Monday, February 21, 2011

Add playground to soccer at Jack Allen

By Tiffeny Owens
The Decatur Daily

By late spring, the children of Southwest Decatur will have a new place to play.

City officials will break ground May 6 on a new playground at the Jack Allen Recreational Complex. Decatur’s Parks and Recreation Department hopes to finish the project in time for warmer, spring weather, said Director Jeff Dunlap.

The playground is part of a comprehensive plan for the complex, located on Modaus Road Southwest, which could include a splash pad and a picnic area.

Dunlap met with Pelham-based playground company J.A. Dawson & Company Inc. earlier this month to discuss the project’s layout. The play area would be 49-by-76-feet, according to the company.

“We’ve got to figure out how to restructure the area for irrigation, but our goal is to have it ready by spring,” Dunlap said. “The weather could slow us down though.”

The playground wouldn’t have been possible without the help of state Sen. Arthur Orr, Dunlap said.

“He was able to secure the $125,000 (from the state) to fund the project,” Dunlap said.

Orr, R-Decatur, said that, excluding the Beltline Road area and school playgrounds, families in Southwest Decatur do not have a playground available to them.

“I hope this will be a place for families to bring their kids but also help broaden the appeal of the Jack Allen complex,” Orr said. “I see it helping our local people but also helping the economy by hopefully drawing more tourism to Decatur.”

The money was earmarked to go to the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau’s budget for tourism, Orr said.

Tom Chappell, Parks and Recreation assistant director and visitor’s bureau board member, has said the playground is one improvement the Jack Allen complex needs to continue attracting soccer tournaments.

In November 2009, three large soccer tournaments filled 1,934 hotel room nights, which generated a combined economic impact of $1,139,051, according to the visitor’s bureau.

The playground is just one of many capital projects the city’s Parks and Recreation Department hopes to pursue in an effort to improve Decatur for its residents and also attract visitors, Dunlap said. His department has given Orr a list of projects it would like to undertake for the city.

“It’s just a matter of funding becoming available,” Dunlap said.

The Jack Allen Recreational Complex has 10 international-size, lighted soccer fields. It is open from Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A place to play
The proposed playground at Jack Allen Recreational Complex will include:

■Two slides
■Sky bridge
■Rock climbing wall
■Looped monkey bars
■Curved balance beam
■Various climbers including a chain-link climber and an 8-foot vertical wall climber
J.A. Dawson & Company

Friday, February 18, 2011

Meeting Notes

The Decatur Daily
by Paul Huggins

Visitors Bureau Board
The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board conducted the following during its monthly meeting Tuesday:

■Reported $57,866 in income in January and $47,105 in expenses for a net surplus of $10,760. For fiscal 2011, the bureau has had $227,201 in revenue and $223,284 in expenses for a net surplus of $3,878.
■Reported the city collected $69,908 in lodging taxes in November, up 13 percent from the same month last year. For fiscal 2011, the city has collected $243,345, up 14 percent compared to the same four months last year. The bureau receives 75 percent of lodging taxes for operating expenses.
■Reported the $2-per-night room occupancy fee generated $36,706 in November, up $3,952 from the same month last year. The fund goes toward paying for tourism attractions, such as Ingalls Harbor.
■Reported Decatur hotels filled 46 percent of rooms in November, up 5 percent from the same month last year and the third highest November rate in 10 years.
■Began discussions with Ellen Didier of Red Sage Communications for upgrading the bureau’s website and making it more user friendly for smart phones.
■Formally accepted the annual audit by Byrd, Smalley & Adams, P.C. accounting firm. Report showed bureau ended fiscal 2010 with $669,340 in assets.

22 College Softball teams converge

The Decatur Daily
Paul Huggins

Twenty-two college softball teams from 11 states will spend the next three days battling it out in the UAH Charger Chillout tournament in Decatur.

Besides the host school, participating teams include, Arkansas-Montecello, Arkansas Tech, Augusta State, Barry University, Delta State, Florida Tech, Georgia College and State, Indianapolis, Kentucky Wesleyan, Lambuth, Maryville, North Alabama, North Georgia, Northern Kentucky, Ohio Dominican, Quincy, Southern Indiana, Truman State, Wayne State, West Alabama and West Georgia.

