Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Civil War brochure bringing visitors to Decatur

By Deangelo McDaniel

A place slaves called home in Lawrence County, a Civil War walking tour in Decatur and a Limestone County city union soldiers looted in 1862 are part of a new state tourism brochure.

In preparation for the 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States, the Alabama Tourism Department has released a colorful brochure called “Alabama Civil War Trail.”

The guide features 47 historical sites linked to the Civil War and is

expected to generate thousands of tourism dollars for local communities.

“I think the brochure is wonderful and will bring some people here,” said Pond Spring Site Director Melissa Beasley.

Pond Spring is the home of Gen. Joseph Wheeler.

A slave cabin on the 50-acre site is depicted in the brochure.

Tami Reist is president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said the River City is already benefiting from the brochure.

Reist said a New Orleans couple recently visited the bureau’s headquarters on Sixth Avenue.

“They had one of the state brochures and wanted to get more information about Decatur and the Joe Wheeler home,” she said.

Reist said the couple got information about Decatur’s September Civil War skirmish re-enactment at Point Mallard and promised to come back for it.

“This is a great thing, not only for the state, but especially for the towns where these events happened,” she said.

The brochure encourages tourists to experience Decatur’s self-guided walking tour, which starts at the Old State Bank building.

The bank, which served as a hospital when Union forces fortified Decatur in 1864, is one of four buildings in the city that survived the war.

The tour concludes at Rhodes Ferry Park, where the 14th U.S. Colored Infantry repulsed a charge from troops in Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee.

Athens, like many cities in North Alabama, changed hands multiple times between Union and Confederate forces.

The horrors of war, however, visited Limestone’s county seat in 1862 when federal forces under Union Col. Basil Turchin committed acts that led to Turchin’s court martial.

During a two-hour period, he stood silent as his men raped a slave, scared a pregnant white woman who miscarried and died, and took or destroyed more than $54,000 in property, including 200 Bibles that were trampled.

Tourism officials also included Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Athens heroics in September 1864.

Although outnumbered four to one, he used a ruse to convince Union leaders to surrender at Fort Henderson.

In Lawrence County, the brochure includes Pond Spring, the home of Confederate Gen. Wheeler. The site has 13 historic buildings, including the general’s home, which freedmen constructed after the war.

The plantation also has a building U.S. forces used as a paroling office after the Civil War and a dogtrot slave cabin built in the 1820s.

The brochures are available in the eight welcome centers across the state.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ingalls pavilion plans too expensive

Decatur to seek new bids in 2011
By Tiffeny Owens

It’s back to the drawing board for the Decatur City Council after all the bids submitted to construct the Ingalls Harbor pavilion came in over the $2.8 million budget.

The city rejected six bids, with the lowest being about $450,000 over budget, according to records. The bids were opened at 3 p.m. Friday.

Despite the setback, Councilman Greg Reeves remained optimistic about the project.

“We’ll revisit it again in 2011,” Reeves said. “It is a bit of a disappointment, but we’re going to take a fresh look at it and see what can be done.”

The council was to award the bid for construction of the pavilion at its meeting Monday but removed it from the agenda after all the bids came in over budget.

The city set a budget of $2.4 million to build the structure itself and a maximum of $2.8 million for the entire project.

“The drawings should have fit the budget, and the architects gave us guidelines,” Reeves said. “This was an unexpected surprise.”

With the issues that hampered construction of the new Decatur Animal Services building in the back of his mind, Reeves said he would rather delay the pavilion in order to make sure the design and construction were right than risk problems in the future.

“We want to make sure all our ducks are in a row first,” he said. “We don’t want to have to go back and ask for more money down the road.”

The pavilion is a project Reeves began coordinating more than a year ago in effort to bring more tourism and local activity to Ingalls Harbor.

Some of the issues that will have to be addressed early next year may be structural and aesthetic, said Wally Terry, director of general services.

“We want to look at what’s driving the costs issues,” Terry said. “There’s something embedded in the design that is driving the price out. ... I don’t think we can change the size and scope of the building because that would make it less than what the city needs in the long-term.”

The money to fund the pavilion was borrowed from the city’s excess reserve at the request of the local Hospitality Association and the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Hospitality Association has agreed to reimburse the city over time with funds raised by its $2-per-night room occupancy fee on local hotel stays.

Local architectural firm GBW Architects Inc. designed the plans for the 25,000-square-foot pavilion and other improvement at Ingalls Harbor.

The pavilion is intended to attract more interest to the city-owned harbor beyond its current use as a fishing-tournament destination.

The same firm has worked on other Decatur recreation projects, including the initial design for the Jack Allen Soccer Complex, Ingalls Harbor and parts of Delano Park.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

High hopes for Decatur tourism

Primed by past decade’s successes, officials have big plans for 2020
By Paul Huggins

Point Mallard’s water park and the ball fields at Wilson Morgan Park have served Decatur’s tourism industry well for decades, but both could be living in oblivion by 2020.

Decatur Parks and Recreation’s repeated pleas for upgrades for the J. Gilmer Blackburn Aquatic Center and building a new baseball/softball complex have yet to find a willing partner at City Hall to get the money for those improvements.

But local residents have cause to feel optimistic, tourism officials said, because the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s 2010 Tourism Development Agenda addresses the above needs, and that comes from the same group that succeeded in fulfilling most of its wish list in 2000.

Nearly everything on the 2000 agenda was realized: a conference center (partially), riverfront attraction, better signage for local attractions, a new boat launch and a re-distribution of city lodging taxes to go directly to those responsible for promoting the city.

“When Tami (Reist, visitors bureau president) gets behind a project and when the CVB gets behind a program, the track record is pretty darn good,” said Tom Chappell, Parks and Recreation assistant director and visitors board member.

Chappell has high hopes that the partnership between parks and recreation and the visitors bureau will produce as good or even better results in the next decade.

So what’s in store for the next 10 years?

A conference center; river boat; lazy river and more water slides at Point Mallard; a new baseball/softball complex; enhancements to Ingalls Harbor, such as a restaurant and museum; and upgrades at Jack Allen Soccer Complex with two more fields, playground and locker rooms.

Some of the minor wish list items include an expanded convenience store at Riverwalk Marina, adding wireless Internet throughout all parks, a restaurant behind the 15th green at the Point Mallard Golf Course and adding cabins along waterways or at Point Mallard Park.

The agenda appears loftier than goals listed in 2000, but tourism officials want to dream big considering how Jack Allen and Ingalls Harbor outperformed expectations.

“We have the leading edge on sports and recreation with Jack Allen and that was not even on our list in 2000,” Reist said.

Ingalls pavillion
Of the five top goals in 2000, only the conference center remains unfulfilled. But tourism officials can point to the 6,000-square-foot Ingalls Pavilion, which the city will accept bids for this week, as an interim facility. It can be enclosed and heated in winter and seat 600 to 700 at tables, double what Decatur can offer now.

Tourism officials worked with city leaders to buy the old Ingalls Iron Works property using money generated by a $2-per-night occupancy fee local hotels imposed on themselves. Then they built a boat launch that is heralded as the top facility for hosting major fishing tournaments in the nation.

“We get to pick and choose tournaments now, instead of begging for events,” said Wade Weaver, visitors bureau board treasurer.

The property also has proved a riverfront attraction ideal for the ever expanding Riverfest barbecue championship and still has room for a riverboat dock, museum, picnic pavilions and restaurant.

Another goal was installing way-finding signs to point visitors to key local attractions. Last year, the city installed the first phase of those signs for downtown attractions. More signs will go up this year, pointing to places such as Jack Allen and Point Mallard.

The visitors bureau also persuaded the city to share 75 percent of the city’s lodging taxes with the bureau, instead of 50 percent, with the added responsibility to more actively promote local festivals and events. The Wet Dog Triathlon is an example of one event that grew under the new arrangements. A record 600 participants competed this year in the race sponsored by the Decatur Jaycees.

Occupancy tax
The $2-per-night occupancy fee has generated more than $3 million since instituted in 2001, and that money has paid for Ingalls Harbor, as well as more than $300,000 in enhancements to Hospitality Park (formerly Day Park) for attracting birdwatchers, and another $96,000 for a press box at Jack Allen.

Reist said that fund is tapped out, but after current debts, primarily Ingalls Harbor, are paid, the bureau will look to add or enhance facilities that continue to draw visitors.

Chappell said the bureau may have to help the city and parks and recreation with some of its wish lists.

Chappell said the loss of the NAIA softball championship revealed Wilson Morgan was too small for such a large event, and Decatur needs a new complex with 14 fields that carries a price tag of at least $12 million.

To ensure Decatur maintains its grip on soccer tournaments at Jack Allen, Chappell said the park needs to keep adding to it, specifically, two more fields, a locker/changing room with showers and a playground/family area with picnic pavilions. Estimates for these enhancements start at about $2 million, he said.

“Just because you build it, it’s not done,” he said. “Other communities come and look at its strengths and weaknesses, build something better and take business away. When you’re on top, people are trying to knock you off.”

As for Point Mallard’s water park, it has long needed new slides and water features, Chappell said, and a lazy river would be the first on the list of additions, probably costing around $3 million. A new double-drop speed slide would add $250,000 more to the wish list.

“In the next 10 years, that’s got to be done or that asset goes away.” Chappell said.

The conference center, preferably with an adjoining hotel, remains the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s top wish.

Weaver and Reist said the bureau must hire a consultant to ensure the city builds what it can support and encourages hotel growth.

“That’s the first thing we need to do, determine what we need, not what we want,” Weaver said, noting the addition of the Westin in Huntsville and Marriott Conference Center in Florence will impact what Decatur can achieve

Decatur seeks to share operations of riverboat cruiser

By Paul Huggins

long-sought item on tourism officials’ wish list could be cruising into Decatur within a couple months if they can arrange for a way to share the Pickwick Belle riverboat.

