Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Peeps Show

The fluffy marshmallows become lawyers, singers, zombies at Morgan Price Candy Co.
By Andrea Brunty, Living editor, The Decatur Daily

Peeps splash in the waves at Point Mallard Water Park, water ski on the Tennessee River and square off in a Decatur vs. Austin football game.

This is no early April Fool’s joke.

Morgan Price Candy Co. at 11th Street Southeast decided to hold its first Peeps Show in March.

Owner Mary Morgan said it was too hard for her to judge the 32 entries, so she brought in Tami Reist of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau, artist Blu Smith and Calhoun Community College professor Sue Mitchell.

At an open house Friday, attendees marveled over the creative dioramas, which included everything from bloodied zombie Peeps in “28 Peeps Later” to the Red Hot Chili Peep-ers singing “Jeepers Creepers, where’d you get those peepers?”

Peeps of all colors were getting cloned, while Peep Vader told Peep Skywalker that he is his father. Some of the fluffy sweets climbed Mount Peep, a mountain of miniature marshmallows. Displays also depicted video games like Silent Hill 2 and Dragon Ball Z and the comic book the “Watchmen.”

First-place winner Corie Terry, a senior at Austin High School, loved the movie “Legally Blonde,” so the courtroom scene was a natural choice for her Peeps project.

The judge, bailiff, jury and spectators add to the setting, but it’s the pink Peeps with long blonde hair that stand out — law student Elle Woods had her sorority friends’ support.

Terry was one of several students at Austin who created Peep displays for the contest through an art class. She spent 10 hours on her project — five in class and five at home.

“Everything just came together after I got home and thought about it,” she said.

She used cardboard, paper, felt and tons of hot glue — “You could turn it over and nothing is going to move,” she said.

Despite the time she spent, Terry was surprised to win first place.

“I didn’t know that I would even be in the running,” she said.

For second-place winner Pamela Milligan of Decatur, depicting Concerts by the River was also an easy decision. Last year, her family didn’t miss any of the summer concert series at Rhodes Ferry Park. They also like outdoor activities like fishing, boating and skiing.

“I thought (the contest) was such a cute idea, and I’m a crafty artsy type of person, but then I thought, ‘How in the world am I supposed to do this?’ ” she said. “Then the creative juices got flowing a little bit.”

Her materials included hot glue, Popsicle sticks for water skis, Easter grass for the river water and park grass, cardboard and wine corks for a raft, and paper for a hat and fan for a Southern belle Peep.

Milligan took apart a necklace to use the beads as microphones for the Peeps version of the band, Plus One. The quintet sings at Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church, where Milligan is a member.

The 52-year-old is excited to show friends at church her handiwork, which took her a full day to complete.

The third-place display featured “Peeps on the Ground,” a parody of the “Pants on the Ground” song from an “American Idol” audition. Presley Wright, 17, of Decatur included a sequined disco ball, speakers and a black T-shirt for Simon Cowell.

Shaun “Peep” White snowboards into fourth place at the “Peep” Olympics with his red hair streaming behind him. Austin High junior Tyler Brown created the display.

The Best Depiction of North Alabama award went to Kelly Tuck of Town Creek for “Alabama Peep Outdoors.” The 32-year-old artist sketched out her display before finding recycled materials for the campground.

She used items like cardboard, driftwood, rocks, wrapping paper and scrap paper for the Peeps’ tent, sleeping bag, “Outdoor” magazine, campfire and background, which she painted trees and added a glittery sun.

“When you think of Alabama, you think of pretty sunsets and the outdoors, so I tried to show that,” she said. “I had fun doing it.”

It took her about two hours to complete, which she was only able to do after her two young children were asleep, she said, laughing.

Honorable mentions

“Alice in Peepland,” based on the tea party in “Alice in Wonderland,” by Emalie Cruz of Decatur.

“Cloning of the Peeps,” by Elizabeth Self of Decatur.

“Peeps Rocket (Apeepso XIII),” based on the Space and Rocket Center, by Chloe and Will Monin, 8-year-old twins from Decatur.

