston Tea Party revolt in Boston; Fort Tilden, the U.S. Army installation in Rockaway, Queens, N.Y.; the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.; Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C. The fifth site, the “Rocky Steps” leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is a civic hub and pop-culture tourist attraction. The sixth location is a civil rights landmark, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where the brutal “Bloody Sunday” attack on demonstrators took place in 1965 by police officers blocking their march to Montgomery, the state capital.

The timing of Ms. Baker Cahill’s project looks purpose-built for the summer of 2020, when public opinion has been radically rethinking what statues and sculptures merit monument status. Indeed, this month has seen a forceful movement to strip Selma’s bridge of its name — that of Edmund Pettus, a U.S. senator, Confederate officer in the Civil War and Ku Klux Klan grand dragon — and rename it for the longtime civil rights leader and Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, who was injured during the march.

Ms. Baker Cahill’s project is fortuitously timed in terms of public health, too. Although experiencing the different works does necessitate traveling to the locations in a car or public transportation, there’s no need to enter an art institution or touch a single shared surface. And since the viewing areas are on average 37,000 square feet, it’s a social distancing dream.

“Liberty Bell” is on view through July 2021, and is presented in partnership with 7G Foundation and Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy.

For the complete article please see

Ben and Erin Napier announce the town selected for new HGTV series ‘Home Town Takeover’
From the article by David L. Haynes on

Get ready for your closeup, Wetumpka, Alabama. “Home Town’s” Erin and Ben Napier just announced that they will be shooting a new renovation show in the quaint Southern city as part of a hugely ambitious project — to take over and make over an entire small town.

The news is out. The jig is up. The cat’s out of the proverbial bag. The quest to find the perfect location for the new HGTV special-event series, “Home Town Takeover,” is now complete. And the chosen community — following a months-long nationwide search — is the tiny Southern city of Wetumpka, Alabama. Population: 8,278. (Sahhh-LUTE!)

For the record, Wetumpka was selected from among no less than half a million photo and video submissions representing more than 2,600 towns across the U.S. It’s one gem of a classic, small Southern town, but one not without its share of challenges and a need for some structural and aesthetic enhancements.

“Home Town Takeover,” if you haven’t heard, is a six-part docu-series that will premiere on HGTV in 2021.

In that special, the residents of Wetumpka get the breathtaking news that their town was selected for the extensive and far-reaching renovation led by Erin and Ben that’s certain to bring new hope and inspiration to an entire community. And at the risk of sounding overly romantic or a bit hyperbolic, the series Home Town Takeover really is something more than just another TV show. This is a heartfelt mission and an initiative with a grand scope — and is perhaps HGTV’s single biggest renovation undertaking ever.

Home Town Takeover: A Quick Recap
Back in January, HGTV brought you the exciting news that Ben and Erin Napier would be taking the concept of their hit series “Home Town on the road” in an exciting new venture. The undisputedly endearing couple who famously restore and revitalize old and historic homes in the tiny town of Laurel, MS would be expanding their scope beyond their beloved hometown. They would be leading a team of renovation pros to breathe new life into another small town — the entire town — including several homes as well as some locally grown businesses and historic treasures unique to that community. It’s all elemental to the Napiers’ overarching mission of helping to establish and foster a town’s persona that draws on its roots, history, resources and traditions.

To put it simply, Erin and Ben were set to take their trademark inspiration, dedication and expertise beyond the borders of Laurel. But where to start? The location where all of this was destined to happen was not known – until now.

Quest to Find the Quintessential Small Town
Simultaneous to the series announcement back in January, HGTV and Home Town’s production company RTR Media put out a casting-call of sorts, inviting residents of America’s small towns (population 40,000 or less) to log on to a website to make the case that their town should be the one featured in the new series. Applicants were encouraged to highlight aspects of their town that make it special, fascinating, historic or unique — including distinctive features like vintage period architecture, special destinations or a classic main street.