Decatur sold out both its lunch and dinner cruises when the Cincinnati Belle stopped in Decatur for one day last month. That success got Pickwick Belle’s marketing director, Tanya Irwin, thinking she could book more cruises on her riverboat, if it has a regular presence in Decatur.

“We’re going to meet in early January to discuss how a sharing operation could benefit each other. We want to come up with something where both (cities) most benefit so it will be a long-term relationship,” she said.

Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she was optimistic a business agreement could be worked out, and had no doubts Decatur would support the venture.

“Just seeing it docked where people drive by and see it every day will generate interest,” she said, adding it would gain a lot of corporate meeting clients.

The Pickwick Belle is privately owned and has operated out of Florence since October 2007.

It’s about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide and is a true paddle wheeler. It has two decks, an open-air top deck and enclosed lower deck. It can accommodate 149 passengers and ideally seats about 80 for dinner cruises.

Irwin said the Pickwick Belle’s size makes it versatile for a wide range of affordable uses.

“We’ve had high school proms, we’ve had wedding rehearsals and weddings aboard the Belle, praise and worship services aboard the boat, school groups for educational cruises,” she said.

“The size of it, the way it’s set up, we can do a wedding cruise at 4 in the afternoon and be ready for a Jimmy Buffet-themed cruise, or like a pirate theme cruise at 7,” she added.

The Pickwick Belle uses local caterers for meals and local theatrical ensembles for theme cruises.

“It’s fun for the local people when they have special events, or corporate parties or church outings. But most of our customers come from outside our home port. Church groups and senior travel groups are our largest customer base.”

Reist said the riverboat could be moored at Riverwalk Marina or the special platform the city built at Rhodes Ferry Park. Ideally, the visitors bureau wants to have a permanent riverboat dock with ticket office/gift shop as well as parking on the west side of Ingalls Harbor.

The riverboat cruises year round, but Irwin said it would take some time off this winter for maintenance. The schedule shows a private Christmas party and Sweet 16 birthday party booked for December and Valentine’s Day dinner cruise in February. Weekly cruises return in late March, April and May. Thirty-six cruises are already set.

Prices range from $7 for educational cruises for school groups to $30 for lunch cruises to $69 for dinner theme cruises. Daily sightseeing cruises range from $10 to $19 depending on age.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Historic Decatur Christmas Tour

View 10 old homes, churches and buildings Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m. during the annual Historic Decatur Christmas Tour.

Throughout the Albany and Old Decatur historic districts you can tour the following:

■Hoy-Henry-Kienzle home, 618 Johnston St.
■Godbey-Poer-Haney home, 626 Gordon Drive
■Herron-Lemmond-Ruggiere home, 314 Canal St.
■Kelly-Wallace home, 824 Gordon Drive
■Frazier-Clarke-Richards home, 209 Church St.
■Harris-Roth home, 600 Ferry St.
■Old State Bank, 925 Bank St. N.E.
■Carnegie Visual Arts Center, 207 Church St. N.E.
■First Presbyterian Church, 701 Oak St. N.E.
■St. John’s Episcopal Church, 202 Gordon Drive S.E.
Programs: Two programs are planned at 3 p.m. at St. John’s. Local historian Phil Wirey will speak on the founding women of Decatur, while Kathy Gray-Clay will explain how to incorporate fresh greenery and flowers into your Christmas decor.

Music: The Huntsville Spiritual Chorale will perform at 5 p.m. at First Presbyterian.

Refreshments will be available from 3-7 p.m. at St. John’s. Many local restaurants and caterers donate refreshments. See a listing at the tour website.

Carriage rides are planned from 4-8 p.m. at the Carnegie and Delano Park. Cost is $10 per person.

Tickets are $15 per person. Purchase them in advance at the Carnegie, Jimmy Smith Jewelers, Trish Land Designs, Bank Street Antiques or the Convention & Visitors Bureau. On the day of the tour, you can also buy tickets at Old State Bank and St. John’s. Call 256-350-2028 for group tickets.

On the Net

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Decatur hotels seek interstate exit sign

By Paul Huggins

Motorists passing Exit 340 have long wondered what might lay beyond the two gas stations beneath the Interstate 65 off ramp.

It doesn’t look like the bright, electrified exits they’d see at Athens and Priceville. Nor does it have the Department of Transportation’s official blue Interstate Logo Panel, pointing out the businesses waiting to take their money in exchange for gas, food or a pillow.

Decatur’s Exit 340 has never had that blue sign because the hotels and restaurants lie beyond the distance DOT allows for such advertisements. Tourism and hotel officials, however, aim to change that.

They have requested a waiver from the Alabama Department of Transportation to have the Holiday Inn & Suites, Country Inn & Suites and Motel 6 listed on the blue logo service sign.

‘Lost in a bubble’
“Decatur is just getting lost in a bubble,” said Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If you’re just passing through and didn’t know what was there, you wouldn’t know to stop,” she said.

“We need to be listed on those blue signs so people would know that there is life ahead.”

According to the DOT’s Procedures For Specific Service Signing on Interstate Highway Systems, to qualify for placement of a “Lodging” business logo on a specific service sign, a hotel must meet six conditions.

One of which is being located not more than 3.5 miles from the interstate via an all-weather road.

The Holiday Inn, being the closest to the interstate, lies 4.7 miles from Exit 340. Motel 6 is a block farther and the Country Inn is about half a mile farther.

The hardship case Decatur hotels can claim is there’s a national wildlife refuge and 1.5-mile wide river between them and the interstate.

Reist and the general managers of the three hotels sent letters to Mike Welch, District 1 permit engineer, who has forwarded them to Montgomery.

Welch said the three hotels already meet the other five conditions.

Sean Mobley, who makes the final decision on logo service signs, said DOT has given distance waivers previously and each one has something unique to its situation, so there is not a specific precedent that Decatur can follow.

Walk-in business
Andy Safiano, general manager of Holiday Inn, said walk-in business is important enough for the hotel to have five billboards on the interstate and another one on Alabama 20 coming in from the West.

He said a logo sign at Exit 340 would be “very, very valuable,” even though the visibility doesn’t translate into a spur-of-the-moment decision to overnight in Decatur. Travelers will remember it the next time they pass by, he said.

Reist said getting a logo service sign also would serve the restaurants and gas stations near the hotels because travelers will associate those businesses as always being near a hotel center.

“I wanted to start with the lodging for the signs first because, typically, if you can get them to do the lodging, then we would have the opportunity to look at our restaurants like Waffle House, Louie’s at the Holiday Inn, Jack’s and others,” she said.

“If you can get the head in the bed, the others will follow suit.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tourism Breakfast

Tourism breakfast
The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Vistors Bureau hosted its annual Tourism Breakfast and Award Ceremony on Thursday. The event is an opportunity to recognize businesses and individuals who have made vital contributions to Morgan County’s tourism and travel industry, said Tami Reist, president of the vistors’ bureau. Former Decatur Mayor and state Rep. Bill Dukes and wife Juanita Dukes after he was named the recipient of the Julian Walker “Mr. Tourism” award. The visitors’ bureau also presented the family of the “father of Point Mallard,” J. Gilmer Blackburn, with the new “Legacy” award. Juergen Beck won the “Good Neighbor” of tourism award. See www.decaturdaily.com/stories/71473.html for more details.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beck, Dukes amont tourism bureau award winners

By Tiffeny Hurtado

Far away from the Black Forest, Germany-native-turned-American-citizen Juergen Beck wowed many with his video presentation, “The Musical Heritage of Decatur and Morgan County.”

The promotional video for the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Vistors Bureau showcased the area’s cultural jewels nestled in the Tennessee Valley — its local musicians, festivals and its rich history­— at the annual Tourism Breakfast and Award Ceremony on Thursday morning. Beck, 44, began shooting local events in the spring and spent another two weeks editing the shots together. On Thursday, he walked away with the vistors bureau’s “Good Neighbor” of tourism award.

Move to America
“In 1995, Beck sold practically everything he owned to move to America to pursue his life-long ambitions,” said Tami Reist, president of the vistors’ bureau.

He worked as a photojournalist for a Huntsville television station, and in 2003, became an American citizen. Beck then established his company, Freedom Light Production in 2005, a name symbolic of his appreciation of America’s liberties and opportunities for advancement.

“I’ve been here eight years now, and I consider Decatur my home,” Beck said. “I’m proud to be a part of it, and I see the potential this area has. I’m happy to call it my home.”

Reist told the gathering: “This annual breakfast is an opportunity to recognize those businesses and individuals who have made vital contributions to Morgan County’s tourism and travel industry.”

In honor of his tireless dedication to Decatur and its citizens, the visitors’ bureau presented the family of the “Father of Point Mallard,” Gilmer Blackburn, with the new “Legacy” award. Ronnie Dukes cited the former tax attorney’s vision as Decatur mayor, which resulted in the development of Point Mallard, the construction of a new City Hall and the establishment of new parks and recreation centers throughout the city.

Another former Decatur mayor was also recognized at the ceremony. Ronnie Dukes presented the Julian Walker “Mr. Tourism” award to his father, former state representative Bill Dukes, adding another honor to the already-long list of distinctions recognizing the public servant. Beverly Walker praised Dukes for his reputation for honesty and for being “rich in non-material ways.”

The vistors’ bureau’s own Kayla Riggs, special events and sports marketing director, won the “Young Professional of the Year” award while the Alabama Jubilee Hot-Air Balloon Classic received the “Event of the Year” award. Julianne Lowman, the marketing director for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, also won a marketing college scholarship for the second straight year at the ceremony.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) was honored with the Top Corporate Award winner for generating 7,766 hotel room nights in the Decatur area over the past year.

Other top corporate winners for local hotel room-nights booked included: Nucor with 4,036, International Paper with 2,394, Alphapet Inc. with 2,269, Lockheed Martin with 2,054, Tennessee Valley Authority with 1,857, Daikin with 1,750, BP with 1,663, 3M with 1,555 and General Electric with 1,318.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Council OKs $2.4 million in appropriations

By Evan Belanger

The Decatur City Council approved more than $2.4 million in appropriations this week, cutting funding to at least 27 public-service agencies and boosting funding to four others.