“Some Peeps Just Want to Play Football,” based on an Austin vs. Decatur football game, by Keri Rodgers of Hartselle.

“Peeps Barber Shop,” by Debbie Graham of Decatur.

On the Net


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bass Tournament

By Paul Stackhouse, Outdoors, The Decatur Daily
On April 2-3, the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship will invade Decatur, Ingalls Harbor and Wheeler Lake. The first week in April is generally a great time to catch bass, but the lake can be extremely dangerous. Fluctuating water levels can have stumps being exposed out of the water one day and slightly submerged the next.

The Decatur Flats, where a lot of anglers will be casting during the tournament, is well-known as a great bass fishing area because of all the structure it holds. However, a major part of the structure is not going to be visible until you get close, even if it is only a few inches beneath the water.

Safety should be the biggest concern to all of the anglers and boat drivers because one accident can ruin a tournament, especially if there is an injury involved.

I feel quite certain that safety will be an issue at pre-tournament and pre-launch meetings

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meeting Notes

Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau board of directors conducted the following business during its monthly meeting Thursday:

•Reported state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, helped get $25,000 in state tourism money to pay for more way-finding signs for Decatur. The signage will direct visitors to the Jack Allen Soccer Complex and the Delano Park Spashpad, and include welcome signs with paid sponsor names.

•Reported the bureau had $40,532 in income in February and $50,656 in expenses for a net loss of $10,123. Income for the first five months of fiscal 2010 showed a net loss of $44,971. Treasurer Wade Weaver said the net losses are due to lagging lodging taxes, and the bureau has made as many cuts to expenses as it can and still be able to promote the city and county. The bureau has reserves to ride out the economic downturn, he said.

•Reported the city collected $49,533 in lodging taxes in December, down 4 percent from the same month in 2008. The bureau receives 75 percent of the lodging taxes for operating expenses. For the fiscal year, lodging taxes are down 23 percent.

•Reported the $2-per-night hotel occupancy fee generated $27,605 in December, down from $28,140 for the same month in 2008. The fund has $163,888 for the fiscal year, down 15.7 percent from the same time period in 2008.

•Reported 33 percent of Decatur hotel rooms were occupied in December, down 1 percent from the same month in 2008. For the 2009 calendar year, the room occupancy rate was 43 percent, down 9 percent from 2008.

•Reported Decatur was one of 85 sites chosen to be part of the Alabama Passport for Fitness. Visitors who complete a historic walking tour in Decatur will get a stamp to add to their passport.

•Reported it sent a bid to host the NCAA Division II men’s and women’s cross country championships in 2013. Events will occur at the Oakville Indian Mounds trails in cooperation with the Jesse Owens Runners Club.

2 soccer events opt to return to Decatur

By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

The State Cup and Governor’s Cup soccer tournaments that have enjoyed the Jack Allen Soccer Complex the past three years will be back for three more.

Kayla Riggs, special events coordinator for the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau, confirmed Thursday the two tournaments will be back in Decatur in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The two tournaments, held on back-to-back weekends in November, filled 1,798 room nights in 2007, 1,137 room nights in 2008 and 900 room nights in 2009. All three years combined generated an economic impact of $2.3 million, according to figures reported by the bureau.

The State Cup involves Division I U-15 and older players and Division II U-14 players. The Governor’s Cup is a Division I Final Four for U-15 players.

Decatur will also be host this weekend for the Olympic Development Program College Showcase.

Riggs said, based on rooms booked through the bureau, the event will fill 482 room nights in Decatur and 254 room nights in Madison and Huntsville.

The bureau has reported in the past some teams spend the night outside Decatur after Decatur hotels run out of rooms with two beds.

New riverboat cruise includes Decatur

By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Decatur will be one of 11 stops on a new Historic Rivers excursion cruise, with the first passengers arriving in April.

“Who needs the Queen?” joked Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau. She was referring to the excursion riverboats Delta Queen, now permanently tied up at Chattanooga, and Mississippi Queen, which hasn’t stopped in Decatur since July 2008.

