The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 months ago

RiverKids teaches paddling skills, water safety to young people

(Alabama Cooperative Extension System/Contributed)

You could spend an entire lifetime paddling across Alabama’s 132,000 miles of water from the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico and the thousands of lakes, rivers and streams in between.

Two organizations have partnered to help educate young people just starting that journey.

The 4-H RiverKids Program teaches children ages 9-18 basic paddling skills, water safety and more about outdoor recreation. Since 2015, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) has worked closely with the Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT) on the program.


Under the partnership, RiverKids has grown to 28 counties, with 37 certified instructors and almost 800 participants through 4-H. Some of the counties participating with Alabama Power lakes include Cherokee, Etowah, Randolph, Shelby and Tallapoosa.

RiverKids started as a small program run by ASRT. Its founder, Fred Couch, wanted to encourage kids to explore the outdoors while teaching them about water safety.

The group soon realized working with 4-H would expand RiverKids’ reach and support the association’s goal of promoting water recreation in Alabama.

“We opened the trail as an opportunity for residents to get out on the water,” said Jay Grantland, ASRT executive director. “Our goal is to promote the waterways in Alabama as a recreational opportunity. The goal was to give kids the opportunity to explore and learn what Alabama has to offer and to do it safely, since there is an inherent risk with water activity.”

The RiverKids program is seasonal and typically runs from April to October. Classes include paddling basics and safety but also explore topics such as fishing, hiking and being environmentally conscious.

Each class is a little different. Some are structured as one- or two-day events, while others resemble a traditional summer camp. Other outdoor and water-related 4-H programs are also often incorporated.

“One thing that’s the same in all the classes we provide is instruction on the bank or in a classroom on learning how to use gear and a paddle,” said Emily Nichols, extension specialist and RiverKids administrator. “We want everyone to be comfortable before taking off in the water.”

It’s not just about technique. RiverKids makes sure young people have proper safety gear like whistles, first-aid kits and rescue throw bags. Grantland said students leave the program feeling safer and more comfortable on the water.

“It gives them an understanding and respect for the water, as well as a desire to get out and enjoy these kinds of outdoor activities,” Grantland said.

Parents say RiverKids offers children something different than traditional after-school sports and extracurricular activities.

“I decided to get my daughter involved in the RiverKids program because she needed a good extracurricular activity for the summer because she is not involved in any sports. RiverKids sounded fun, and it would take her outside her comfort zone by being on the water,” said Katrina Lucas, whose 12-year-old daughter participated in the program in Barbour County. “This is something different that lets the kids learn about something new. They got to do something that if not offered by this program they would never get to do.”

Besides a new experience, Wendy Newell of Calhoun County said the program teaches kids to respect the great outdoors.

“It helps our children learn valuable lessons about the importance of waterways in Alabama. It is crucial for our children to understand the importance of taking care of the water for not only people but also for the Alabama wildlife that depend on it,” said Newell, whose son Xander took part in the program.

Luke Padgett, 15, participated in the Barbour County RiverKids Kayak Club alongside his dad.

“I enjoyed kayaking with my dad, seeing fish jump out of the water, and being beside ducks on the water was fun,” Padgett said.

To learn more about the program, visit

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Birmingham Zoo adopts new elephants, opens welcome center

(Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

Two new residents at the Birmingham Zoo recently made their debut for guests.

Male African elephants Luti and Gadze explored the zoo’s habitat for the first time in July. The zoo adopted Luti, 9, and Gadze, 10, from San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The elephants are a part of the zoo’s unique program that specializes in bachelor elephant husbandry.


“Right now, we’re giving them some time to get used to the habitat, heat and humidity before we do any big introductions with Bulwagi. Bulwagi is our 38-year-old male elephant and the anchor of our program,” said Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade, vice president of Living Collections. “Once we see the signs that they’re comfortable, and we expand the amount of time that they’re out, then we start looking at introducing other new variables.”

Alabama elephant population grows by two at Birmingham Zoo from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Birmingham Zoo is collaborating with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in maintaining species survival programs and helping global elephant conservation efforts.

“There’s so many different threats toward elephants in the wild right now,” Slade said. “Not only are we involved in range country research, looking at the behavior and conservation in animals in country, we also do a lot with 96 Elephants. This campaign is a global conservation effort in making people more aware through education of what is the plight of elephants.”

The elephants aren’t the only additions to the park. For the past ­four years, the zoo has been working toward updating its welcome center.

“It’s very important to have a welcome center because the zoo has been growing in its attendance,” said Chris Pfefferkorn, Birmingham Zoo president and CEO. “We also needed to grow the amenities and build on our guest experience. Our old building was falling down and could not handle the number of folks that were coming to the zoo.”

The new entrance is now a two-story building that includes a new gift shop, ticket booths with eight lanes, restrooms, two family rooms and a sensory inclusive room for children with autism, along with other features to accommodate guests of all ages.

Birmingham Zoo finds fancy way to say hello with renovated entrance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Several projects are also in the works for the zoo, such as a new golden eagle exhibit, a red panda exhibit and renovations to the flamingo exhibit so guests can better interact with them.

“It’s very exciting to see everybody come back and enjoy the new space,” Pfefferkorn said. “We would love to always be building animal exhibits, but we also have to build people spaces at the same time so that we grow together.”

Learn more about elephant conservation and ways to get involved with Birmingham Zoo here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)