The fiscal 2011 appropriations were down more than 4 percent compared to the 2010 budget, but a prior commitment to increase the city’s funding toward a downtown college campus negated the savings during the tight fiscal year.

Hardest hit
Those hardest hit by the cuts included the Decatur Public Library, which lost $37,208, and the Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County, which lost $14,820. The appropriations also cut funding to the Morgan County Health Department by $29,640 and to the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts by $9,400.

Receiving boosts
Meanwhile, agencies receiving funding boosts included the Chamber of Commerce’s Cornerstone Partnership, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Decatur-Morgan County Entrepreneurial Center, and the Morgan County Area Transportation System.

While the council approved a total of 33 appropriations, Councilman Billy Jackson opposed funding for the Chamber of Commerce, the Decatur Beautification Board, the Princess Theatre, and the Entrepreneurial Center. During discussion, he argued the appropriations, worth a combined $220,882, would be better spent drawing down the city’s more than $1 million budget deficit for fiscal 2011.

“I don’t know that this best impacts our citizens’ interests in the way we should be doing,” he said.

He also complained many of the cuts would not have been necessary if the city had spent more wisely during the first two years of the administration.

Councilman Ronny Russell also opposed funding the Entrepreneurial Center.

While he said he supports the center’s work, he did not agree the city should stick to a previous commitment to increase its funding from $60,000 to $100,000 during fiscal 2011.

“We’ve also made commitments to others that we’re having to basically pull back on...” he said, “I believe that everyone should have a share in that.”

Initially, the council had proposed funding the center $90,000, but Councilman Roger Anders argued the council should keep the commitment it made in July.

“We knew financially where we were then, and we know where we are now,” he said.

Not included in the appropriations was $20,000 to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center — up from $4,940 in fiscal 2010. Carnegie Board President Noel King requested last month the city delay that appropriation while the Carnegie audits its financial records.

The board announced weeks ago its executive director had resigned after “accounting irregularities” were discovered. Police are investigating the matter.

Also excluded was a $4,800 appropriation to the Morgan County System of Services.

City Attorney Herman Marks said that the council will consider that funding later in the year.

Soccer tourneys back in Decatur for 3 more years

By Paul Huggins

Three state soccer tournaments will return to Decatur for three more years, the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau announced.

In addition, the Tennessee State Soccer Association will bring the Olympic Development Program here in January.

The Alabama Youth Soccer Association will bring its Division I State Cup preliminaries for Under 13-14 teams, Division II State Cup for Under 11-13 teams and the Division I Final Four here through 2013.

The Division I and II preliminaries will be May 6-8, 2011, and the Division I Final Four will be May 13-15. All tournaments will be at the Jack Allen Recreation Complex.

“The 2010 tournaments produced an economic impact of over $436,000,” said Tami Reist, visitors bureau president. “The tournaments brought athletes and their families where they used hotels, gas stations and restaurants over the course of two weekends.”

Bureau records show the three tourneys filled 731 rooms nights last year and 350 room nights in 2009.

The Division I tournament is a top-level qualifying event with winners advancing to regional tournaments with an invitation to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship on the line. The Division II tournament decides the state champions to represent Alabama in the United States Youth Soccer Association Region III President’s Cup, which will occur in Decatur in June.

Decatur has hosted Alabama’s Olympic Development Program previously, but this is the first year Jack Allen drew ODP players and coaches from Tennessee. The event typically attracts about 300 players, and it will occur Jan. 22-23.

The elite program identifies the best players in the state and offers technical and tactical training from nationally licensed coaches and college coaches

Last year and in 2009, Alabama’s ODP filled 65 room nights.

Boat dealer helps angler who lost his craft in wreck

By Bayne Hughes

Massachusetts angler Sheron Brown found himself up the river without a boat Wednesday morning.

Brown, who is in Decatur preparing for this weekend’s FLW American Fishing Series tournament, had a wreck early Wednesday morning on Alabama 20 that destroyed his boat.

The wreck put him in a predicament. If he didn’t have a boat before today’s registration, he and his co-angler would not be allowed to compete.

But all it took was a few phone calls from Tammi Reist of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau and his problem was solved.

Fredricks Marine, a new boat store in Priceville that opens in January on Bethel Road, is loaning Brown a Ranger bass boat for the tournament.

“This state is wonderful,” Brown said. “The people are wonderful here.”

Brown is staying at the Holiday Inn. As is his routine, he got up about 4 a.m. and went with his friend, Wayne Gottobed, to get gas at about 5:15 a.m. before going to Ingalls Harbor for a day of practice.

Brown said a pickup truck plowed into his boat as he crossed Alabama 20 from the hotel to the Shell station.

“I looked back and wondered, ‘Where is my boat?’” Brown said.

The wreck badly damaged the boat, including moving the motor slightly and bending the prop. It bent the trailer in half.

“The truck lifted the boat and tossed it into the air,” Brown said.

Brown said no one was injured.

Now Brown, who is from Shirley, Mass., about 30 miles west of Boston, was not only dealing with the stress of preparing for his first tourney as a professional, he was boatless.

“It cost me a lot of money to come here,” Brown said. “I had made some repairs and improvements to my truck and boat before I left, and it’s a long way from home. It took me two days to get to Decatur.”

As a fellow fisherman, Fredricks General Manager Ken Chambers said he felt compassion for the visiting angler’s predicament.

“I feel for the guy,” Chambers said. “I just put myself in his shoes. What would I feel like if I were that far away from home and lost my boat? I’m just glad I’m able to help out.”

Brown was thankful for the help. He said he is hopeful he can find a way to promote Fredricks as a payback for the store’s help.

“That’s just so awesome for a someone to be willing to help out a total stranger,” Brown said.

Brown is one of 240 fishermen in Decatur competing in the tournament at Ingalls Harbor. Tournament Director Ron Lappin said he heard about the wreck at about 6 a.m. He was relieved that no one was hurt and happy that Brown found a boat.

With the FLW season starting in January and ending at Thanksgiving, Lappin said anglers having wrecks “is not as rare as one might think. It’s happened three or four times this year.”

Lappin said another angler headed to Decatur had a wreck in Pulaski, Tenn., and will not get to compete this weekend.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New fishing tournament offers shot at Japanese vacation

By Paul Stackhouse

Across the years, plenty of bass tournaments have called Wheeler Lake home. Prizes ranged from cash, boats and even cars.

This week’s fishing tournament offers a week in Japan for two people to the winner.

The inaugural American Dream Tournament is slated for Saturday and Sunday at Ingalls Harbor with registration Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Academy Sports 1205 Wimberly Drive S.W., in Decatur. Entry fee is $150 per team. It is a bring-your-own partner event.

Japan’s Kota Kiriyama, who recently moved to Moody, has had his share of success on the Bassmaster tournament trails. He has received six invitations to fish the Bassmaster Classic and won the 2008 Lake Erie Elite.

“I’ve had three of these tournaments in Japan where the winners came to the United States as the grand prize,” Kiriyama said. “Now, I’m doing just the opposite for this tournament. The winner here on Wheeler Lake will go to Japan for a week.”

The winners will get to fish on Lake Biwa in Japan where the world-record-tying largemouth bass weight was caught.

“But, fishing on Lake Biwa is just the beginning. This is also going to be a cultural trip. I can guarantee they are going to enjoy this trip to the homeland. It will be a week of learning history and culture and bass fishing. And, I want to make sure everybody knows that’s just the first-place prize. We have a lot, lot more. If we have say 150 boats entered, second place could be $1,000.”

Takeoffs from Ingalls Harbor are to begin at 6:30 a.m. or safe-light each day with the weigh-ins slated to begin at 3 that afternoon, also at Ingalls Harbor.

To find out more about the tournament, including rules and regulations, you may visit kotaamericandream.com, or call Doug Nichles at 205-396-5556. You also may visit the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website at decaturcvb.org.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decatur budget scrapes through council

Russell, Jackson vote against plan; Reeves ‘optimistic’
By Evan Belanger

Decatur City Council President Greg Reeves said he was “cautiously optimistic” the city can rein in more than $1 million in deficit spending called for in its fiscal 2011 budget.

But Councilman Ronny Russell called the plan “undefined and unrealistic” as the council narrowly approved the new budget in a 3-2 vote Monday.

Prior to the vote, Reeves said the $53.26 million budget would stretch every penny of government spending toward maximum efficiency as the city faces a tight fiscal year.

“We’ve got be to be as efficient as possible and do as much as we can with what we’ve got,” he said.

Russell, however, said he was uncomfortable with revenue projections made by the city’s Finance Department, which overprojected the city’s income during fiscal 2009 and 2010.

Hiring freeze
He also said he did not trust Mayor Don Stanford’s judgment regarding an ongoing hiring freeze designed to reduce the projected deficit. That freeze calls for Stanford to determine whether vacant positions are critical before the city fills them.

“I believe this budget to be the culmination of the past two years of this administration, which, unfortunately, I feel like has left a legacy of arrogance and embarrassment to this city,” Russell said.

Monday’s voting saw Russell and Councilman Billy Jackson in opposition of the budget, which they blocked from consideration during the council’s Oct. 4 meeting. Reeves and Councilmen Gary Hammon and Roger Anders voted yes.

“I think it’s a very reasonable budget,” Anders said before voting. “I think it’s an attainable budget, and I appreciate the work of Linda (McKinney) and the mayor and Wally (Terry) to get it to us.”

Overall, the budget projects $53.26 million in spending versus $52.26 million in revenues for a deficit topping $1 million during fiscal 2011. Compared to the fiscal 2010 amended budget, that means the city’s spending will be up $352,306 while revenues will be down nearly $1.29 million, according to projections.

Actual numbers for fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, will not be available until November at the earliest.

Included in the budget is $125,000 in revenue to be generated by a 1-percent increase in the lodgings tax charged for local hotel stays. The council approved that tax hike Monday in another 3-2 vote — again with Russell and Jackson in opposition.

After the meeting, Jackson cited a letter from the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau cautioning the tax hike would be harmful as his reason for opposing the tax hike.

“This budget is totally unrealistic,” he said.

To eliminate the projected deficit, Stanford, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, called previously for a hiring freeze for all non-essential positions. According to city estimates, that will save about $400,000 during fiscal 2011.

Stanford also proposed previously a host of spending cuts to be implemented as the fiscal year progresses. Those cuts would take $250,000 from the Parks and Recreation Department, reducing operating hours at some recreation centers, cutting funding to swim programs, and eliminating 18 part-time contract positions.

They would also take $400,000 from other departments in the form of unspecific overtime reductions, efficiency enhancements, increased outsourcing, and fewer part-time contract positions.

Stanford said he may also consider employee layoffs and eliminating the annual merit raises city workers get during their first 10 years of employment if his plan fails to address the projected deficit.

Carnegie appropriation
Also included in the fiscal 2011 budget is a $20,000 appropriation to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center — up from the $4,940 the center got in fiscal 2010. But the council will wait at least until its Nov. 1 meeting to consider a contract authorizing that and other city appropriations.

Noel King, president of the Carnegie’s board of directors, said the board requested the delay of its appropriation so the center will have time to evaluate its finances and present the council with any safeguards it plans to implement.

The board announced Thursday the resignation of the Carnegie’s former executive director, Laura Phillips, after the board identified what it termed “accounting irregularities.” A spokesman for the Decatur Police Department said police are investigating a “suspected financial impropriety” at the center.

Despite those reports, Reeves said Monday he was not aware of any discussion aimed at changing the Carnegie’s appropriation. While Jackson said he plans to oppose the group’s funding for budgetary reasons, he said his decision is not related to the ongoing investigation.

Hammon, meanwhile, said the board requested the delay because it was starting a “forensic audit” — an audit suitable for use in a court of law — of its financial records. “They’re wanting to see how that comes out,” he said.

Overall, the fiscal 2011 budget includes $3.02 in appropriations to outside agencies like the Carnegie — down $26,603 from the amended 2010 budget.

Compared to the amended fiscal 2010 budget, it cuts funding to 13 city departments.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

BASS anglers descend on Wheeler for Southern Shootout

By Paul Huggins
Staff Writer

Nearly 400 anglers from seven states are scheduled to begin a three-day tournament today on Wheeler Lake as part of the BASS Federation Nation’s Southern Team Shootout.

The event features 66 six-person teams from fishing clubs in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Kentucky. Teams will start each morning at 6:30 from Ingalls Harbor. Weigh-ins, also held at Ingalls, will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Charles Graybeal, president of the Tennessee BASS Federation, chose Wheeler Lake for the event based on personal experience that all competitors will catch a lot of fish.

“It’s a great fishing lake. I love Wheeler,” he said. “I wish we had more lakes like this.”

The BASS Federation Nation tournament circuit is not a professional series that focuses on an individual winner. It is strictly a team competition with a foundation in local fishing clubs.

“This tournament is all about fishing with your partner and having a good time,” Graybeal said.

Each team pays a $600 entry fee, and all entry fees go directly back to participants as prize money.

The 66 teams will share in $237,000. The team with the heaviest fish weight from three days will win $2,400. One out of every five teams will win some type of cash prize.

Teams began arriving Saturday for pre-tournament practice, and all were in town Monday for tournament meetings. The Jameson Inn and Holiday Inn & Suites are host hotels for the Southern Team Shootout. The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau will report the economic impact of the event after counting hotel rooms filled after the tourney ends.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Racking Up Gain

Racking up gains
Event’s revenues, participation up
By Paul Huggins

PRICEVILLE — Racking horse officials say they’ve experienced their greatest breeding season in a long time, only they’re not talking about equine genetics.

Revenue and optimism have grown beyond what they hoped for after agreeing to terms to sell Celebration Arena to the State Products Mart a year ago.

“Excitement breeds excitement,” said Chris Walker, Racking Horse Breeders Association of America president, from Crossville, Tenn.

The positive outlook on the racking horse breed’s future is evident everywhere around the arena grounds. It’s in the new registry ledgers that show a 26-percent increase this year.

See Also:
Horsin' around

It’s in the rear parking lot packed with horse trailers. It’s in fuller campsites. It’s in the barns that have more stalls rented than last year.

And it’s in brimming confidence for a 5-year marketing plan aimed at the grass-roots level.

Horse entries for the nine-day World Celebration, which concludes Saturday, are up 10 percent from last year.

The show rented out 530 stalls through Monday, 200 more than last year.

All but three of the 69 camper sites are occupied, the highest in years.

New registrations
Registration of new racking horses rose significantly from 304 in 2009 to 410 so far in 2010.

All that growth points to more revenue than in previous years.

“They say if you’re treading water in this economy, you’re doing good,” Walker said.

“But we’ve done better than treading water, we’ve seen an increase in revenue. We’ve outdone the rest of the economy. I think that speaks volumes.”

Racking horse growth bodes well for Decatur. Until recent years when the RHBAA saw its membership nosedive, World Celebration was the city’s largest tourism event annually. In 2003, World Celebration filled more than 2,500 hotel room nights.

Start of decline
A steep decline began in 2004, and last year, the show filled 302 room nights. The economic impact dropped from about $1 million in 2003 to $150,000 last year, according to figures from the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Walker and other racking horse officials said the growth stems from the most important factor in the economy: confidence.

The membership has regained confidence, they said, particularly with the association staff and with management of the arena. The latter is now under control of the Products Mart.

Judy Jones, RHBAA past president from Naples, N.C., and Fred McRoy, head of the association’s personnel and property committee from Olive Branch, Ill., said for several years, members grew frustrated by overextended staff and volunteers who couldn’t keep pace with basic needs. Often, association officers from out of town had to deal with facility issues, such as electric outages.

Cost issues
McRoy said it usually wasn’t simply a matter of finding someone to do repairs; it was finding someone affordable.

“I hardly ever get a call now,” McRoy said.

“Before, it was almost an every day deal,” Jones added.

The Products Mart, which officially bought the arena and property in January, made upgrades to the facility, including new water lines and a covered warm-up area, and has shown it will quickly respond to needs, both big and small, when horse shows come to the arena.

“When you have a problem and somebody is there to help you, it means a lot, and we didn’t have people who took care of that.” McRoy said.

Jones said selling the arena allows the association to focus full attention on promoting the racking horse breed.

Small shows throughout the spring and summer benefitted from financial and personal assistance this year, she added, and more attention to the grass-roots level should generate more interest in the bigger shows like World Celebration.

Jim Morris, former chairman of the personnel and property committee from Perryville, Mo., credits the extra attention given to association members is probably the chief reason there was a 26-percent increase in racking horse registrations this year. For the first time in years, the general public could see RHBAA officers unstressed and upbeat, he said.

“I’ve seen more enthusiasm with everybody down here, more enthusiasm than I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Morris said.

McRoy conceded he was pessimistic when he joined the RHBAA board three years ago, and it was wearing him out to spend 28 days out of the year in Priceville attending to facility issues.

“When I joined the board three years ago, I had to ask, ‘Why are you doing this. What is the future,’ ” he said.

“After we sold this place, I saw a future. I can see the positives of it. This year, I’ve enjoyed it.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Decatur officials considering fee increases to help balance budget

By Evan Belanger, The Decatur Daily

Decatur Mayor Don Stanford’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011 includes a host of revenue-generating fee increases, as well as numerous spending cuts.

City officials discussed the budget during a finance meeting Wednesday. Proposed fee increases included a 2-percent hike in the city’s 6-percent lodging tax and a 0.9-percent increase in garbage-collection rates.

Also proposed
Other budget proposals included a $1-per-month fee to be collected on all utility bills to recoup the cost of operating and maintaining street lights, traffic signals and outdoor lighting in public parks.

Another proposal projected $250,000 in additional revenue if the city hires Revenue Discovery Systems of Birmingham to help identify and collect delinquent taxes from companies and individuals that have done business in Decatur without purchasing a business license.

As expected, Stanford’s budget also called for numerous spending cuts, including the reduction or elimination of 27 public-service contracts and a $500,000 cut to the city school system. It would cut spending in nearly every city department, too.

The combined fee hikes and spending cuts increase Stanford’s revenue projection for fiscal 2011 from $51.94 million as of Sept. 1 to $53.32 million. That’s an overall revenue increase of nearly $1.4 million to project a $110,423 surplus for fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1.

Work in progress
Stanford and General Services Director Wally Terry stressed the budget was still a work in progress and that none of the proposals would become official until approved by the City Council.

“We want to look at all options to us ahead of time and that’s all we’re doing,” Terry said.

Of the city’s five councilmen, only Councilman Roger Anders attended the full meeting. While Councilman Billy Jackson stayed for part of the meeting, he left after discussion of a Fire and Rescue Department grant concluded.

Prior to the meeting, Jackson said he did not plan to stay for the full session because he did not want to condone the Wednesday finance meeting, which he said excludes the public from city business.

In reaction to the budget proposals, Anders asked for research showing how the proposed 8-percent lodging tax would compare with other cities’ lodging taxes. He also said he was concerned about cutting municipal appropriations to which the council had already committed.

“We’ll do our best to see what we can do about getting that back to them,” Stanford responded.

In addition to the proposals included in Stanford’s budget, Finance Supervisor Linda McKinney presented contingency options for the council to consider during upcoming budget hearings.

Those projected $120,000 in additional revenue if the city begins charging for public services it currently provides free and $500,000 in savings if the city cuts what a finance document referred to as “an identified service.”

City officials declined to say what services they may charge for or what service they may cut.

“Until we’re 100 percent sure that this is what we’re going to do, we’re not going to start speculating to the news media or to the public about, ‘We may do this, we may do that,’ ” Stanford said.

Another contingency proposal projected $800,000 in additional revenue if the city begins charging a sales-and-use tax in its police jurisdiction.

The proposed budget comes as the city officials project a $1.5-million budget deficit this year and a second consecutive year of declining revenue during fiscal 2011, after flat revenue in fiscal 2008 and 2009.

“We cannot expect to live on the revenues that we’ve lived on for the past four years,” Terry said.

“We’ve got to look at all options, and some of those options might not be viable, but if we don’t look at them and discuss them as a community, we won’t know that.”

Councilmen Gary Hammon, Ronny Russell and Greg Reeves did not attend the meeting.

Public service cuts
A draft of Mayor Don Stanford’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011 calls for numerous cuts to public-service agencies contracted with the city. Finance Supervisor Linda McKinney said the proposed cuts are based on several factors, including how much the agency received previously and the percentage that the city funding accounts for in the agencies’ budgets (*—proposed for 2011):

Agency 2010 Budget 2011* %Change
Decatur Public Library $372,081 $334,873 (10)
Morgan County Emergency Management District $566,474 $550,000 (2.9)
Decatur-Morgan County Emergency Mgt. Agency $26,791 $23,442 (12.5)
North-central Alabama Regional Council
of Governments (NARCOG)/Regional Planning $18,486 $18,846 0
North Central Alabama Mental Health Board $19,402 $0 (100)
Morgan County Economic Development Association $76,274 $64,883 (14.9)
NARCOG/Transportation Planning $26,100 $26,100 0
North Central Alabama Mental Retardation Authority $12,585 $10,680 (15.1)
NARCOG/Senior Aid Program $2,000 $0 (100)
Morgan County Health Department $148,200 $118,560 (20)
North Alabama Meals on Wheels Program $19,760 $15,808 (20)
Foster Grandparents Program $14,301 $0 (100)
Dec.-Morg. Co. Chamber of Commerce/BRAC program $9,534 $0 (100)
Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts $49,400 $40,000 (19)
Morgan County Area Transportation System $148,200 $150,000 1.2
Decatur-Morgan County Seniors Council $59,112 $53,200 (10)
Decatur-Morg. Co. Convention and Visitors Bureau $522,000 $560,000 7.3
Morgan County Rescue Squad $9,534 $8,342 (12.5)
Pryor Field Airport Authority $30,000 $30,000 0
Mainstreet Decatur $33,370 $0 (100)
Decatur-Morg. Co. Chamber/Cornerstone Partnership $38,137 $40,000 4.9
Hospice of the Valley $5,434 $0 (100)
American Red Cross $5,434 $0 (100)
Decatur Beautification Board $19,068 $18,000 (5.6)
North Central Alabama Mental Health/Facets $16,208 $0 (100)
ARC of Morgan County $7,074 $5,659 (20)
Dec.-Morg. Co. Chamber/Business Dev. Board $28,602 $22,882 (20)
Volunteer Center of Morgan County $10,488 $0 (100)
Carnegie Visual Arts Center $4,940 $20,000 304.9
Parents And Children Together $4,767 $0 (100)
Morgan County System of Services $4,800 $4,800 0
Decatur Community Free Clinic $74,100 $59,280 (20)
Morgan County Child Advocacy Center $24,700 $20,995 (15)
Junior Achievement of North Alabama $4,767 $0 (100)
Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority $74,100 $74,100 0
Decatur Youth Symphony $14,302 $13,500 (5.6)
Calhoun Community College Robotics Complex $250,000 $250,000 0
Downtown Arts Center $200,000 $300,000 50
Decatur-Morgan County Entrepreneurial Center $60,000 $90,000 50
Total $3,010,885 $2,923,950 (2.9)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Several spending votes pulled from City Council agenda

By Evan Belanger, The Decatur Daily

Decatur Council President Greg Reeves has delayed votes on two transportation-enhancement projects, pending the outcome of upcoming budget talks.

Reeves said Tuesday he called off the votes, which would have authorized projects to revamp a portion of Bank Street downtown and beautify the U.S. 31 causeway, because he was not sure the city will have the needed $134,430 in its incomplete fiscal 2011 budget to match grants for the projects.

While he described the projects as needed and said he would know more as the city continues its budget process, he also said the city may have to wait until fiscal 2012 to fund its portion.

The 2010 grants awarded by the Alabama Department of Transportation total $537,720 in federal funding, not including the city’s matching funds. Grant Administrator Allen Stover said the city must start the projects by 2012 to accept the grant money.

Hiring vote delayed
In related matters, Reeves also delayed a vote that would have hired the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama at a cost of $17,000 to help the city adopt a new budgeting system. Reeves said he expects that item will make it back on the council’s agenda for consideration Sept. 20 or Oct. 4.

At the request of Tami Reist, director of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Reeves also canceled four votes that would have increased the bureau’s take from the city’s lodging tax from 75 percent to 95 percent.

The extra funding was intended as part of a plan for the visitors bureau to begin funding the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts and the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

But Reeves said the plan may be unraveling because Reist had concerns the proposed funding was not enough to cover the extra expense. Reist said the votes were tabled because they were uncertain if the funds would be available in the city’s 2011 budget.

It was not clear Tuesday when the council will consider a budget for fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Riverfest 2010

From the Decatur Daily

According to Norman Roby, there will be butts burning in Decatur this weekend, and you don’t want to miss it! The 16th annual Decatur Jaycees Riverfest will roll into Ingalls Harbor on Friday and Saturday with fun, food and entertainment like you have never seen or heard of around these parts.

The 2010 event kicks off with the unveiling of a historic marker celebrating the heritage of Ingalls Harbor and its future as a world-class entertainment venue. The unveiling is set for noon Friday. The Carolina Chocolate Drops will headline the event on Friday night at 9:45. Be sure to register Friday before 8 p.m. for the 5K Rib Run that will begin Saturday morning at 8 a.m. followed by awards at 9:30. Registration is $20 in advance or $25 the day of the race and is sponsored by Pepsi and Fleet Street Sports. Saturday also features a canoe/kayak race at the Riverwalk Marina starting at 10 to benefit the Morgan County Rescue Squad with entry fees at $25 for a two-man (or woman) team. Over $500 in cash and prizes will be awarded.

Enjoy the variety of foods and the new addition of arts and craft vendors along with what promises to be a grand adventure. One-day passes are $10 and weekend passes are $15. They can be purchased through the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce or the Convention and Visitors Bureau, both on Sixth Avenue, online at www.decaturjaycees.com or at the gate for cash only.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Horton's program a winner for all involved

Paul Stackhouse, Outdoors, The Decatur Daily

Across the years, I have personally got to witness smiles on the faces of youngsters and special needs adults while participating in Tim Horton’s “Fishing for Kids” program.

It’s just one of the many ways that the professional Bassmaster Elite Series angler from North Alabama has given back from his many seasons of fishing success.

The 2010 edition of “Fishing for Kids” is coming up Oct. 9 on Pickwick Lake out of McFarland Park in Florence.

Hearing from Decatur’s Don Gowen this week, he made it known that volunteers are needed to make this year’s event the best ever.

Gowen with the Bassmasters of North Alabama is assisting Horton in gathering things needed for the day of fun and fishing.

One of the much-needed items are boats and boat captains to take the participants out on the lake.

The boat captains are asked to show they have at least $100,000 minimum of liability insurance.

While on the subject of boats, people with pontoon boats that can be used are also needed because some of the special-needs folks will be fishing from wheelchairs.

I think that statement alone speaks for itself just how special of a project this is.

Gowen also pointed out the need for volunteers to help with the tournament and the event picnic. People are needed to help with everything from registration to organization.

To hold such as event cost plenty and funding is needed to help offset the many expenses of the program.

Gowen said sponsorships are low this year and all donations and contributions are greatly appreciated.

Since Tim began the program in 1997, nearly 1,500 children and adults have taken part in the fun. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard Horton speak with upbeat emotion about “Fishing for Kids”. He is known to say how he gets more enjoyment out of this program than anything else he does in the world of bass fishing. That says quite a lot coming from someone as successful as Horton.

The boaters and volunteers will need to be at McFarland Park no later than 10 a.m. the day of the tournament as the participants will be arriving shortly afterward. If you know of any special-needs child or adults, or disadvantaged youngsters who would like to participate in the event, you need to sign up as soon as possible so proper preparations can be made.

For further information, you may call Brad Whitehead at 256-483-0834. Also, you may visit Horton’s website at timmyhorton.com.

Shootout time
The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau is hosting the Southern Team Shootout Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, 2010, which is making its first appearance on Wheeler Lake.

The tournament is open to BASS Federation Nation Club members and is a fish with your own partner event.

The entry fee to participate is $600 per team and there is a 100 percent payback.

Takeoffs ill be at 7 a.m. with 3 p.m. weigh-ins at Ingalls Harbor.

For more information, visit decaturcvb.org and click on the “Things to do” link. You may also call the DMCCVB at 256-350-2028.