Sixty-seven games will occur today through Sunday at Wilson Morgan Park. Ranked ninth in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II, the Lady Chargers take on Kentucky Wesleyan at 12:30 p.m. today, followed by a 2:30 p.m. contest against Northern Kentucky.

Last year’s event filled 481 hotel rooms for an economic impact of $243,349, according to Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau figures.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Decatur makes pitch for Pickwick Belle

The Decatur Daily

The marketing director for the Pickwick Belle riverboat said she was impressed with the potential of three Decatur docking locations and also was encouraged by partnerships local tourism interests proposed.

That’s welcome news to tourism officials, who said a riverboat has long been on their wish list and that it would help attract more tour buses and conferences to Decatur, giving hotels and restaurants an economic boost, which also would mean more tax dollars for the city.

“The one thing I have learned about the Pickwick Belle is the key to her success is a community that embraces her,” Tanya Irwin, marketing director for the 90-foot paddle wheeler, said Wednesday after a scheduled tour of Riverwalk Marina, Rhodes Ferry Park and Ingalls Harbor.

“It is a tourism tool,” Irwin said. “The people who it brings are not your local people. It is available to local people, but it’s a magnet for motor coach groups.”

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau set up the tour, which included city and county elected officials and Pickwick Belle’s owner, Fred Tull. The Pickwick Belle has operated out of Florence Harbor since October 2007, and in January, bureau president Tami Reist made a pitch to share the riverboat with Decatur. After the meeting, Irwin said Decatur’s approach to marketing Pickwick Belle impressed her enough to consider moving it here full time.

“I think we’re looking for a home for the Pickwick Belle, where she is embraced and supported and there is a willingness to help sell her. So far, it’s been very refreshing to communicate with people who understand what tourism does,” she said.

The Pickwick Belle has provided many types of cruises in Florence, she said, from corporate outings to birthday parties, and it’s most popular with wedding-related activities. The riverboat does a lot of party themes and theatrical cruises, educational tours for school groups and Civil War tours, in addition to sightseeing and dinner cruises.

“We can have a wedding and then two hours later have a Jimmy Buffet theme cruise and two hours later have an educational cruise and then two hours after that have a moonlight cocktail cruise,” Irwin said.

Bus groups
Tour buses are the backbone of the business, she said, estimating at least 65 percent of her cruises are with bus groups of senior citizens and church groups. The recession has reduced the number of corporate outings, she said, but tour bus business has held strong.

Alison Stanfield, assistant director for Florence/Lauderdale Tourism, said the tour bus market probably has increased during the recession because it’s an economical way to travel and has a loyal customer base.

“They’re definitely an asset for us to have,” she said of Pickwick Belle. “It’s not that they didn’t generate the business or no one wanted them. The Pickwick Belle has been a really great river attraction for us. Any town that’s along the river, one of the first things a visitor asks is how can I get access to the river.

“We’ve been very glad to let them know there was a riverboat,” Stanfield said.

Irwin said she wasn’t looking to leave Florence, but for business reasons, she wanted to learn more about Decatur after meeting with Reist last month.

“It would be bittersweet to leave Florence because it has been such a good home,” she said. “I just think there are a lot of opportunities (in Decatur) to partner with the Belle.”

Reist said Irwin and Tull indicated they haven’t been able to get 100-amp electrical hook-ups at Florence Harbor, but didn’t mention any other issues that could cause them to leave.

The manager of Florence Harbor, Eva Scull, was unaware of Pickwick’s Belle’s interest in Decatur until contacted by The Daily on Wednesday. She declined to comment until she had a chance to speak with Irwin or Tull. She did say she doesn’t charge a slip fee for the riverboat.

Stanfield said there are some improvements Florence Harbor and Pickwick Belle haven’t been able to work out, and because both the harbor and riverboat are private facilities, neither her organization, nor the city of Florence can get involved.

Florence/Lauderdale Tourism includes the riverboat in many of its marketing materials, including the list of itineraries for group tours. It also provides walk-in visitors with cruise schedules and advertises Pickwick Belle on its website.

Reist said she would make a yearly budget line item to help promote the riverboat and also emphasized that local hotels are unified and eager to help market it as well. The prospect of getting the riverboat actually started from a phone call from a Decatur hotel, she added.

Sandee Sartain, sales director for Microtel Inn and Suites and Best Western, is friends with Irwin and called her last fall after Decatur sold out two dinner cruises aboard the Cincinnati Belle. She said she simply aimed to see if Irwin would consider sharing the Pickwick Belle with Decatur.

