8 months ago

Alabama’s Cook Museum of Natural Science educates and entertains all ages

Fifty years ago, it was a humble bug collection. Today, it’s a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art, hands-on, fully immersive museum, with more than 62,000 square feet of space dedicated to the study of all aspects of nature.

This is the Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur, which opened in June after being closed for three years while the new location was being planned and built. The nonprofit museum allows visitors to learn about nature through a vast array of exhibits and interactive experiences, designed to captivate kids of all ages.

In the late 1960s, John Cook Sr. of Cook’s Pest Control started opening his private collection of insects – which until then had been used primarily for employee training – by appointment to various groups in north Alabama. The collection grew to include mounted wildlife, and the original museum opened in 1980 with additional displays of rocks, minerals, fossils and insects.

In more than 30 years of existence, what was the Cook’s Natural Science Museum welcomed more than 750,000 visitors. But the Cook family was at a crossroads about the future of the old museum after Cook died in 2009.

“The Cook family had the museum for so long that they did not want to close it, but they were not sure what to do,” marketing and public relations manager Mike Taylor said.

After extensive market research, in 2015 the decision was made to build a new museum. After closing the old museum in 2016, the Cook family began moving their collection into the new museum while acquiring additional artifacts.

The biggest challenge the new attraction faces is describing the number of new features to those familiar with the original Cook Museum. “It is hard to put the museum into words,” Taylor explained. “You have to come see it.”

All about nature

There are 11 themed galleries dedicated to the diverse habitats of Alabama, the Southeast and North America, including a life-size replica of a cave and a mesmerizing collection of rocks and minerals from different parts of the world.

North Alabama’s space industry is represented by a meteorite in the new museum. Visitors in the Rivers and Streams Gallery can learn about the whooping crane, common at nearby Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic and Desert Gallery helps the visitor compare and contrast wildlife from those regions.

Cook’s original insect collection, along with hundreds of new species of insects, is available for viewing in the Wonderful World of Insects.

Giant aquariums hold different types of jellyfish and saltwater fish in the Oceans Gallery, while a large beehive stores as many as 60,000 Italian honey bees. There are even live baby alligators acquired from an alligator reservation in south Alabama, along with displays of other reptiles from North America.

Trained staff members, including an on-site veterinarian, are tasked with humanely treating the live animals. Once the animals outgrow their space in the museum, they are released back into appropriate habitats.

Keeping kids interested

The museum’s different hands-on exhibits, which include a virtual game that involves balancing the Earth’s atmospheric conditions and a station where you can digitally design a seashell, allow visitors various ways to discover the planet.

“We put a lot of thought and money into the different types of learning showcased in the different types of exhibits,” said Kara Long, manager of collections and gallery experience.

Children can burn off energy by peering inside a life-size beaver lodge, walking on a rope bridge above a replica of a Southeastern forest or crawling around an insect-themed playground.

To get students interested in nature, classrooms feature various programs to encourage careers in science, technology, engineering and math. “Using a child’s internal motivation to explore and learn, we can help them develop an early appreciation, sense of wonder, love and respect for the natural world that is so awe-inspiring,” Taylor said.

The museum will host field trips, birthday parties and sleepovers to encourage children and young students to visit the attraction. “There is already interest from across Alabama who want to take their students on a field trip to our museum,” Taylor said.

The museum is a community center for Decatur, with a cafe and meeting space for events, and a regional attraction for north Alabama and the Southeast.

“This museum is a rising tide for north Alabama,” president and board chairman Brian Cook said. “We see this museum as being a significant part of regionalism and are thankful for the many sponsors in north Alabama and beyond who made this museum possible.”

Cook is thankful his grandfather’s legacy lives on with the new museum.

“I recently asked my grandmother if she ever imagined that opening the doors to a few small school groups or Boy Scouts back in 1968 would lead to this,” Cook said. “She laughed and said, ‘No, I never saw this happening.’”

For more information, visit www.cookmuseum.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama Living magazine)

13 hours ago

Gov. Ivey meets with Dr. Deborah Birx about COVID-19

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Wednesday hosted Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the Alabama State Capitol.

Ivey, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Birx met first in the governor’s office, before moving to a roundtable discussion with various state health care professionals, members of the business and religious communities and lawmakers.

Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, said in a release that “Dr. Birx emphasized very strongly that this is a critical time for the South to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

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Per Maiola, Birx also lauded the governor’s new statewide mask mandate as “brilliant” and integral to keeping Alabama businesses open and operating safely.