Decatur City Council Meeting Notes

From the Decatur Daily

The Decatur City Council will consider the following during its 6 p.m. meeting Monday at City Hall:

A $20,843 contract for Coin Laundry Equipment to furnish, deliver and install two tumble dryers for the Decatur Police Department.
A $26,650 contract for Landfill Service Corp. to furnish and deliver alternate daily cover for the Landfill Department.
A zoning text amendment loosening signs restrictions in the B-5 Central Business District.
A request from Janice Simpson to annex 39 acres south of Mud Tavern Road and west of Rockwood Road Southwest.
The abatement of unsafe conditions at 608 W. Moulton St. belonging to BBVA Compass Bank.
The abatement of unsafe conditions at 1023 Sixth Ave. S.W., belonging to Angela Rollison, America’s Wholesale Lender.
The abatement of unsafe conditions at 802 Cashin St. N.W., belonging to Mary Jane Harris.
Assess a total of $9,430.53 against 2808 Lexington Ave. S.W., 1507 17th Ave. S.W., 2311 Amberly Lane S.W., 1010 Ninth Ave. S.E., 2105 Covington Lane S.W., 2212 Willow Ave. S.W., 1918 Montgomery St. S.W., 1920 Montgomery St. S.W., 1715 Betty St. S.W., 310 W. Moulton St. N.W., 1408 Locust St. S.E., 840 E. Moulton St., 905 Austin St. S.W., 125 Bluebird Lane S.W., 315 Larkwood Drive S.W., 714 Cashin St. N.W., 1031 Bedford Drive S.W., 219 Memorial Drive N.W., 1005 Sixth Ave. S.W., 305 Lafayette St. N.W., 1913 10th St. S.E., 218 Sixth Ave. S.W., and 1900 Enolam Blvd. S.E. for the cost of nuisance abatement.
Three appointments to the Medical Clinic Board.
An appointment to the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
An appointment to the Planning Commission.
A resolution to correct and clarify appointments to the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.
A $7,250.80 change order to the contract with Flagship Contracting for the Alabama 20 sewer extension.
A license for Ducks Unlimited to hold a special event Nov. 4 at 2901-D Point Mallard Circle S.E.
A resolution authorizing the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau to administer operating funds to the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts and the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.
A resolution authorizing and directing the mayor to execute a 12-month contract with the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the amount of 95 percent of the city’s lodging tax.
An ordinance authorizing and directing the mayor to execute a lease agreement with the Carnegie Visual Arts Center for property at 207 Church St. N.E.
An ordinance authorizing and directing the mayor to execute a lease agreement with the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts for property at 112 Second Ave

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sword and the Stone

Amy Pollick, The Decatur Daily

A few months ago, we told you about the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau coming across a Diet Mountain Dew bottle that no one on staff could open.

The staff jokingly informed Ronnie Dukes, marketing manager for Pepsi Cola Bottling of Decatur, and Dukes, who is a bureau board member commonly known as the Pepsi man, sent one of his employees to deliver a bottle they could open.

The rest of the story: The bureau kept the stubborn bottle and repeatedly asked visitors to try opening it. All failed. So at a recent board lunch meeting, the staff placed the bottle in front of unsuspecting Dukes. They expected to see him struggle and get a good laugh. Instead, Dukes unscrewed it, seemingly without straining.

“To be able to open that bottle, he really had to be the Pepsi man,” said bureau business manager Sharon Holder.

Cook-off looks like another fine feast

Paul Stackhouse, Outdoors, The Decatur Daily

Serving as a judge for the Alabama Wildlife Federation Cook-off last year at Ingalls Harbor, I was simply amazed at all of the dishes and recipes that came through the taste-test trailer. The dozen or so judges were constantly saying how the cooking teams once again out-did themselves. I personally had second helpings of some venison, turkey and fish plates.

Well, it’s that time of year again as the 15th edition of the AWF Cook-off will visit Ingalls Harbor on Oct. 5, 2010, with the outdoor chefs handing out their delicious plates beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The 2009 event had to be one of the biggest outdoor related parties that Decatur has ever seen. More than 1,200 outdoor enthusiasts came to enjoy all the fun and festivities.

“It will be tough trying to top last year’s cook-off, but we’re certainly going to give it a try,” said AWF’s Sam Glover last week. “We’re going to have more than 1,000 square feet of tent set up. That in itself means we’re expecting a lot. The way it’s looking, I look for us to have another fantastic get-together.”

Once again, AWF is seeking cooking teams to come in and prepare their outdoor dishes for everyone to enjoy. The cooking competition involves three categories, which are fish, fowl and game.

Besides the great food, there will be a deejay playing music. An ever-growing silent auction will be there, too.

Chances to win a Browning shotgun and other prizes will be available. Door prizes will be distributed, too.

One of the door prizes is a 12-gauge Remington 3-inch, 870 Express shotgun. A youth gun also will be given away along with Summit Tree Stands, a hard gun case and more.

Admission is $35 per couple/person at the gate. The admission price includes food and one membership in the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

The membership does include a year subscription to AWF’s outdoor magazine.

For ticket or cook team information, call David Thomas (256-606-4161), Glover (256-318-0157) or Jill Stone (256-318-4422). There is no admission fee for cooking teams or children under 15 years of age.

More Ingalls activities
The Alabama Bass Federation has selected Decatur, Wheeler Lake and Ingalls Harbor to host the 2010 annual Alabama Junior Bassmaster State Championship Tournament, where young anglers from across the state will vie for a chance at earning a berth in the Junior Bassmaster World Championship.

The state tournament is set for Sept. 25 from 8 a.m. through 2 p.m. The official weigh-in will be at 2:30 p.m. at Academy Sports located at 1205 Wimberly Drive S.W., in Decatur.

The event is sponsored by the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau and is hosted by the Bassmasters of North Alabama and their junior club (Junior Bassmasters of North Alabama).

“Ingalls Harbor has been the location for numerous professional fishing tournaments and now junior anglers from across Alabama will have the opportunity to fish where the pros have been competing and experience our world class fishing facility,” said Tami Reist, president of the DMCCVB in a release.

Alabama BASS Federation Nation members and major Elite Series or WBT PRO-Anglers will serve as boat captains for the tournament.

Once a junior member reaches the age of 11, they can begin competing against others in the program. The two age groups are 11-14 and 15-18.

For more information on the Junior Bassmaster State Championship, contact Alabama Bass Federation National Youth Director Bobby McDonald at 205-854-6246 or 205-903-0919 or visit albassfednation.com and click on “Youth”. Also, for further details you may contact the DMCCVB at 256-350-2028 or visit its website at decaturcvb.org and click on the “Things to Do” link.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

'This is our history'

Snapshot of Civil War life at Battle for Decatur re-enactment
By Catherine Godbey, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

What’s more entertaining than dressing in wool uniforms, cooking without electricity and living in the 19th century? For Jim and Cathy Wilson, nothing.

About eight weekends each year, the Lacey’s Spring couple leaves their comfortable clothing, stable shelter and modern-day technology behind to travel across the Southeast from North Carolina to Georgia as Civil War re-enactors.

“Re-enactments are living history presentations. They are a way to portray life as it actually was during the Civil War, so that our children and grandchildren can understand what took place and what their ancestors went through,” said Jim Wilson, a member of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, Company G, Wheeler’s Escort.

This weekend, while some families celebrate the long Labor Day holiday with barbecues and boating, the Wilsons will celebrate by re-creating the Battle for Decatur.

At Point Mallard on Saturday and Sunday the ground will shake, the air will fill with smoke and men will fall just as they did 146 years ago on the banks of the Tennessee River, the current location of Old Decatur.

“This is our history,” said Larry Thomson, a member of the Sons of the Confederacy. “This is what happened right here in Decatur when the Confederate and Union troops fought in 1864.”

Created from memoirs, personal accounts and historical documents, the re-enactment details the four-day battle that ended with a Union victory where thousands of men fought and 605 men died.

The battle, acted out by more than 200 re-enactors from across the southeastern United States, will feature cannons, horses and gunpowder, bringing to life the history typically relegated to words and paintings in 1,000-page social studies textbooks. In this battle, however, the North will win Saturday and the South will win Sunday.

“This was one of our nation’s most interesting periods. It shaped the country forever,” Wilson said. “Most people don’t know that 2 percent of the U.S. died during the war, either through battle or disease. Our main objective is to bring to light to the public the reality of the events that transpired at that time.”

As a fifth-grader in Rossville, Ga., Wilson learned of the reality as he toured the battlefields of northeastern Georgia.

“As a Boy Scout I hiked to all of the battlefields in the Chickamauga campaign. That piqued my interest in what went on in the battles and how the soldiers lived,” Wilson said.

Family affair
Eight years ago, Wilson turned his passion into a hobby and joined the 1st Alabama Cavalry. After six months of listening to him rave about the events, Cathy Wilson accompanied her husband to the re-enactments — a frequent occurrence during the Civil War when the men were not on a campaign.

“People don’t realize sometimes women joined their husbands, who were mostly commanding officers, at the garrison camps,” Jim Wilson said. “At the re-enactments my wife cooks and dresses just like the women of that time did. She goes to the ladies’ tea and we go to the dance together. It is a snapshot of what life for troops and their families was like.”

Along with the re-enactments, Civil War relics, mounted cavalry patrols, garrison camps and performances by the 5th Alabama military band will transport visitors from the 21st century of laptops and cell phones to the mid-19th century.

“People will hear cannons, and if you’ve never heard a cannon before it is quite an experience,” said Thomson, who described himself as a “lowly infantryman” with five years of experience. “There will be horses, cowboying, authentic food, instructors teaching dance at the Military Ball and troops in period dress.”

“Some of the seasoned re-enactors look like they stepped right out of 1864,” Jim Wilson added. “It looks like they were just dug out from a real battle and dusted off.”

Thomson expects about 4,000 spectators to attend the weekend festival.

Events will kick off Friday morning, with a school session for local children.

“We will put the kids and their teachers through drills the troops would go through. We hope to have music from the Morgan County Dulcimer Association. We will also explain to the kids about the battle and its importance in the war,” Thomson said.

On Saturday, organizers scheduled a ladies’ tea and a Military Ball. The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will host a free guided waling tour Saturday of locations key to the battle. All of the events are free.

The 32nd annual Battle for Decatur is hosted by the 13th Alabama Partisan Rangers, the 6th Alabama Cavalry, 4th Alabama Cavalry Company F, and Camp 580 Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“We want everyone who comes to feel like they are actually in 1864 and living through the Civil War,” Thomson said. “This should be a great show for the entire family.”

If you go

What: 32nd annual Battle for Decatur Civil War Re-enactment

Where: Point Mallard Park

Cost: Free admission to all events.