Becoming one of the destinations shows Decatur’s historic homes and downtown shopping have a positive reputation with cruise planners, she said.

Lori Boger, bureau sales manager, said the bureau didn’t have to sell the city because officials from the cruise line, American Canadian Caribbean, contacted her and said they planned to come to Decatur and needed brochures to give to passengers.

The bureau will offer the same hospitality it did for the Delta and Mississippi queens, with guided tours of the historic districts and transportation to shopping on Bank Street and Second Avenue downtown.

The only negative is the boat won’t arrive until afternoon each time, leaving just a few hours for passengers to tour Decatur, Reist said.

The 175-foot-long ship that will stop in Decatur on April 22 and May 2 is called the Niagara Prince. It has 34 passenger cabins and can accommodate 70 guests. It was built in 1994 and refurbished last year.

The cruise line planned to dock at Riverwalk Marina, but Reist said that might change because American Canadian Caribbean wasn’t aware that Decatur had a riverboat docking facility at Rhodes Ferry Park.

Vera DaSilva, marketing specialist for American Canadian Caribbean, said the Rhode Island-based cruise line has a reputation for its casual and personal experience, and 70 percent of its customers return for more voyages.

“Our whole thing is it makes you feel like you’re on a private yacht,” she said. “It’s all about getting to the places you rarely get to see.”

Capt. Luther Blount, a shipbuilder, founded the cruise line in 1966 to give the public the same yachting experiences he enjoyed with his family and friends, DaSilva said. Blount invented the bow landing system, which allows his shallow ships to sail a few feet from shore and let passengers disembark right onto the beach. He also developed the retractable pilot house, which allows his ships to sail under low bridges on rivers and canals.

Decatur will be a stop on two separate legs of a three-section trip from New Orleans to Chicago. The first leg, starting April 16, is from New Orleans to Knoxville; the second leg, starting April 29, is from Knoxville to Nashville; and the third leg, starting May 10, is from Nashville to Chicago.

First-leg passengers, who pay between $3,145 and $3,835 per room, can visit Bourbon Street, Bellingraph Gardens, Waverly Plantation, Shiloh Military Park, Lookout Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The cruise line’s description of Decatur said, “Visit the celebrated historic districts and cruise Tennessee’s Grand Canyon, carved through the Cumberland Mountains.”

This is the first time American Canadian Caribbean has scheduled an excursion on the Tennessee River, DaSilva said, and she expected it will do well based on success of previous river cruises.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Point Mallard Park is Alabama's Number One Seasonal Attraction

Montgomery, Ala – Approximately 138,000 people visited Point Mallard Park in Decatur last year, ranking it number one in attendance among seasonal attractions in Alabama.

Water World Park in Dothan was second in attendance with 48,215. Attendance figures used to compile the list were provided to the Alabama Tourism Department by local tourism organizations.

The Alabama Tourism Department released the Top 10 attendance figures for other categories. Beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast were the number one natural destination in the state attracting 4.5 million visitors last year. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville attracted 470,323 visitors to make it the most attended paid attraction. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens attracted 350,000 visitors to make it the most attended free attraction. More than 800,000 people attended Mobile’s Mardi Gras making it the most attended event. Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn was the number one sports destination with 676,912 fans attending Auburn University home football games. For more information contact the Alabama Tourism Department or visit www.alabama.travel.

Sentell: Now is the time for new photos

State tourism director Lee Sentell encourages tourism representatives to photograph landmarks and other destinations THIS MONTH for future publicity needs. "The spring is the ideal time to take photos of your area's most popular attractions. Having pictures with flowers and budding trees will add a lot to your next brochure or website. Do it while the spring is at its peak," he says. He hints that a new photo contest will be announced next week.