“I’m always looking for new groups to work with, and I need weekend business,” Sartain said. “But really, it wasn’t about my hotel, it’s about all of us. I just think it’s fate. It’s just meant to happen. And I don’t know why I didn’t think of calling earlier.”

Reist told Irwin an advantage of locating at Riverwalk or Rhodes Ferry is it puts the boat in plain view of traffic crossing the U.S. 31 causeway. A traffic study done by the city on Dec. 18-19, a weekend when traffic is down, showed 36,000 vehicles on a Saturday and 28,000 on a Sunday, she said.

A 2009 traffic survey listed on the Alabama Department of Transportation’s website showed between 44,120 and 46,880 vehicles using the causeway daily.

Reist said another advantage of docking at Rhodes Ferry is the city would offer it free of charge. It wouldn’t be an ideal location for embarking passengers, she said, but the riverboat could do that at Ingalls Harbor.

Steve Conner, owner of Riverwalk Marina, said he was sincerely interested in luring the Pickwick Belle, and promoted locating the riverboat on the entry side of the marina, behind the now vacant building formerly occupied by Extreme Marine.

The 6,200-square-feet building could serve as office space, a gift shop and extra meeting space, he said.

Park docking?
Reist also took Irwin and Tull to Point Mallard, and she said they were intrigued by the possibility of docking at a pier in the water park as part of corporate outings.

“I feel good about this,” she said. “We just hit it off. The more we talked, (Irwin) knew we were sincere to be in this for the long haul. When I went to shake Mr. Tull’s hand and say goodbye, he gave me a hug and said ‘We’re very impressed and we’ll definitely be in touch.’ ”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bethel has big fish, big lead

By Paul Stackhouse
Daily correspondent
The Decatur Daily

It was so quiet you could have heard a fish hook drop.

During the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series tournament weigh-in Saturday at Ingalls Harbor, a somewhat noisy crowd in attendance quickly turned to silence when the Bethel University fishing team of Jake Lawrence and Jacob Hardy walked to the stage. A rumor had been floating throughout the fans that the team had a trophy fish to weigh-in and it was their turn at the scale.

The somewhat subdued crowd immediately switched from quiet to a soft roar as Lawrence, who caught the keeper, proudly pulled out a rather large-sized smallmouth bass. When tournament director and emcee Jann Swaim called out 6.05 pounds, those gathered around the stage, including workers, looked in amazement.

It wasn’t as if anybody had not seen a fish that big before, but a 6-pound-plus bronzeback caught in early February on Wheeler Lake in not-so-nice water and weather conditions just caught a lot of people off guard.

Actually, any serious bass angler would be extremely proud to catch a smallmouth bass that size, no matter what time of year it was.

After putting the trophy smallmouth bass back in the bag with four other bass they had caught (each team has a five-bass limit), it was announced that Lawrence and Hardy had a total weight of 13.32 pounds, sending them to the top of the leaderboard. The weight held up for the Bethel pair heading into today’s championship round.

In an earlier Southern Collegiate tournament in January, Wheeler Lake was again the event waters, but there was a twist involved. Since the contest was being held out of Huntsville, anglers could fish from Guntersville Dam to the I-65 bridge. In this tournament being held out of Decatur, the participants could fish any part of Wheeler Lake they wished. Locking through either Guntersville Dam to Lake Guntersville or Wheeler Dam to Wilson Lake however would be a serious rule violation.

Not being able to practice because of weather conditions, Hardy and Lawrence decided to fish familiar territory and they headed east after launching at Ingalls to cast in areas they had worked in the earlier event.

“We talked about it and decided that would be the best thing for us to do,” Lawrence, a sophomore from Union City, Tenn., said. “It looked like we made a good choice. We plan on going back to the same place tomorrow and hope it holds up. I really feel like it will hold up for us. It’s a stretch about 300 yards long and if things go right, we’ll probably stay there all day long.”

The pair made it clear that a Strike King Bitsby Bug and Strike King Rodent were their go-to baits.

“I don’t know about tomorrow, but they worked for us today,” Hardy, a sophomore from Paris, Tenn., said. “We made about a 45-minute run after take-off and we had caught a good limit in about an hour. We knew we had a good weight and we backed off to try and save some fish for tomorrow.”