9:30 a.m.: Ladies’ Tea at the Point Mallard Chapel

10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Camps open to the public

2 p.m.: Battle re-enactment

3-5 p.m.: Camps open to the public

3:30 p.m.: Guided walking tour through Old Decatur

7 p.m.: Military Ball at the Point Mallard Chapel


10 a.m.- p.m.: Camps open to the public

2 p.m.: Battle re-enactment

3-5 p.m.: Camps open to the public.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ghana ties Tide in exhibition

Paul Huggins, staff writer, The Decatur Daily

The national under-17 women’s soccer team from Ghana finished its four-game collegiate exhibition schedule Monday night in Tuscaloosa with an undefeated record after tying The University of Alabama at 2 goals.

The Black Maidens, as they call themselves, finished with two wins and two ties: wins over Mississippi State and North Alabama and ties with Columbus, (Ga.) State and Alabama.

The team has been in Decatur since Aug. 15 training for this month’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad-Tobago.

Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a team official was highly complimentary of the collegiate competition and facilities at Jack Allen Recreation Complex and probably would recommend Decatur as a training site to Ghana’s U-20 men’s team should it qualify for the World Cup.

The Ghana team will leave for Trinidad-Tobago on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Officials try to lure BASS HQ to Morgan

By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Tourism officials hope Decatur’s reputation as a top venue for fishing tournaments and the recent purchase of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society by a Morgan County native will lead BASS officials to make the River City their new corporate headquarters.

“Why not just give it a shot?” Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, asked of sending invitation letters to Don Logan and Jerry McKinnis, two of three men who bought BASS from ESPN earlier this month. “No risk, no rewards,” she said, reiterating a motto she said she learned from David Bronner, chief executive officer of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

Her letter said she would like to discuss BASS moving its headquarters from Orlando to Decatur and noted Decatur’s central location to the Bassmaster Tournament Trail and proximity to eight lakes and rivers.

“Our city and community leaders, lodging and retail establishments all understand the importance of catering to professional and recreational anglers,” Reist’s letter reads.

Reist said she heard Logan, a Hartselle native and former CEO of Time Warner, was interested in moving BASS from Florida closer to Birmingham, where he now lives. She added that Logan’s mother and a sister still live in the Hartselle area and his granddaughter looks after his mother.

BASS was founded in Montgomery in 1968 by Ray Scott. It is the largest membership organization of bass anglers in the country, with more than 500,000 members. ESPN bought it in 2001 and expanded it to include media platforms including three magazines and a popular website.

The purchasing party will assume ownership of all BASS assets, BASS said in a statement announcing the sale. As part of the agreement, BASS’ core TV programming assets — the Bassmaster Elite Series and Bassmaster Classic — will remain on ESPN networks.

Logan, before his retirement in 2002, oversaw Time Inc., America Online, Time Warner Cable and the Time Warner Book Group. The Auburn graduate is an avid fisherman.

His business partners in the endeavor are outdoorsman McKinnis, host of ESPN’s second longest-running show, “The Fishin’ Hole,” and Jim Copeland, who is on the board of directors of three Fortune 500 companies.

Reist met Logan in March when Logan was the guest speaker for the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the letter regarding the headquarters, Reist invited Logan to attend the Sept. 17 groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ingalls pavilion.

“The letter was the first step,” she said, adding BASS has not responded to the letter. “I haven’t called because I know any time you’re going through a buy-out or change, they have more fish to fry than to worry about us. The letter was more or less just opening the line of communication. We just wanted to send out something and let him know that we’re ready to work with him.”

BASS and Decatur have had a working relationship for more than a decade, with Decatur serving as a host site for multiple Bassmaster tournaments, including the prestigious Elite series. BASS officials spoke highly of Decatur’s performance in hosting large tournaments and called Ingalls Harbor one of the finest facilities of its kind in the nation.

Meeting Notes

by Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted the following business during in monthly meeting for August:

Reported end of fiscal 2010 figures showing revenue was $65,553 below budget projections. After adjusting the budget expenses during the year, the bureau ended fiscal 2010 with a $39,118 deficit.
Reported July revenue was $64,832, which was $9,934 above budget projections. July expenses exceeded the budget by $10,745, so the month had a $848 deficit.
Reported the city collected $81,872 in lodging taxes in May, up 6 percent from the same month in 2009. For fiscal 2010, the city has collected $623,854 in lodging taxes, down 12 percent from fiscal 2009. The bureau receives 75 percent of lodging taxes for operating and advertising.
Reported the $2-per-night room occupancy tax generated $47,775 in May, up $5,814 from the same month last year. For the year, the tax has generated $356,075. The money goes toward developing tourism products, such as Ingalls Harbor.
Reported Decatur hotels filled 58 percent of their available room nights in May, up 7 percent from the same month in 2009. It was the highest rate for May going back to 2002.
Reported special events in July filled 776 hotel room nights, creating an economic impact of $394,838. The largest event was spillover business from the Jehovah’s Witness district convention in Huntsville that generated 508 room nights. The same convention also filled 205 room nights in June.
Paul Huggins

Bass Fishing League returns

As many as 320 anglers coming to Decatur in 2011
By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

The FLW Bass Fishing League will bring its regional championship and as many as 320 anglers to Decatur and Wheeler Lake in October 2011.

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau said the event could have an economic impact of more than $400,000, based on figures from the previous time Decatur and Ingalls Harbor hosted the BFL tourney in 2008.

Bid fees and support services for the event will cost the visitors bureau $5,000.

“It’s a really good for what we get out of it and what we put into it,” said Tami Reist, visitors bureau president.

The event, one of six regional championships nationwide, will draw anglers from Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. The top six boaters and co-anglers from the regional will move on the BFL All-American, considered the Super Bowl to the BFL angler.

The tournament will be Oct. 13-15.

FLW Outdoors, named after Forrest L. Wood, the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, is the largest fishing tournament organization in the world and offered anglers the chance to win more than $33 million through 231 tournaments in 2009.

Weekend angler
BFL’s competition circuit is devoted to the weekend angler and operates like a development league. Top BFL performers can move up to FLW Outdoors’s American Fishing Series (formerly known as the FLW Stren Series) or the top-tier FLW Tour.

FLW Outdoors will bring its American Fishing Series Invitational to Decatur on Nov. 4-6. It expects to draw about 200 anglers.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Making themselves at home on River City turf

Not Ghana back down
Young players from Africa nation training in Decatur
By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

They may live 6,500 miles away on another continent, but the teenage girls from Ghana looked no different from American teens when they entered Decatur Mall on Wednesday.

They went straight for stores with cell phones, iPods and shoes.

But, though they may look like typical middle school and high school girls while trying on shoes, when they lace up their soccer cleats, there is nothing typical about their play. They are the under-17 national team for the West African nation, and they have been in Decatur since Aug. 15 preparing for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad-Tobago next month.

How good are these youths competing at the world championship level? Well, how many 13- to 17-year-olds do you know who could defeat a collegiate team from the Southeastern Conference, which they did Tuesday, knocking off Mississippi State, 1-0. Think of it this way: How well do you think a collection of football players from Brookhaven Middle School and Decatur High School would fair against an SEC team?

Local residents can see for themselves Thursday at the Jack Allen Soccer Complex.

Game against UNA

The Ghana team will take on the University of North Alabama women’s soccer team at 7 p.m. Admission is free. It will be the second of four exhibition matches against college teams, as Ghana plays Georgia on Friday in Columbus, Ga., and Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Monday.

“The were very, very good,” Edne Yeke, Ghana assistant coach, said about Mississippi State. “That is what we play, so that is what we expect.

“It was very tough, stiff competition,” she said. “That is what we want, and that is what we need. We came here purposely for training.”

Soccer is the biggest sport in Ghana, followed by field hockey and basketball, Yeke said.

The children play soccer at an early age but don’t become part of organized teams until they’re at least 10, she said. There are no youth, recreation leagues like in America, she said, and Ghanaian youths get invited to join club teams when they distinguish themselves on school playgrounds or just playing against friends in the streets.

Tonight’s game is especially meaningful for Sarah Beth Henderson, a freshman walk-on at UNA who played forward and midfield for Decatur High. The game is a chance to show her new teammates her hometown, but she said she’s most excited about the level of competition Ghana brings.

“This opportunity to play an international team is amazing,” she said, noting UNA has about 10 players from Great Britain. “We can help them and they can help us grow as a team. So we’re just thrilled to death. We’re all pumped for it.”

Scott Spencer, former head of the Alabama Youth Soccer Association, who steered some major tournaments toward Jack Allen and now coaches the Atlanta Beat, a women’s professional soccer team, helped set up the collegiate exhibition matches.

Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said getting the collegiate competition was big for Ghana and that the team considered moving its training site to California until Spencer lined up the colleges.

The Ghana team chose Decatur earlier this summer based on the recommendation of a collegiate coach who brought his team to Jack Allen. The facility, which has 10 international size, lighted soccer fields with laser-graded turf, lived up to its reputation.

“We’ve enjoyed the fields,” said Ghana player Beatrice Sesu, 15. “We don’t have fields this good in Ghana.

“It helps us a lot,” she added. “It gets you used to the fields we will play on when we get to the World Cup.”

Yeke agreed that a key part of the team’s training is getting accustomed to the high quality fields, and she added that Decatur is fortunate to have such a nice facility as Jack Allen.

“If Africa can get such facilities you have here, no one can turn us,” she said.

Ghana also chose Decatur because coaches wanted to train in hot, humid weather like they would experience in Trinidad-Tobago.

The team, which is staying at the Country Inn & Suites, generally practices in the morning and early evening. The players take a day off training after an exhibition match, so they don’t have many days left to practice here.

Sesu said it hasn’t been all work while they’ve been in town. The team has enjoyed resting at the hotel and everyone looks forward to visiting the U.S. Space and Rocket Center the day before they leave for the World Cup on Sept. 2. The team also accepted a Decatur caterer’s offer to use her kitchen to prepare their own meals.

Jackie Grimsley, owner of The Casual Gourmet, has brought the team into her kitchen on Somerville Road Southeast several times.

“A lot of what they cook is not much different from what we eat, except everything is much hotter. It’s unbelievably hot. It will get rid of every evil spirit you ever thought you have,” she joked, noting they use a lot of habanera and chilli peppers.

“And they’re eating a lot of steamed veggies. They do fresh vegetables every day,” Grimsley said.

Sesu said getting to cook their own food is a big help not only because it reminds them of home, but much of the American food is too greasy compared to what their stomachs are accustomed to digesting; so getting good, familiar food also has helped with training.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Meeting Notes- Morgan County Commission

by SHERYL MARSH, The Decatur Daily

The Morgan County Commission conducted the following business during its meeting Thursday:

Approved a $45,770 bid from Autoclear to provide X-ray machines for courthouse security.

Approved giving a $2,500 contribution to Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau and $1,500 to Racking Horse Association World Celebration.

Approved a deed tax refund of $118.51 for Sandra W. Whatley, Renasant Bank.

Approved leave without pay for Dana Hendrix, a county employee.

Authorized the chairman to execute a contract with Godwin-Barnett to design a parking lot in the old jail annex space.

Approved certificates to subdivide or consolidate properties for Samuel and Arlene Nisly with Millard and Mary Yoder, Reeder Road in District 3.

Designated Sept. 27 through Oct. 2 fall cleanup week in the county.

Authorized the chairman to advertise for bids to remodel the old parks and recreation building on Shull Road.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Wildlife Festival Canceled

From staff reports, The Decatur Daily

The Southern Wildlife Festival has been canceled for 2010 after 28 years as an annual event, organizers said Thursday.

The festival had been scheduled for Aug. 20-22. There are plans to resume the festival in 2011, and dates will be announced, according to a release from the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The festival has traditionally been held in October but was moved to the third weekend in August for 2010 in an attempt to avoid conflicts, such as with football season, and revive dwindling attendance. Organizers had said they were struggling to attract the same number of artists in August as had been part of the show in the past, and that apparently was one factor in the cancellation.

In October 2009, the two-day art show and sale attracted 30 artists, including painters, carvers and photographers.

The show also featured demonstrations with live birds of prey and a hand-carved, working duck decoy competition and exhibition.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Group makes plans for Civil War's 150th anniversary

By Deangelo McDaniel, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

If you’re not a Civil War history buff, you may not know that the orders authorizing the first shots in the bloody conflict came from a man whose legal and political career started in Lawrence County.

LeRoy Pope Walker, the first secretary of war for the Confederate States of America, opened a law office in Moulton in the 1840s and represented the county in the Alabama House of Representatives.

It was after a series of correspondence with CSA President Jefferson Davis that Walker authorized the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

The story of Walker’s role in the regional conflict is one fact historians from three states will recall during the 150th anniversary of the start of the war in 2011.

The Tri-State Civil War Association met in Decatur on Tuesday to discuss plans for the celebration. The organization consists of historians and tourism and visitor bureaus from Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

“We’re not in competition because this war touched us all,” said John Culpepper, the association’s co-chairman.

Culpepper is city manager for the city of Chickamauga in Georgia. The association, he said, grew from Georgia’s more than five-year-old Civil War Commission.

Culpepper said the potential for tourism in each state is unlimited. He said descendants of former soldiers are always interested in visiting battle sites where family members fought.

“When they plan vacations, they’ll be looking for hotels and places to eat,” Culpepper said.

Tami Reist works for the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She attended Tuesday’s meeting and plans to post Civil War events in the area on the organization’s website. Reist also has been collecting Civil War era stories that will appear in a book.

“This should be a big year for Alabama,” she said.

There were no major battles in Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties, but the area was strategically important to both sides because of the Memphis to Charleston Railroad and the Tennessee River.

By the time Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysess S. Grant in April 1865, more than 600,000 Americans had died and the Tennessee Valley was a shell of its former self.

“Nothing changed this area like the Civil War,” Pond Spring Site Director Melissa Beasley said.

Pond Spring was a parole headquarters after Lee’s surrender. It was also a camp site for both armies during the war.

In June 1864, Confederate Col. Josiah Patterson of Morgan County used Pond Spring as his headquarters. The Union Army attacked him.

“The balls rattled like hail over the place, and one of the Negroes had a piece taken out of the knee of his pants,” Amanda Morgan Sherrod wrote about the attack.

Peggy Allen Towns has been researching and writing about black soldiers in the area. She attended the tri-state meeting. Culpepper said the celebration should include the black experience.

Towns recently obtained the pension records of LaFayette Garth. They reveal that despite being sick, Garth refused to leave the battlefield when Union forces destroyed Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee in 1864 in Franklin, Tenn.

“There are so many stories about the black soldiers that have not been told,” Towns said.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Catching dragonflies

18-year-old emerging artist part of the Carnegie’s public art trail
By Patrice Stewart, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Hanging out with insects at Cook’s Natural Science Museum doesn’t bother Whitley Fleming.

As long as she has her drawing equipment, she’s OK to sit for hours with the ants, beetles and spiders.

Her familiarity with dragonflies and other insects made it natural for the budding artist to paint two critters for this summer’s Dance of the Dragonflies while also building her own portfolio.

She saw the Carnegie Visual Arts Center’s 2010 public art trail as a chance to contribute pretty, attention-getting items to Decatur while also getting experience with a different category of art.

The 18-year-old, who has drawn and painted from a young age, hopes to have a career as a graphic designer. Look for her illustrations in a bug book in the future.

See Also:

“My mom works at the Cook’s museum in Decatur, so I was able to go by there and see the different bugs,” said Fleming, the daughter of Darron and Allison Fleming of Trinity.

“Since I like to draw, it’s a nice place for me to go and sit and draw the different insects. They’re not alive or moving, so it’s easier to get your proportions right while seeing them close up,” she said.

A recent graduate of Master’s Hand home-school program, she completed a summer art appreciation course at Calhoun Community College. She has been awarded a fine arts scholarship to Calhoun for 2010-11.

Fleming did not participate in the Carnegie’s “Arts Aflutter” butterfly trail last summer, but she decided to get involved in the Dance of the Dragonflies trail after learning about it last winter through the Carnegie’s Facebook page.

Area artists were asked to submit drawings of their ideas. Dragonfly sponsors could chose from the samples, and the Carnegie committee matched some up.

“They were trying to keep it geared toward the city of Decatur and things we associated with Decatur, so I thought about the Cook’s Museum and the Alabama Jubilee balloon festival,” Fleming said.

She submitted two designs, and both were chosen. They can be viewed on Old Decatur streets until the Dragonfly Ball on Aug. 14, when the painted metal beauties will be auctioned or go to their sponsors.

“Nature’s Wonder” is the name Fleming gave her dragonfly painted in green and yellow with insects like ants, grasshoppers and other varmints. The sponsor is the Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association Inc., and this piece is at 511 Oak St. N.E.

“I was thinking of the different insects that I remembered seeing in this area when I was little,” she said. “There’s a firefly on there like those that I remember catching around here, and I added some butterflies, too.”

“The Sky’s the Limit,” Fleming’s other dragonfly, features clouds and hot-air balloons. It was chosen to represent the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau and stands in Founders Park at Bank and Church streets.

One of the best parts was painting her dragonflies in a warehouse where many experienced artists were working.

“It was neat to meet the other artists, learn from them and see that they have jobs around here, too,” said Fleming. “Art is my passion, and I’ll be excited to see what it opens up.”

Insects are not her only topics, however.

She entered a drawing of an octopus in last year’s “Embracing Art” exhibit of area art at the Carnegie and also earned honorable mention the past two years in the Junior Duck Stamp art competition at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.

As a home-schooler, her art teacher was Michelle Wilson of Hartselle. Last fall, Fleming’s mixed-media work, titled “Memoirs,” was the only local piece chosen to be displayed with about 60 from around the state at an exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

Vote for your favorite

Have you viewed all the art on the Dance of the Dragonflies trail and voted for your favorite online?

You only have another week and a half, so it’s time to get out and see this second annual display of public art sponsored by the Carnegie Visual Arts Center and many companies, agencies and individuals.

Fifty-nine painted metal dragonflies are on display, featuring everything from area attractions, flowers, river life and the Delta IV rocket to memories of individuals.

Some dragonflies even capture the “Coffee and Camaraderie” of the morning coffee club at the City CafĂ© and Alabama football’s bragging rights on a “Braggin’ Fly.”

There are too many to list here, but they can be seen on the arts center’s trail website, www.carnegieartstrail.org. Trail brochures can be downloaded from the website or picked up at the Carnegie. And if you walk or ride along the trail, you may also spot some butterflies from the 2009 public art project that are now in permanent locations chosen by sponsors.

Dragonfly Ball

The public art trail will officially end with the Dragonfly Ball on Aug. 14, when large and small dragonflies will be auctioned.

The event, planned at Burningtree Country Club from 7 to 10 p.m., will include music by The Valley Cats dance band, heavy hors d’oeuvres, complimentary signature drinks and cash bar. Tickets to this Carnegie fundraiser must be purchased by Friday at $75 per person. Call 341-0562 for information.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Ouch with an asterisk for the City

Editorial, The Decatur Daily

Decatur residents should appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that Tami Reist puts into her leadership role as president of Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Her attitude is so positive that she is turning the loss of the city's biggest tourism event into a seemingly good thing.

The loss of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in May will open hotel rooms for people attending the SoulStock one-day outdoor concert at Point Mallard, she said.

The softball tournament is leaving the city after a 13-year run. Reist and board members wanted, and received, quick feedback on why the teams left for Gulf Shores. With that information they can regroup and go after the tournament in two years.

In the meanwhile, the city has state tennis championships in 2011-13 and the Southwest Athletic Conference men and women's tennis championships next year.

It also has a three-on-three soccer tournament next year.

The Bureau also is working on hosting a rowing regatta at Point Mallard, and more tennis, softball and soccer championship events.

Reist said the Bureau was looking for a "wow" and wound up with an "ouch."

It was, however, a ouch with an asterisk — overall the ratings that team members gave the facilities and accommodations were good.

Now she has a goal to improve them, which based on her record will happen because people want to buy into her enthusiasm.