Decatur launches historic tours app for smart phones

From the report “Smart phone users in Decatur now can get a historic tours app” on WAFF-TV:

The City of Decatur now has a historic tours application for smart phones/web-enabled mobile devices. It is also viewable from your laptop's wireless connection. The city unveiled walking and driving tours in two historic districts. Old Decatur and Albany boast that they have the largest concentration in the State of Alabama of Victorian-era, craftsman and bungalow homes. City leaders are trying to entice the tourists visiting Decatur to experience all of what the city has to offer. The ultimate goal of the city is to put it on the map as a different kind of destination. "From its rough-edged beginnings to battle scars to preserved beauty that crosses generations, Decatur is rich with history that I think will fascinate you," stated Alabama State Tourism Director and former Old Decatur resident Lee Sentell in the introduction to the tours. The mobile tours applications for Old Decatur and Albany can be accessed from http://www.DecaturAlabamaUSA.com/mobile on a smart phone or mobile device. History will come alive as though being led by an actual tour guide. Each presentation includes narrative with interesting facts about the history of the districts, photos and anecdotal stories about early residents and their homes and businesses. With easy-to-follow maps, the tour takers can start and stop at their own pace.

For the complete article please see http://www.waff.com/Global/story.asp?S=12043651

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Come float away

Story by Vicki Pounders, Shoals Magazine

For Jeff Maddox, there's nothing quite like a ride in a hot air balloon.

“There are several elements of ballooning that make it magical,” said Maddox, owner of Gone With the Wind Balloon Co. in Toney. “Possibly the biggest is the fact that ballooning is the closest thing you will ever experience to floating on the clouds. There is no turbulence as you fly like in a plane — no bumping or shaking. Also, the fact that you are flying in an open basket thousands of feet in the air or picking leaves off a tall tree all under an eight-story tall multicolored beautiful balloon ... There's just nothing like it.”

John Hardeman and Cookie Crandall, both of Florence, agree. Hardeman's wife, Laura, arranged for a balloon ride for his 50th birthday.

“On my 49th birthday, we were sitting at the table, and Laura said, ‘What do you want next year?' ” said Hardeman, now 70. “I said, ‘I want a hot air balloon ride.' She said, ‘Where am I going to find a hot air balloon?' I said, ‘I don't know, but you've got a year to figure it out.' ”

She figured it out, but there was a catch: She didn't want to go along. So good friend Crandall agreed to fly. Laura Hardeman and Crandall's husband, Jim, rode in the chase vehicle and were there to greet them at the end of the flight.

“We got in the balloon around 6 in the morning,” he recalls. “It was exhilarating. What's amazing is that when you go up and the burner goes off, it is so quiet that you can hear everything that's going on around you. We flew over a little canyon, and there were deer grazing. We lowered down and watched them for four or five minutes.”

He and Crandall both would love to fly again.

“I'd go again in a heartbeat,” she said.

Calvin McLaughlin, of Greenhill, plans to take his first balloon flight in May in conjunction with the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic in Decatur.

“I saw how beautiful and how much fun they looked and knew I eventually wanted to ride in one,” he said.

Instead of waiting to ride, McLaughlin started reading about crewing balloons and piloting.

He hopes to work with crews at the Jubliee to learn even more. He's also a member of auntymonkey.com, a Web site filled with pictures and blogs about ballooning and the crews.

The Classic also is what drew Whit McCormack into ballooning. A friend asked him to help judge the races one year.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said. “I volunteered to help that year and joined the committee later that year and have been involved since.”

McCormack said being involved in the crew of a hot air balloon requires minimal training.

Pilots, though, go through much of the same training as airplane pilots. There also is an exam and flight test involved.

During training, the potential pilots are required to log a certain number of hours with their trainer and solo,” he said.

A few years ago, McCormack took his first ride.

“I was the president of the committee that year and had never had the opportunity to fly,” he said. “The pilots decided that they would try to take all of the committee members that had never flown up that year.”

Though he was excited, he also was nervous.

“To say that I was a little nervous would be a lie,” he said. “We inflated, and I climbed in the basket. Our ascent was pretty rapid, which for a rookie made me even more nervous. After we leveled off, we got more comfortable. I guess I was scared that the basket floor would give or at least wouldn't feel solid.”

To his surprise, that wasn't the case.

“I was also surprised at how quiet and serene the flight was with the exception of the burner,” he said.

McCormack said there's an old saying that the first balloon ride is free, but the second costs $30,000.