“A variety of topics were discussed and questions were asked on anything from testing, to Remdesivir and reopening schools and churches safely. Dr. Birx explained that early on the virus seemed to be concentrated in large cities in the Northeast, however, this has not proven to be accurate in the South. She expressed how the South, specifically Alabama, has high rates statewide. Dr. Birx told the governor that she was personally worried about the South, which is why she visited our state in person. Governor Ivey is appreciative for her time and knowledge and looks forward to keeping an open dialogue with her and the Trump Administration as we work through the pandemic,” the governor’s spokesperson concluded.

RELATED: Doug Jones: Ivey’s statewide mask mandate ‘the right thing’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Doug Jones: Ivey’s statewide mask mandate ‘the right thing’

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is backing Governor Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, which goes into effect Thursday at 5:00 p.m. CT.

Jones is a member of the U.S. Senate Health Committee and recently hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci on his weekly live-streamed press conference.

Alabama’s junior senator also released a campaign ad encouraging members of the public to wear face masks.

In a statement on Thursday, Jones said, “Governor Ivey did the right thing today by enacting a statewide mask policy.”

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“Unlike her counterparts in other Deep South states, Governor Ivey is clearly following the advice of health care professionals,” he continued. “Many Alabama communities in COVID-19 hotspots have already taken this step, which will help limit the spread of this virus and reduce the strain on our struggling hospitals and health care workers, and it just makes sense to do it on a statewide basis.”

“We all want to move past this deadly, disruptive pandemic. By taking the simple steps of wearing a mask and social distancing, we can each do our part to protect lives and livelihoods,” Jones concluded.

RELATED: Ainsworth: Statewide mask mandate ‘an overstep’ — ‘One-size-fits-all, big government requirement’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

World Games to feature flag football for first time ever at Birmingham 2022 event

The World Games 2022 Birmingham on Wednesday announced that flag football will join its existing lineup of 32 unique, multi-disciplinary sports.

This international multisport event features sports and disciplines not included in the Olympics. The event is typically held one year after the Olympics.

Since the 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Games in Birmingham originally scheduled for 2021 were also pushed back a year.

Wednesday’s announcement was made in partnership with the International World Games Association (IWGA), National Football League (NFL) and International Federation of American Football (IFAF).

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RELATED: World Games 2022 Birmingham names Charles Barkley as honorary co-chair — ‘Chance to show the world what this community and its people are all about’

The 2022 event in Birmingham will be the first edition of the World Games on American soil since 1981.

Hosted at historic Legion Field, flag football at the World Games 2022 Birmingham will be presented by the NFL and feature eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams from around the world.

“We are grateful that the NFL recognizes the significance that The World Games 2022 will have as the first major international sporting event in the United States coming out of this global pandemic,” stated Nick Sellers, CEO of the World Games 2022.

As the current reigning world champions, the United States men’s and women’s teams both pre-qualify. The remaining teams will be selected through the IFAF qualifying process.

“The world is longing to reconnect, and Birmingham, Alabama will play a pivotal role in that reconnection,” Sellers added. “The NFL’s partnership sends a signal to every company in the world that associating their brand with this special event is important for the world to see.”

The World Games 2022 Birmingham will take place July 7-17, 2022, and will generate an estimated $256 million in economic impact.

“Football is a staple of Southern sports and will be a welcome addition to The 2022 World Games lineup,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “Non-contact sports like flag football are a great way to open up competition to all skill levels. That type of accessibility and inclusion is what The World Games is all about, providing incredible experiences and lasting memories for participants and spectators to enjoy. Birmingham can’t wait for the world to join us in 2022.”

NFL FLAG is an NFL licensed property of more than 1,600 locally-operated leagues and over 500,000 youth athletes across all 50 states. NFL FLAG has regular participation from more than 3 million youth and adults in the United States.

“The addition of flag football to the World Games brings tremendous global value as the NFL looks to expand the NFL FLAG brand worldwide,” commented Izell Reese, executive director of NFL FLAG. “With support from NFL Global Ambassador and NFL FLAG Chairman Russell Wilson, we’ve committed to creating more opportunities for athletes around the world to play flag, and we look forward to teaming up with the City of Birmingham and the World Games Committee to share the NFL FLAG experience with even more athletes and fans.”

“We are so excited to bring flag football to the international stage during The World Games 2022 in Birmingham,” added Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Super Bowl champion and NFL FLAG chairman Russell Wilson. “Flag football expands the sport of football by providing easier access to our game for men and women from all walks of life. With a huge international platform like this, we’ll create opportunities for kids and adults around the world to experience and learn the game of football, while helping grow the sport’s global popularity.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

‘Alabama is focused on the future’: 21st century workforce partnership launches

Stakeholders on Wednesday announced the launch of JumpStartAL, a private-public partnership to help carry out Alabama’s bold strategy for the future of workforce development.