We’re now a half million or so submissions (and 2600 towns) later, and that brings us to today. In a special reveal announcement via Facetime call, the Napiers surprised Wetumpka’s Chamber of Commerce executive director, Shellie Whitfield, with the news that the town would be getting an epic injection of TLC a la Ben and Erin. That call, and lots more background, are documented in the special preview, “Home Town: A Small Town Salute.” But that’s just a taste of what’s to come.

“Ben and I often speak about our love of small town living and what that lifestyle means to the people who live in one,” says Erin. “The people of Wetumpka know they have a small town that’s worth saving, and now the world will see why this tight-knit community deserves a fresh start.”

So Where Exactly Is Wetumpka?
Wetumpka, known by its slogan, “a city of natural beauty,” is a tiny and semi-isolated burg nestled in the bucolically scenic area of central Alabama, set along the banks of the free-flowing Coosa River. As such, it’s a popular destination among whitewater enthusiasts and other generally adventurous and outdoorsy types. It notably serves as host to the annual Coosa River Challenge, a three-part competition involving paddling, mountain-biking and a cross-country run.

The town has fostered something of a green revival, with newly christened walking and nature trails. It is also, coincidentally, home to the wonderfully strange Wetumpka Meteor Crater — a five-mile-wide site of a meteor crash that occurred some 85 million years ago — a prehistoric event known regionally as “Alabama’s greatest natural disaster.” So it has just a hint of that Ripley’s Believe It or Not appeal as well.

At the same time Wetumpka faces many of the same challenges that beset small and remote towns across the country — closing businesses, compromised employment prospects, outmigration of young people, the impact of natural and climate-related disasters as well as homes and neighborhoods in varying stages of neglect or disrepair.

A glimmer of optimism came a few years ago with a plan to revitalize, but the endeavor was set back when a tornado struck the town, decimating the police station, a historic church, a number of homes and hundreds of acres of land. But the prospect of hope and progress remained alive, just waiting for sparks to ignite.

The town itself could be characterized as a sort of diamond in the rough. With its picturesque setting and features, it has served as the location for the filming of several Hollywood productions including “The Grass Harp” (based on the Truman Capote novella), “The Rosa Parks Story” and the fantastical Tim Burton feature, “Big Fish” — three films with central themes tied to and drawing on the historical South.

In short, Wetumpka is a place steeped in a certain authentic, heritage-rich, easy-pace tradition that’s essentially the perfect landing place for Ben, Erin and crew — not to mention some special surprise guests.

We think this new HGTV adventure presents a rare opportunity that will deliver to viewers something that’s genuinely inspirational, hopeful and compelling — with excitement unrivalled since that foray involving a certain house (and people) associated with the Brady Renovation. The two projects could hardly be more different, but the scope, spirit and excitement are, in a way, comparable. Both tap into a collective American psyche that’s tied to ideals, roots, vision and potential.

In summary, “Home Town Takeover” is shaping up to be an epic adventure with real connections to real people, community and history — and generous helpings of small-town love and feel-good energy. Are you ready for that? We are.

For the complete article please see

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach tops Lonely Planet’s hottest summer destinations
From the article by Maya Stanton on

Editors note: Lonely Planet has listed 10 U. S. destinations this summer that are getting the most attention according to Vrbo. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach tops the list.

Here is an excerpt from the July story.

1. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama
Ten years on from the Deep Horizon oil spill that devastated its beaches, Southern Alabama’s Gulf Shores / Orange Beach is once again known for their family-friendly atmosphere and their sparkling white sand. Gulf State Park has also seen a host of improvements, adding miles of biking and hiking trails, pine-tree-lined paths, and elevated boardwalks through marshes teeming with wildlife.

For the complete article please see

The perfect weekend getaway: Montgomery from Atlanta
From the article by Doug Stallings on

Editor’s note: Some locations or attractions mentioned in this article may have altered hours of operation or be temporarily closed. Please contact them before planning a visit.

Alabama’s capital has become a pilgrimage of sorts for those interested in The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum, bringing some 400,000 visitors to Montgomery in their first year.

Once you arrive, you’ll find a city that hasn’t exactly reached hot-spot status but is certainly becoming a destination to be reckoned with. Few cities have done a better job of laying out the stakes of the Civil Rights Movement than Montgomery, which is both acknowledging and reckoning with its role in the slave trade and slavery. After all, this is where the Civil Rights Movement was born, where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, and where the Equal Justice Initiative, one of the country’s most successful legal aid organizations, is currently seeing much success. With good food, fun bars, and plenty of other activities, prepare for a jam-packed three-day weekend.

Atlanta is 160 miles northeast of Montgomery, a fairly brisk 2.5-hour drive via I-85 south. If you leave fairly early, you’ll be in Montgomery in time for an early lunch.

Day 1
If you are planning a long weekend, try to arrive early enough on Friday or Saturday to do a little touring, ideally by late morning. A fitting place to begin your Montgomery visit is the Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church on Dexter Avenue, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was pastor during the Montgomery bus boycott. The church is within easy walking distance of all the downtown hotels. You can tour the church and also the Dexter Parsonage Museum on South Jackson Avenue, a few blocks away, where the King family lived during their time in Montgomery. If you are short on time, book a timed tour in advance (the last Friday tour is at 3 p.m.), but walk-ins are accommodated if they have room; allow an hour for the church, two if you visit the parsonage.

Nearby, on Washington Avenue, is the Maya Lin–designed Civil Rights Memorial that sits in front of the Civil Rights Memorial Center. If you have time, definitely go inside to see the exhibits, the Wall of Justice, and to watch the short film on the Civil Rights Movement. Set aside an hour for this visit.

By this time, you may be ready for a break. Take it at Chris’ Hot Dogs, which has been selling hot dogs, hamburgers, chili, chicken salad, and a few other things since 1917 at its location on Dexter Avenue. You will not be disappointed if you get your dog with chili sauce. If coffee is more your thing, then you’ll find Prevail Union, a modern coffee shop in the old Kress building, also on Dexter Avenue.

If you still have time and the literary inclinations, you may wish to make the pilgrimage to the Cottage Hill neighborhood to see the historic Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. Zelda was born in Montgomery in 1900, and she and Scott came back to Montgomery to live for about six months from 1931 to 1932 in this house, when he was writing “Tender Is the Night” and Zelda began work on her only published novel, “Save Me the Waltz.” On display are some of Zelda’s paintings, Scott’s books, various possessions, and even clothing.

If you prefer spending some time strolling and shopping, try Cloverdale, which is home to several locally-owned shops, galleries, restaurants, and other businesses along East Fairview Avenue. The area’s large, historic homes may be familiar to you if you’ve seen the movie “Big Fish,” which was filmed here in 2003. You can also take a break at Cafe Louisa, a bakery that also serves great coffee.

Downtown Montgomery doesn’t roll up the sidewalks at night. In fact, downtown is home to many popular bars and restaurants, including Montgomery’s only production brewery, Common Bond. You can have a pint or a flight, and if you’re hungry bring over something from Bibb Street Pizza Company, next door. If you’re looking for a more formal dinner, downtown has many other choices, including Wintzell’s Oyster House, a branch of the Mobile original, and Central, one of the city’s most popular upscale restaurants, which specializes in steaks, chicken, and fish from its wood-fired oven. If you’re not ready to call it a night, Aviator Bar, also downtown, is a local favorite.

Day 2
You’ll want to set aside a day for Montgomery’s two signature attractions, The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which you can visit in either order. The museum is busy enough that you’ll need a timed ticket, and you may want to go early because it can be very busy, especially on weekends. The museum, housed in a former slave warehouse, covers lynching, racial segregation (“Jim Crow”) laws, and mass incarceration, the three primary successors to slavery in the United States. It takes a while to digest all there is to see and read here, and it’s well worth every moment you spend.