While he's been able to resist the urge to buy, not everyone can.

Maddox, for example, got into ballooning on his first wedding anniversary.

“I took my wife on a flight in Orlando, and it was great,” he said. “We had been looking for some side business that we could make some extra money but not have as a real job. This was perfect; three months later, we purchased our first balloon.”

Maddox is an electrical engineer, flying as a part-time job when weather permits.

“Probably the biggest thing about ballooning is that it is so extremely weather dependent,” he said. “If the weather isn't perfect, we simply reschedule for another day. Winds have to be very calm, typically 5 miles per hour or less. We fly early in the morning around sunrise and late in the afternoon a couple of hours before sunset because that is when the winds are the lightest and the most stable.”

June, September and October are the best months for flying, he said.

“We start flying after the ‘roar' of spring is over, so around here that's typically the end of April into the first of May,” Maddox said. “We will then fly until the end of November.”

Events such as the Jubilee, set for Memorial Day weekend, offer an opportunity for flying, as do private rides from Gone With the Wind and similar companies.

Maddox suggests dressing appropriately and bringing plenty of film.

Crandall agreed.

“I'd say just bring your camera and prepare to be amazed,” she said. “It's wonderful.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Up in the Huntsville air

Airport suffers from high fares, faces big hurdles
By Eric Fleischauer, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Every Tennessee Valley recruitment effort, whether aimed at individuals or corporations, brags of the close proximity of Huntsville International Airport.

Absent from the promotional material, however, is this fact: Fares at Huntsville International are the most expensive in the nation. While fares at most airports are dropping, fares in Huntsville are increasing.

“We’re the highest in the nation, and we’re the highest by a long shot,” said Damon Hylton, vice president of Seabury APG, a consultant for Huntsville International. “We’re 21 percent higher than the next highest airport.”

Hurts recruitment

High air fares cause problems for all aspects of a community.

“When we recruit new companies to this area, one of the things that always comes up, it never fails, is air service,” said Jeremy Nails, president of the Morgan County Economic Development Association. “When we are competing with other areas for industry, many times the peer cities we compete with have two and sometimes three low-cost carriers.”

Nails said many local companies, struggling with low travel budgets, fly from Birmingham, Nashville or Atlanta rather than Huntsville because of the more attractive fares.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in our area,” said Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce President John Seymour. “However, in recent weeks, our community has received a ranking that casts a shadow on our progress. The Huntsville International Airport was named as having the highest average airline fares nationwide.”

It’s a problem for recruiters. It’s a disaster for the airport, which estimates 450,000 passengers a year drive to more distant airports — especially Birmingham and Nash­ville — to avoid Huntsville fares.

It’s a problem that the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau fears will hurt a major injection of cash into the local economy.

Kayla Riggs, special events director of the bureau, said teams traveling to Decatur for soccer and softball tournaments increasingly fly into Nashville and Birmingham to avoid Huntsville’s high fares.

Ultimately, she fears, that will dissuade them from choosing Decatur as a forum for their tournaments.

The problem is Hunts­ville International has no low-fare carriers.

As numerous airports have discovered, luring a low-fare carrier does not just mean it has one carrier with lower fares, it means legacy carriers must also reduce fares.

So the good news is by attracting a low-cost carrier, an airport can reduce fares of all its carriers. The bad news is low-cost carriers have discovered their power.

“What’s happened in the last 10 years,” said Hylton, “is the airlines have said, ‘We bring a lot of value to the community. The communities are benefiting from what we do, and they need to help us mitigate the risk.’ ”

Airports all over the nation, supported by the communities they serve, are bidding for low-cost carriers to offer flights.

•In Panama City, Fla., corporate and community sponsors offered $24 million to attract Southwest Airlines.

•In Wichita, Kan., local and state contributors compiled $6.5 million to attract a low-cost carrier.

•Pensacola, Fla., offered $2.1 million.

•Sarasota, Fla., snagged a low-cost carrier with $1.2 million.
Hylton said he is working with several communities that plan to offer more than $10 million in risk-mitigation funds to attract low-cost air carriers.