Lawrence and Hardy are one team out of a total of 61 boats fishing. They got to launch early in the first flight Saturday, which means they will be heading out in the last flight today.

With that in mind, it could create a problem as another team might decide to invade their territory and push them away from the fish they had located themselves.

“We thought about that,” Hardy said. “To be honest with you, we thought about that a lot. But, hopefully we’ve come up with an answer. Some of our teammates who are launching early are going to the spot where we caught our fish and they are going to fish it until we get there. I hope they will be able to protect it until we can get there. One thing I can say for sure is I know I will be able to sleep a lot better knowing they are going to do that for us.”

Daniel Holland, a senior from Springville, and Eric Terrell, a sophomore from Madison, came to the scales with four bass weighing 9.77 pounds. The weight put the two anglers from Auburn University in second place.

“We traveled 80 miles today to catch these fish,” Terrell said. “We went 40 up and 40 back.

“It really was sort of a tough day for us. We starting throwing a jig and that’s what we caught our fish on. And, I’m sure we’ll be throwing a jig again tomorrow. We’re going for the big-fish bite and that’s why we’ll stay with the jig.

“I have no idea at all what tomorrow is going to be like for us. There’s a front coming in and I hear we could have a pretty good wind blowing. Either way, we’ll be out there throwing our jigs and hoping that we’ll have a better day than we did today.”

Rounding out the top 10 are Adam Murphree/Blake Evans (8.93, Auburn), Michael Wilson/Scott Beavers (6.75, Gadsden State), Chase Rampy/Austin Santos (6.32, Gadsden State), Zack Parker/Jason Arnold (6.29, Bethel University), Justin Elliott/Casey Steward (5.73,Gadsden State), Shawn Dalrymple/Ryan Salzman (5.06, University of North Alabama), Andrew Gordon/Xan Hancock (4.84, Mississippi State) and Will Counts/Aaron Martindale (4.34, Northwest Shoals Community College).

“I really don’t expect to see a lot of large bags come in,” said Jann Swaim, tournament director and Auburn University Bass Sports Club adviser. “A lot of teams were fishing in water that was 42 degrees and that’s going to slow things down being that cold. I even had a couple of teams that said they found water that was 38 degrees.

“I think we’ll see some better weights tomorrow with things warming up a bit. Hopefully, we’ll have a warm-up to begin around nine in the morning and that could result in a few good fish and a few good bags, I hope so. That would add to the fun a lot of these kids are having. We certainly appreciate the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City of Decatur. They have been extra nice to us and keep us wanting to come back.”

Today’s championship weigh-in is slated to begin at 2 p.m., at Ingalls Harbor.

College fishing results
Here are the top 10 teams after Day 1 of the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. The tournament concludes today with a 2 p.m. weigh-in.

School Total pounds

Bethel 1 13.32

Auburn 1 9.77

Auburn 2 8.93

Gadsden State 1 6.75

Gadsden State 2 6.32

Bethel 2 6.29

Gadsden State 3 5.73

North Alabama 5.06

Mississippi State 4.84

Northwest-Shoals 4.34

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fishing, hunting to keep area busy

Paul Stackhouse
The Decatur Daily

It appears as if Decatur and the North Alabama area may be in for a busy week when it comes to outdoor sports.

The Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series hosted by Auburn will stop at Decatur’s Ingalls Harbor and Wheeler Lake on Friday and Saturday in what could be an interesting tournament depending on the weather conditions.

The meeting was changed from late February to this week.

I spoke with tournament official Jann Swaim of Auburn and he to set the record straight.

“We try to get our schedule out early to avoid a lot of the confusion that can come from college fishing tournaments,” Swaim said. “We had a conflict with FLW on the 25th and 26th, with some of their college-fishing tournaments.

“Just to make everything clear, our weigh-ins are set for Friday the 11th at 3 p.m. and Saturday the 12th at 2 p.m. Both weigh-ins are to take place at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur.”

Decatur and Wheeler Lake hosted the SCBFS championship last year with the Tennessee Volunteers taking home the first-place trophy.

It’s a sure thing that college anglers will be serious out on the water.

You also can expect to hear plenty of the anglers talking it up with their big, rival colleges. Of course, the finger-pointing and talk is for the most part fun and friendly. Even when they played “Rocky Top” after the Tennessee victory last year, members of other schools joined in and sang with the Vols.