After the museum, you’ll need a break to decompress and unwind. You can sit in the adjacent cafe, which shares space with a wonderful bookstore, or you can head out to lunch somewhere like Martin’s (if you are looking for delicious fried chicken, this is definitely your spot). Unfortunately, it’s not open on Saturday. If you have a car and don’t mind driving a bit, Southern Comfort in Hope Hull (out near the airport) is a popular spot for barbecue and other Southern comfort foods (including its own pretty good fried chicken), and it’s open every day.

When you’re ready, head back downtown and visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which documents and memorializes the thousands of lynchings that occurred since the Civil War. The memorial, set on six acres, demands a slow pace, which is fitting for the subject matter. A slow walk through the memorial takes at least 60 to 90 minutes.

Have dinner at Vintage Year in the Cloverdale neighborhood, a favorite special-occasion spot in Montgomery that began as a wine shop. The wine list has won awards, while the restaurant’s food has been recognized by the James Beard Society. You’ll need reservations. After dinner, if you aren’t ready for bed, head over to Leroy, also in Cloverdale. It may look like a dive, but you’ll find a surprisingly long list of craft cocktails and 18 beers on tap. If you are looking for a little Williamsburg, Brooklyn atmosphere in Montgomery, you’ll find it here.

You aren’t done with Montgomery yet. Your final day can go in any number of directions, but if it’s Sunday, you won’t want to miss the chance to have a good Southern breakfast.

Day 3
If you can manage to get up early (and even if you can’t), head over to Cahawba House to fortify yourself for the day. Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. If you’re looking for some delicious biscuits and gravy, grits, cinnamon beignets, locally made jams and jellies, or Conecuh sausages, you may find yourself standing in a long line to order at the counter. It’s definitely worth the wait.

Just around the corner is the NewSouth Bookstore, an excellent source for anything related to Southern history or literature. They will also be happy to give you advice on what to see and do.

The final don’t-miss attraction in Montgomery is the Rosa Parks Museum, which offers a look at the beginning of the Civil Rights era. The museum is not just about Ms. Parks but rather all the people and events associated with the year-long Montgomery bus boycott that lasted from December 1955 to December 1956. If you have time, it’s a short walk over to the Freedom Rides Museum, in Montgomery’s former Greyhound bus station. These museums are worth at least an hour, perhaps more.

If you are interested in Alabama history, you are in luck. There’s the Museum of Alabama, which covers the history of the state in some detail. It’s near the Alabama State Capitol (the building is open weekdays and Saturdays, and there are regularly scheduled guided tours on Saturdays). You may especially want to visit the Goat Hill Museum Store inside the Capitol building.

Are you are a baseball fan? If you are visiting between April and August, there’s a pretty good chance the Montgomery Biscuits will be playing during your visit. The games are held in the Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium. How about Hank Williams? The native son is memorialized in the Hank Williams Museum in downtown Montgomery.

Whatever you do, try to find time to get out to Capitol Oyster Bar. It’s decidedly off the beaten path but has a scenic, riverfront location and is a wonderful destination for fresh fried seafood at lunch and dinner, open Wednesday through Sunday. On Sundays, you’ll almost always find some kind of blues performance around 5 p.m., which typically has a cover charge (though you can eat inside without paying the cover).

For the complete article please see

Alabama self-drive vacation included in UK Travel Weekly magazine
From the article by Katie McGonagle on

Editor note: The July 2 edition of Travel Weekly features a 3-page spread on American driving vacations.  Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail is one of only four self-drive packages highlighted in the article. Travel Weekly magazine is targeted to the UK travel industry and has a circulation of 45,000.

Best for… Civil Rights History
The Black Lives Matter movement has captured the public imagination in recent weeks, and nowhere does the struggle for political representation and social equality become clearer than along the Civil Rights Trail in the Southern states of the US. The full trail covers more than 100 sites across 14 states, so narrow it down to a more manageable portion with a self‐drive journey.

Venessa Alexander, managing director of Global Travel Marketing and UK representative for Alabama Tourism, says: “Alabama was at the heart of the civil rights movement in the US. Many of the key moments in the movement that occurred in Alabama have been very well preserved for people to truly understand the importance of what happened there in the fight for human rights and how it continues to this day.”