Federal law limits airports to waiving landing fees and promotional costs as incentives for carriers. That leaves airports looking to other funding sources for incentives, and their best resource for funds in most communities is large corporations.

Panama City provides one example of this approach.

Community solutions

St. Joe Corp., a land developer, has a huge econo­mic interest in low-cost fares to Panama City. It shouldered most of a $24 million risk-mitigation pack­age to attract Southwest Airlines to the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

“Just as the problem of high air fares is a communitywide issue,” Seymour said, “so must be the solution.”

Huntsville International, however, has a more difficult hurdle in attracting viable low-cost carriers. It has two huge employers in its service area — the Army and NASA — but they will not be contributing.

Not only are federal agencies limited by law in what they can offer to subsidize low-cost carriers, they are limited in motivation.

The U.S. General Services Administration bids out fares from cities nationwide to reduce the government’s price tag for employee flights. Delta and United Airlines, for example, provide far lower prices for federal employees from Hunts­ville to Washington, D.C., than they offer to non-federal travelers.

“They’re the largest users of the facility,” said Hunts­ville International spokes­person Barbie Peek, “primarily because they are the largest employers.”

This presents Huntsville International with two problems.

One, low-cost carriers without a governmental contract will not receive any passengers from among federal employees, who are required to use carriers with a U.S. contract.

Two, it deprives Hunts­ville International of its most obvious source for contributions in the effort to attract low-cost carriers.

For the leisure traveler and private companies that would prefer not to send their employees to Birmingham or Nashville, Hunts­ville International’s problem is a constant financial drain.

Decatur employers have an airport 15 minutes away, but its legacy carriers charge prohibitive fares.

Huntsville International is doing what it can to tackle the problem. It recently received a $1 million federal grant — the largest such grant in the nation — to lure low-cost carriers, although the terms prohibit it from using the money to subsidize a low-cost carrier offering flights already offered by a legacy carrier.

It succeeded in attracting AirTran, a low-cost carrier that will offer flights to Orlando and Baltimore/Washington airports beginning May 27. Its fares are about half those of legacy carriers operating from the airport.

The fear — realized in the past with Independence Air and Allegiant Air — is that the low-cost carrier will leave the market when legacy carriers meet its fares.

The success of landing AirTran is not overwhelming. Orlando is not a major connecting airport, so it will attract few passengers whose final destination is not near Orlando. Good for Disney, but not a major destination for Huntsville travelers.

Baltimore/Washington is more significant, both as a final destination and as a connecting flight, but most Huntsville flights to D.C. are federal. Thus, AirTran — which has no contract with the federal government for reduced fares — will not be a player in the lucrative competition for NASA and Army employees.

Atlanta flights

What Huntsville International needs is a low-cost carrier with flights to Atlan­ta. As a major hub, Atlanta is a stop in most domestic and international flights that originate in the Southeast.

Huntsville International officials estimate that if AirTran added Atlanta to its Baltimore and Orlando flights, the communities the airport serves would save up to $91 million a year in fares.

Delta provides direct flights from Huntsville to Atlanta, but enjoying its lack of competition, its fares are high. A roundtrip flight from Huntsville to Atlanta on Delta, reserved shortly before departure, costs $712.

Huntsville International’s constrained effort is to seek contributions from non-federal entities that would benefit from a low-cost flight from Huntsville to Atlanta.

Chambers of commerce have generally obliged, pledging 10 percent of projected savings toward an incentive package. The Deca­tur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce recently made such a pledge, only binding if a low-cost carrier takes the bait.

“What the airlines want is for the communities to get involved,” said Hylton. “They want the corporations at the table to say they will support them.”

Average fares

The top five average domestic fares, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Huntsville: $492.

Grand Rapids, Mich.: $406.

Savannah, Ga.: $396.

Washington Dulles: $391.

Knoxville: $388.


Huntsville International Airport’s competitive disadvantage is demonstrated by walk-up fares to various locations, as compared to fares from Birmingham and Nashville.

To Washington, D.C.: Huntsville, $1,042; Nash­ville, $742; Birmingham, $408.

To Orlando, Fla.: Hunts­ville, $745; Nashville, $344; Birmingham, $332.

To Boston: Huntsville, $643; Nashville, $396; Birmingham, $448.

To Philadelphia: Hunts­ville, $408; Nashville, $242; Birmingham, $407.

College fishing competition on the horizon

by Paul Stackhouse, Outdoors, The Decatur Daily

It may not be there just yet, but it’s definitely coming.

The sport of college bass fishing is on its way to becoming a major hit. For serious bass anglers, the FLW circuit and the Bassmasters are household names. But, they have been around for a while, and they are at the professional level.

It may not be that way now, but in the near future, expect to see hundreds of people gathering at college bass tournament events. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if people are yelling “Roll Tide” and “War Eagle” or maybe even singing a verse of “Rocky Top” when the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship invades Ingalls Harbor and Wheeler Lake on April 2-3.
Big universities and small colleges are getting into the swing of things when it comes to bass fishing. Teams and tournaments are popping up all across the United States, and that even includes many at the high school level.

According to the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who played a major role in getting the tournament to Ingalls Harbor, the event is expected to have more than 150 anglers representing schools from all across the Southeast.

The boats are expected to launch from Ingalls Harbor each morning at 6 with the weigh-ins beginning at 3 in the afternoon, also at Ingalls.

Auburn University Bass Sports Club Adviser Jann Swaim said Wheeler Lake was chosen for the championship for several reasons. The launching facilities at Ingalls are among the best in the country and Decatur and surrounding areas have the accommodations to handle the large crowd. And of course, the DMCCVB has the experience to coordinate such an event.

One other reason was noted on a release that definitely caught my attention. Swaim said a big reason for holding the tournament here was so the collegiate anglers could fish the famous Decatur Flats during the spring.

The Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series is open to all collegiate bass fishing teams. To qualify to compete in the 2010 Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship, each school must compete in two of the three earlier series tournaments. Top finishers in the series also will advance to compete in national championship events including the 2010 Boat/U.S. Collegiate
Bass Fishing Championship.

“The Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship is an opportunity for us to showcase the great fishery of Wheeler Lake to up-and-coming anglers who one day might compete on the professional circuit,” said Tami Reist, president of DMCCVB. “This will be our first time to host and we look forward to rolling out the red carpet and providing a first class event while enjoying the competitiveness of a collegiate event.”

Hosted by Auburn,the 2010 SCBFS has gained national recognition and contributed greatly to the explosive growth of competition bass fishing at the college level. The Wheeler Lake tournament will be featured on the Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship television series airing on the Versus network in August.

We’ve had some great turnouts for the professional tournaments here and I believe a huge crowd will be there each day at the weigh-ins of this championship tournament.

Without a doubt, this is going to be something new for Ingalls Harbor and Decatur and I already feel a bit of excitement about watching this upcoming event. It’s going to be different and many of the young anglers will probably move on to compete at the professional level.

There’s probably going to be a lot of autographs and photographs as the fans and families explore something fresh.

And, as always, the people of Decatur and North Alabama will make everyone involved feel welcome here.

I have a feeling that when the tournament is over, a lot of people are going to be talking about wanting to come back to our city and do everything all over again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some heading to beach; others stuck in class

By Nancy Glasscock, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

While Athens High School students Lauren Terry and Leslie Whitfield are enjoying spring break on the beach next week, it’s back to class for students in Decatur City and Lawrence County schools.

Area boards of education scheduled spring break for different weeks, which is a change from previous years when schools had spring break the same week.

While students enjoy an earlier break, the change keeps some families from enjoying the time away from class together.

Terry, a junior, is spending next week in Destin, Fla.

She said she prefers spring break in March.

“It’s warmer in April, but I like getting out earlier,” she said.

Terry said most Athens students don’t seem to mind the earlier break.

Whitfield, a senior, is leaving in the middle of the week for a John Mayer concert in Atlanta before heading to Orange Beach, where she’ll spend the rest of the break.

Whitfield said she is “pumped” about the trip.

“I would rather have it later because it’s hotter, but it’s about time for a break,” she said.

Schools in Lawrence County are out April 12-16. Decatur City Schools are out April 19-23.

Schools in Limestone County, Athens, Morgan County and Hartselle each scheduled spring break Monday through March 19.

Tests a factor

Nancy Brewer, teacher at Leon Sheffield Magnet School, said having spring break in April after accountability testing is an advantage, but does prevent some families from taking trips together.

School officials in Decatur and Lawrence County Schools pushed back spring break to improve accountability scores. Morgan County employees voted on when to have spring break.

Brewer’s husband works in the Madison school system, which has spring break at a different time than Decatur City Schools. One of their children is in preschool and has spring break the same time as Decatur City Schools.

“I understand having it after testing because it gives the kids the continuity instead of having a break,” she said. “But for us personally, it’s kind of disappointing. We don’t go anywhere big, but we would take the kids to the zoo or something relatively close.”

Herb Malone, president of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said staggering spring break causes an increase in tourism.

“We have about six weeks of spring break activity stemming from a variety of school and university systems throughout the Southeast and Midwest,” he said. “The benefit that we see from staggered school system breaks is that the activity is spread out over a larger time frame allowing us to accommodate even more guests each week in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area.”

Dana Lent, communications manager for the Panama City Beach (Fla.) Convention and Visitors Bureau, said schools’ decisions to schedule spring break at different times doesn’t seem to have negatively affected tourism there, based on hotel bookings.

Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the staggered spring break doesn’t affect the number of people who stop in Decatur.

For years, the Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association has worked with Alabama Welcome Centers to promote the Pop into Decatur campaign to attract spring breakers from other areas, Reist said.

“What we look at are the individuals who are traveling for their spring break and going to the beach,” she said.

“We encourage them on their way to the beach that they stop over in the Decatur area for their lodging.”

Local spring breaks

•Decatur City Schools: April 19-23
•Lawrence County Schools: April 12-16
•Limestone County: March 15-19
•Athens City: March 15-19
•Morgan County: March 15-19
•Hartselle City: March 15-19

Monday, March 1, 2010

Local ventures provide benefit for residents and tourist

Editorial, The Decatur Daily

Decatur has discovered a formula for success that won’t solve all problems, but does a great job at solving some.

What Decatur, along with other local communities, does well is finding projects that simultaneously improve the quality of life for residents and attract out-of-towners with money to spend.

Thanks to activities of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Friday’s edition of The Daily was filled with evidence of such projects. More are possible.

First-rate soccer fields have been a wonderful benefit for many residents, maybe worth the money even if just for those who live here. They provide a dual benefit, however, that made them an excellent investment. In January, an Olympic Development Program soccer training camp filled 65 hotel rooms, creating an economic benefit of $40,500. In November, the Governor’s Cup soccer tournament accounted for 374 hotel room nights, for a $241,000 economic benefit. The State Cup soccer tournament filled 535 rooms, for a $344,000 economic impact.

These dollars, going to hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other retailers, would not have landed in Decatur but for the soccer fields. Residents not only benefit from using the fields, they get to enjoy the tournaments that come here.

The ice rink and Point Mallard Aquatic Park are in the same category, providing pleasure for residents while pumping out-of-town tourist dollars into the economy. A Silver Sticks hockey tournament in November filled 91 hotel rooms, with an economic impact of $53,000.

Ingalls Harbor, of course, has been one of the most successful ventures. Resident water enthusiasts enjoy the facility, while the whole city enjoys the revenue it brings in for fishing tournaments. Japanese fisherman Kota Kiriyama announced recently he would hold his first American Dream tournament at Ingalls in October. It will be fun for residents to watch, will bring publicity to Decatur and will inject money into the city at a time of financial difficulty.

These successes give credence to efforts at redevelopment in Downtown Decatur, including museums and art venues. As with the other ventures, a spruced-up downtown would improve the quality of life for residents while attracting revenue from people who choose to visit.

We’ve hit on a formula that works. We need to be alert to more opportunities that provide dual benefits for local residents.