For more information, you may visit or or The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau also may be reached by calling 256-350-2028 or 800-524-6181.

Youth hunt

Another event taking place this week is the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s annual youth waterfowl hunt. The event is to take place Saturday and Sunday.

The Special Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days are for youth age 15 years and younger. All young hunters must be accompanied by an adult supervisor. The adult supervisor, who may not hunt, must remain within arm’s length of the youth at all times. The adult may accompany up to two youth participants during the hunt, and must have a state hunting license, state and federal waterfowl stamp, and a Harvest Information Program (HIP) stamp.

Before taking any child hunting, adults will need to know the rules.

A good place to start is by visiting

Hunting injuries

The state released information last week that said the 2010-11 Alabama deer hunting season was marred by 14 treestand-related accidents, four of which resulted in a fatality. This is the highest number of treestand-related fatalities Alabama has experienced in a single year.

In six of the accidents, the nylon strap securing the treestand to the tree broke and caused the hunter to fall to the ground. Officials say the nylon straps broke because of dry rot as a result of being left in the woods for periods as long as several years.

The Year of Alabama Music

State devotes 2011 to celebrating its legacy and influence on American music
By Catherine Godbey
The Decatur Daily

To define the music of Alabama is to tell the story of the blues, country and soul.

“Alabama’s culture, which includes music and

literature and other forms of art comes from the tragedy and triumphs of our people,” said state Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “Music evolved in rural places in Alabama as a way to tell stories and share emotions.”

Alabama music is the hillbilly toe-tapping twang brought by the Scottish and Irish from the Appalachian Mountains.

It is the rhythms of Africa sung by the slaves on the plantations.

It is the rhythm and blues, garage rock, punk, gospel and folk played on front porches, in neighborhood joints, churches and on stages across the country.

“Because of the wealth of musical genres that come from Alabama, and the wealth of great artists within those genres, it is impossible to define Alabama music in a single blurb,” said Marc Smirnoff, editor of Oxford American.

Instead of a blurb, the magazine’s 12th annual Southern Music issue devoted 126 pages, a 26-song CD and a website to telling the story of the Alabama artists that transformed the music industry. Featured artists include Ralph “Soul” Jackson, Dinah Washington and the Sex Clark Five.

The Alabama edition follows last year’s release devoted to Arkansas.

The magazine spurred the Alabama Department of Tourism into action.

“We were aware that Oxford American does this every winter, and we were familiar with the success Arkansas had,” Sentell said. “We thought this would be a unique and appealing way to reach hard-core music fans.”

In January, the tourism department kicked of the Year of Music campaign.

Featuring a guide to the 100 places to hear live music, a profile of Alabama artists and a list of festivals, the department aims to highlight the depth of the state’s history and influence in music.

Alabama legends
“We want to educate people in the South and throughout the United States about the unique contributions Alabama natives have made on the world of American music,” Sentell said. “And we are hoping to bring attention to contemporary and emerging artists.”

Among the legends are Hank Williams, W.C. Handy, Lionel Richie, Odetta, Nat King Cole, Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Buffett.

Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties also contributed to the state’s music identity. From Limestone County came The Delmore Brothers, a country music duo and stars of the Grand Ole Opry.

And from Morgan County there was Elvis Presley’s musician Charlie Hodge, Dean Jones and A.J. Showalter, who wrote “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” at the Hartselle Tabernacle.

Music in Morgan
As part of the Year in Music, the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau produced a film by Juergen Beck about Morgan County’s music legacy.

The nine-minute feature includes a history of the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, an overview of music festivals and interviews with classical guitarist Margarita Valls de Quesada, performer Reginald Jackson, singer-songwriter Michelle Malone and Hartselle High band director Randall Key.

The video showcases the past, present and future of Morgan County, said bureau president Tami Reist.

The Year of Music celebration includes a concert at the Princess. On Feb. 25, the theater will host “An Evening with Mac McAnally.”

“ We hope this campaign will encourage travel to other locations in the state and promote music destinations,” Sentell said.

The tourism department will host a songwriters contest about the state and is promoting the Alabama Jammer, an Alabama-shaped guitar made by Gibson.

The Oxford American issue profiling Alabama music will remain on bookstore shelves through February.

Want more?
Find 100 places to hear music in Alabama, a complete list of the state’s music festivals and events and a history of notable artists at