Fly into Atlanta and head to state capital Montgomery to visit the Rosa Parks Museum, dedicated to the woman who famously refused to give up her seat on a city bus.

Next, head to Selma, starting point for the landmark civil rights march that changed the course of the campaign, and Birmingham, a centre for the civil rights movement where a whole district is dedicated to its history.

To see the entire Travel Weekly publication, go to

Alabama’s beaches manage surge of visitors, spike in coronavirus
From the article by John Sharp on

At least eight restaurants have had to shut down for sanitization after employees tested positive for coronavirus. The fireworks in Gulf Shores and at the OWA entertainment complex are canceled. Gulf Shores city hall is closed to the public after two employees tested positive for COVID-19.

But the beaches are filling up in record-setting numbers, both pleasing and startling city officials who are alarmed over the sudden rise of coronavirus cases in Baldwin County.

“They are still coming,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said. “Most of these folks are coming from places worse off than we are. They are coming to paradise. It concerns all of us who live here. It’s walking a tight rope.”

Scorching-hot market
The Fourth of July weekend is historically the busiest time period for coastal Alabama’s beach communities, but this year is different: The beaches have been experiencing Independence Day-like traffic for weeks.

After the beaches were closed through a state order in March and through April, they have been the hottest go-to places since May 1. Rental agencies are experiencing numbers that outpace previous record-setting vacation seasons. Some are attributing the torrid pace to the temporary and prolonged closures of the Florida Panhandle beaches during early May, and the closure of amusement parks, such as Walt Disney World theme parks in Orlando.

According to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, vacation rental occupancy is exceeding last year’s record-setting pace. In June, occupancy rates were 82.8%, up from 82.1% in 2019. In May, the rates were 70.9%, up from 56.1%. The tourism bureau attributes the May spike to the reopening of the beaches at a time when schools were closed, people working flexible hours from home and federal stimulus money assisting helping Americans afford extra travel.

“Traveler sentiment research shows there was pent-up demand to get out of the house and travel to a destination that offered beaches and outdoor nature pursuits suitable for social distancing,” said Joanie Flynn, vice president of marketing for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. “We were one of the first beach markets that reopened. At the end of April 2020, when we reopened, both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores were near the top of online searches for beach destinations (in the country).”

Further fueling the surge, Flynn said, was the lowered interest in international and domestic air travel and the rise of people pursuing road trips. Alabama’s Gulf Coast is historically a drive-to market, and a popular destination for Alabama residents driving south on Interstate 65. Of the nearly 6.9 million visitors who came to Baldwin County in 2019, a whopping 92% drove.

“A research study we subscribe to shows that people are willing to drive as far as 700 miles to visit a beach destination that offers a selection of outdoor activities,” Flynn said. “(Recreational vehicle) road trips are also popular this summer, and Gulf State Park and our other available RV parks are seeing strong utilization.”

Virus concerns
The surge is creating alarm for some residents, and Gulf Shores City Councilman Steven Jones is hearing from them.

Jones said residents and business owners are also expressing some surprise that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris didn’t call for a closure of the beaches again when they extended the State’s “Safer at Home” health order to July 31.

Baldwin County, which remained relatively unscathed from the worst effects of COVID-19 from March to early June, has seen its number spike in the past 14 days. Of the 735 total cases within the county, 336 or 46% have been added in the past two weeks. Another 92 positive cases were added on Thursday, representing a single-day high for the county.

The increase is happening as Alabama is also spiking with record numbers, adding 1,758 new cases on Thursday and setting single-day record. The surge has prompted city governments in Mobile and Tuscaloosa last week to enact mandatory face covering ordinances joining Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and Jefferson County.

“The chamber of commerce’s phones are ringing every day with the same question: Are your beaches open and are they going to be open?” Jones said. “I’m a little surprised Ivey (didn’t consider) a beach closure. I didn’t have any idea what she would say and do and a lot of people were surprised she didn’t do something a little more tighter than what she did.”

Kennon and Jones do not expect the cities to enact a face covering requirement similar to Mobile, which carries a fine for violators.

Visitors who stop into one of the coastal area’s welcome centers can pick up a mask while also picking up brochures that are wrapped in plastic.

Said Jones, “Many cities are dealing with residents and not many visitors, but we are in a much more difficult place and speculate that by requiring a face covering, how in the world would a police department of 50 people police 100,000 people per day? How effective are we going to be able to physically enforce those regulations?”

Added Kennon, “There is no way to enforce it. We don’t have the manpower. We are trying hard to impress upon people (to wear) a mask and follow the directives of the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), but I just don’t know how you enforce (a mandate).”

So far, beach patrols haven’t issued anything other than warnings to beach-goers for disobeying social distancing requirements. The State Health Order still requires six-feet social distancing but does not limit gatherings. The initial health order, in early May, required gatherings be limited to fewer than 10 people at one time.

Jones said during a recent trip to Walmart, about 50% of the people inside the store wore face coverings. But he’s noticed the visitors flocking to the beaches this year are unconcerned about safety precautions, and are also not “treating the area with respect.” They are leaving litter on the beaches and violating the coastal area’s “Leave Only Footprints” campaign that requires tents and other personal items removed daily from the beaches.

“By and large, our visitors are not interested in protecting themselves and the people who live here,” said Jones. “It’s also clear that a lot of (Florida) beaches have closed, so they are flocking to us. They are not our regular visitors. The normal visitors have embraced the ‘Leave Only Footprints’ but this new rash of visitor is trying us because they can’t go elsewhere. They are not treating our area with respect and that is very clear.”

Jones said he isn’t sure there is anything extra Gulf Shores can do to help reduce the COVID-19 spread, adding he isn’t sure there is a “consensus” among local officials on adding additional measures beyond what is in place.

The city of Gulf Shores, on Thursday, announced a “zero tolerance” approach to enforcement of any person or business who refuses to comply with social distancing requirements. Failure to comply could lead to a fine of up to $500 or a business license suspension. Individuals are also strongly encouraged to wear facial coverings while inside businesses or other indoor venues which are open to the public.

“We are weighing the economic impact with the human safety impact,” said Jones. “As things rise, you have to wonder when the human safety aspect will take precedent over the economy.”

Rental rebound
For rental agencies, the economy is good with bookings eclipsing 90% in June and headed for 100% over the Fourth of July. Overall, the economy is on the uptick in Baldwin County with the overall unemployment rate dropping from a high-water mark in April at 15.4% in to 9.6% in May.

“Unless there is another mandatory closing of specific businesses by the state again, we believe we have seen the peak for unemployment in Baldwin County,” said Lee Lawson, president & CEO with the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.

The fear of a closure still exists, said Hunter Harrelson, owner of Beachball Properties. Hurricane season is also a concern, he said.

“Guests seem to be waiting 14-21 days out to book due to fear of the beaches closing again and the weather,” Harrelson said.

But the recent surge in the virus is having little harmful effect on business, according to Harrelson and other rental agents.

“Individuals who are fearful of the virus are choosing not to come and the rest are still planning to visit the beaches,” said Harrelson. “We are fielding more calls from guests fearful that the beaches will close, not the uptick in cases. Us, the Florida Panhandle and the Carolinas seem to be the only games in town for vacationers to get away to within driving distance.”

Randy Hall, president/owner of Liquid Life Vacations, said he hasn’t heard “very many people” who are concerned about the virus. Liquid Life Properties manages 330 rentals in the region, and the company has not “had a direct report of a positive COVID-19 test anywhere near our business.”

But the virus has hit home for Hall: His 78-year-old mother who lives in a nursing home tested positive eight weeks ago.

“She has all kinds of health issues (but) she never had a symptom,” said Hall. “She is now testing negative. Our family is very pleased. I look forward to visiting her but I understand the boundaries (preventing visitations at nursing homes).”

Rental units are increasing cleaning protocols during the pandemic. At Liquid Life, Hall said his crews are taking “extra care to wrap and contain dirty soiled linens” from inside the condominiums to the company’s main facility.

“For our company, owning the equipment and employing the cleaners directly has provided a degree of control,” said Hall, noting that most management companies hire third-party cleaning companies.

“The labor market is very tight,” Hall added. “We had to almost double pay to get cleaners.”

Harrelson said his company is taking cleanliness seriously. Door knobs, handles, remotes, etc., are sanitized routinely, he said.

Visitors, he said, are mostly unconcerned.

“The guests visiting our area seem to understand the risk and are more concerned with getting away from home than contracting a virus that 99-plus percent of people recover from,” said Harrelson.

Herb Malone, president & CEO with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, said his agency continues to stress to the rental agencies and other tourism businesses to stress the “importance of adhering to the guidelines” in the state’s Health Order as well as the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing and hand washing.

Kimberly Boyle, assistant professor of Restaurant, Hotel and Meetings Management at the University of Alabama, said despite the recent rise in coronavirus cases, the public isn’t staying away from the beaches.

“Those with underlying health conditions may cancel or postpone until the fall, but the average family will keep their scheduled beach trip,” said Boyle. “We are drawn to water and having a beach vacation is the escape we all needed after the shutdown. Visitors can still keep their social distancing at the beach, order take-out, cook at the condo and use the grocery delivery service, just like at home.”

For the complete article please see

Montgomery BLM mural artist featured on TODAY
From the article on

The artist of the Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Montgomery caught the attention of the national audience.

Montgomery native Michelle Browder was featured on NBC’s TODAY Wednesday for her mural surrounding the Court Square Fountain in downtown Montgomery.

Browder told TODAY she believes art has the ability to change worldviews.

“Nina Simone said, ‘It is my duty to use my art to speak truth to power,’ and so that’s what I’m doing,” Browder said.

Browder said her mural was not only meant to start conversation about the actual art piece itself, but the history that exists at the center of what the art surrounds.

The area that surrounds the Court Square Fountain was the center of Montgomery’s slave trade. It’s also within view of the nearby Winter Building where the telegraph was sent that marked the start of the Civil War, as well as the statue of Rosa Parks that reminds visitors of the spot where she refused to give up her seat on a city bus.

“It’s so historical,” said Browder. “Like, that fountain has seen every aspect of history as it relates to Black lives.”

For the complete article please see, Square%20Fountain%20in%20downtown%20Montgomery

Lincoln begins work on $6 million, 38-acre fishing park
From the article by William Thornton on

Despite a pandemic that now has a stranglehold on the state’s economy, one small Alabama city is wading into a new economic development project they believe could lure big dollars.

Lincoln, already known for its Honda manufacturing plant and nearby Talladega Superspeedway, is building a $6 million fishing park that local leaders hope will inject more tourism dollars into the small town off Interstate 20.

About 75 people attended the groundbreaking for a 38-acre site off Travis Drive, not far from the Honda plant, on the banks of Logan Martin Lake. Officials said they hope the park will be completed by the end of the year, depending on the weather.

The park was designed to host bass fishing tournaments, and will be built to accommodate about 300 truck and boat combinations. It can also be used by recreational fishers, and leaders hope the park will be a catalyst for hotels, restaurants, and other development.

The park will feature 10 boat launches, a 1,400-foot boardwalk and concrete parking areas, Keith Strickland, project manager with Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, said.

“Hopefully by next spring, we’ll be fishing out here,” Strickland said.

The project has been in the works since 2016, Watson said, with an idea of creating a destination spot that takes advantage of the water and its location to the Interstate. Logan Martin Lake covers 18,000 acres and is a popular spot for fishing and water activities throughout the year. Watson said fishing tournament organizations gave input into the design.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the economy had no effect on the project’s timing, he said, but underscored the need to begin work.

“We wanted this to have as much impact as we could get,” he said. “Just like Honda was a spark for this area, we hope this is another.”

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