A release outlined that through using leading edge virtual reality (VR) training solutions from job simulator TRANSFRVR, JumpStartAL will offer new education and training programs to develop the Yellowhammer State’s next generation of highly skilled workers.

Private sector partners spearheading the initiative include Alabama Power Company, Altec Industries, the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), and Balch and Bingham.

“Alabama is focused on the future,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement. “JumpStartAL will help ensure that we are positioned to attract the jobs of tomorrow by educating and training Alabamians to take advantage of the opportunities those jobs will provide.”

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The initiative will reportedly highlight career paths needed for Alabama to meet its goal to increase its workforce by 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.

The statewide network of partners supporting the initiative also includes the Alabama Community College System; Ready to Work, which is operated by Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT); the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education; the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development; Shelby County economic development organization 58 INC; Central Six Alabama Works; and the Alabama Department of Commerce.

JumpStartAL training modules are created with input from industry partners and will help participants develop specific skills needed for jobs, beginning with manufacturing and expanding into other industries in the future. Training is available free of charge for anyone interested in a career in the skilled trades, including high school students, veterans, workers in existing industries, the unemployed and underemployed.

The initiative will initially roll out at five Alabama community colleges, with more campuses and training facilities added in the future:

• Coastal Alabama Community College
• Enterprise State Community College
• Jefferson State Community College
• Lawson State Community College
• Shelton State Community College

“Now, more than ever, we must be engaged in new and inventive ways to train the next generation of skilled workers,” stated Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker. “Our colleges are committed to meeting students where they are and helping them achieve a better future. Hands-on virtual reality training is a means of achieving that goal.”

The statewide business community’s backing of the initiative through both job placement strategies and financial efforts is critical to JumpStartAL’s success.

“It is a great privilege for Altec to be partnering with so many outstanding companies and organizations throughout Alabama on such an innovative workforce development initiative,” commented Jay Eichelberger, general manager for Altec.

“JumpStartAL demonstrates Alabama’s leadership role in developing skill-aligned training programs that help broaden employment and economic opportunities,” Eichelberger added. “It will ensure that those entering the workforce are much better prepared to succeed, while allowing employers within the state to utilize state-of- the-art training technology that is focused on specific job skills and requirements.”

Additionally, the initiative will focus on addressing new challenges and opportunities that arise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The organizations and companies that make up JumpStartAL have a shared vision of ensuring Alabama and its citizens are well positioned for a prosperous and inclusive future in the 21st century economy,” said Leigh Davis, vice president of economic and community development for Alabama Power. “We are honored to join with them to help make this vision a reality.”

A full list of JumpStartAL partners can be found here.

Companies interested in joining the partnership can visit the initiative’s website here. Individuals wanting more information on training locations and how to sign up can learn more here.

The rollout of JumpStartAL comes after the National Governors Association recently featured the State of Alabama’s workforce efforts in a countrywide guide.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Trump: Doug Jones ‘doesn’t represent the views of the people of Alabama’

Before boarding Marine One outside the White House on Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump was asked by a reporter to react to Tommy Tuberville winning Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Trump had endorsed Tuberville in the GOP runoff and reacted to the impressive victory on Tuesday night in a tweet right after the race was called.

Speaking to the White House press pool on Wednesday, Trump said, “I’m very happy that Tommy Tuberville won the race. I think he’s going to be a great senator.”

The president then criticized U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), who Trump the previous day called a “Super Liberal puppet” for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

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RELATED: Jones: Representing the majority of Alabamians not ‘the be all to end all’ (VIDEO)

“We don’t have a good senator there right now in Jones,” Trump lamented. “He’s not doing the job. He should be doing a much better job. Certainly he doesn’t represent the views of the people of Alabama — that’s for sure. So we’re not happy about him at all. I don’t think the people of Alabama are happy with their representation in the Senate.”

“And Tommy Tuberville is going to be a great senator. He was a great coach. I spoke to another coach last night — unrelated — and he said, ‘Tommy Tuberville was a great coach and he’s a great guy.’ Someday I’ll tell you who said that, but he’s somebody respected,” the president continued.

“So it was a great — it was a tremendous win for Tommy Tuberville last night. I’m very happy about it,” Trump concluded.

Watch:

Tuberville and Jones will face each other at the ballot box in November’s general election, when Trump will also be up for reelection.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn