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.

4 weeks ago

Alabama Freedom Riders recall their fight for equal treatment in Birmingham

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Two Birmingham natives who participated 60 years ago in the historic Freedom Rides told their stories to an inquisitive and admiring crowd Wednesday evening at the Birmingham Public Library.

Catherine Burks-Brooks and the Rev. Clyde L. Carter weren’t on the first two buses that left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, that were attacked by pro-segregation mobs in Anniston and Birmingham. Rather, they were part of the subsequent wave of young blacks and whites who continued the rides on interstate buses later that month and through the summer of 1961 with the goal of permanently crushing segregated public transportation in the South.


Sixty years later, Burks-Brooks and Carter appeared side by side Wednesday in front of a vintage Greyhound bus dating from the early 1960s – one similar to those boarded by the Freedom Riders. The bus, recently refurbished by the Alabama Historical Commission, has been traveling the state to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Birmingham was the last stop for the bus before it returned to the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, where it will become part of the facility’s interactive exhibits.

“That we were making history really never crossed my mind,” said Carter, 90, former pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in the Titusville neighborhood of Birmingham. Carter was attending Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina, following service in the Navy, when the attack on the first buses took place in Alabama. A classmate convinced Carter they needed to get involved, and the two joined a bus in Charlotte that traveled to Atlanta and then to Montgomery, where they were arrested, along with civil rights pioneer Ralph Abernathy, for attempting to integrate the bus station’s lunch counter. Carter spent a week in the city jail before boarding another Freedom Ride that ended peacefully in Jackson, Mississippi.

Burks-Brooks, meanwhile, was among a group of young activists attending colleges in Nashville who raced to Birmingham to keep the Freedom Rides going after the first group of Riders were savagely beaten at the Trailways bus station downtown. Among those studying in Nashville – and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders – was a young John Lewis, who was attacked by police and state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965 and later became a congressman from Georgia.

When the Nashville group arrived in Birmingham, they were immediately arrested by the city’s public safety commissioner, Eugene “Bull” Connor. That night, Burks-Brooks, Lewis and other riders from Nashville were taken on a long ride north with Connor to the town of Ardmore, Alabama, on the Tennessee line, where they were dumped on the side of the road. Connor expected the group to retreat to Nashville. Instead they immediately returned to Birmingham to continue the rides.

Burks-Brooks eventually traveled on to Montgomery on a bus that was attacked at the city’s Greyhound station – now the site of the Freedom Rides Museum – before journeying on to Jackson, Mississippi, where she and other Freedom Riders spent weeks behind bars.

“People ask me, did I know the danger? I knew the danger – all my life,” Burks-Brooks said, recounting her childhood when she had to “step aside” with her mother when passing whites on the sidewalks of downtown Birmingham.

“I had stepped aside all my life,” Burks-Brooks said, until her anger and frustration as a teenager evolved into intention – to do what she could to shatter segregation.

For Carter, his moment of revelation came almost a decade before the Freedom Rides, he said. After going through Navy basic training in San Diego, he was traveling on a bus with white seamen through Texas in 1952 when the group stopped to eat at a restaurant. As soon as he entered and sat down, a waitress approached and told him she could not serve him and that he had to leave. He returned to the bus, seething. “At that moment, a spark was lit. It never left me.”

That moment returned to him as he considered whether to join the Freedom Riders as a college student. There was no question what he would do. “All we wanted was equal treatment on the buses,” Carter said.

By the fall of 1961, the Freedom Rides nudged President John F. Kennedy to petition the federal Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation on interstate bus travel. A year earlier, a Supreme Court ruling had essentially established the same, but Southern states ignored the ruling, prompting the Freedom Rides. The segregated signs finally tumbled in interstate bus stations, and in station bathrooms and restaurants. Three years later, in 1964, the federal Civil Rights Act banned segregation in all public spaces.

Standing in front of the refurbished Greyhound bus Wednesday evening, in front of an appreciative crowd of adults, teens and children, Carter said, “Today, when I look at my children and grandchildren, I’m glad to see them enjoying the things I could not enjoy.

“Sixty years ago, Black lives mattered,” Carter said. “They mattered then – and Black lives matter today.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Storms damage important red-cockaded woodpecker longleaf habitat in Alabama

(Dylan Shaw/Alabama NewsCenter)

The storms that tore through Alabama last month took a toll on a rare longleaf pine forest near Lake Mitchell, but Alabama Power biologists have moved in to make repairs ahead of the nesting season for a protected woodpecker.

Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power, said the storm took down numerous trees in the 1,600-acre, old-growth longleaf pine forest that the company has helped nurture over more than 30 years. Longleaf pine forests are critical habitat for a wide variety of animals and plants, including the federally protected red-cockaded woodpecker.

Fitch said the company’s biology team surveyed the damage and discovered that the storm had toppled nine longleaf pines that contained nesting cavities used by the woodpeckers to breed. With nesting season just a few weeks away, the company’s stewardship team this week began replacing the destroyed cavities with new, artificial ones that are being inserted in standing pines.


“We want to get ahead of the nesting season and do what we can to keep our ongoing breeding efforts on track, despite the recent damage,” Fitch said.

Over the past 25 years, experts have refined a process of inserting artificial nesting cavities – essentially small birdhouses – into mature longleaf pines, which red-cockaded woodpeckers will inhabit, just like they would natural cavities. Because it can take years for woodpeckers to create new cavities on their own, the artificial cavities have been critical in helping increase the population of the rare birds.

Artificial nesting cavities have helped to expand the breeding population of red-cockaded woodpeckers at the Lake Mitchell site and at many others across the South. Last year, for example, there were 11 breeding pairs of woodpeckers thriving in the Lake Mitchell forest, up from eight breeding pairs identified in the forest in the 1990s.

Prior to western colonization, an estimated 1 million-plus red-cockaded woodpeckers lived in the United States. But over the past three centuries, that number has shrunk dramatically because of habitat destruction. In 1970, the woodpecker was placed on the federal endangered species list after its estimated population dropped below 10,000.

The clearing of longleaf pine forests, the preferred habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers, is directly tied to the historic decline of the bird. Once believed to cover more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, longleaf pines now thrive on about 3% of the trees’ historic range, although in recent years multiple public agencies, nonprofits and private landowners have worked together to expand longleaf forests across the South. Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern Company, are among those actively supporting efforts to restore longleaf pine habitat and expand the red-cockaded woodpecker population.

Last fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed “downlisting” the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered status to threatened, because of ongoing, successful efforts to protect and expand the bird’s population. The agency said the downlisting is warranted because the species is no longer in danger of extinction, although a listing of threatened would still provide the bird government protections.

Fitch said real progress has been made across the South to add to the woodpecker population, thanks to a number of initiatives, including habitat protection and expansion, and “translocation” during which experts carefully capture and move birds to new sites to expand the number of breeding groups in the wild.

He said the repair and replacement work taking place in the longleaf forest at Lake Mitchell will hopefully ensure the population there continues to grow.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama high school students design technology to help adult with disabilities

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Daniel Creech doesn’t talk much. When he does, it packs a punch.

Creech doesn’t have to talk to communicate how he feels. When he’s excited, his eyes shine. And when he’s happy, his contagious, full-throated laugh draws in anyone who is near.

His friends and professional relationships at United Ability, the Birmingham nonprofit agency that serves people with disabilities, are alternately charmed and amazed at what Creech, 43, can do, despite his significant physical disabilities. Since birth, cerebral palsy has severely limited Creech’s motor skills, making it impossible for him to walk, talk or use his hands.

Creech uses technology to access almost all parts of his life. He uses a head array to drive his new motorized wheelchair and communicates by using a speech-generating device produced by Tobii-Dynavox. This device tracks Creech’s eye movements and predicts the words and phrases as he begins to type and then generates them as spoken words, giving Creech his voice.


Using the eye-gaze-enabled keyboard appears easy, but it can be very tiring for the user, said Alyssa Scharf, a speech language pathologist at United Ability. “Daniel makes it look flawless.”

And now, thanks to the creative minds at Hoover High School’s Engineering Academy, Creech’s world is opening up even more.

A student team of four from the academy worked closely with Creech and his support team at United Ability to design a headpiece that Creech uses to perform several tasks more efficiently. The headpiece, combined with Creech’s other technologies, has moved him closer to a personal goal: landing his dream job as a front desk receptionist at a school.

Hoover High School works with United Ability to support man with cerebral palsy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

In an interview, Creech said the headpiece makes it much easier for him to perform his current jobs at United Ability, where he spends five days a week as both a client and paid employee. One job is to shred confidential correspondence and medical files at “Gone for Good,” United Ability’s document-destruction company that employs agency clients. Creech’s other job: serving as a receptionist at United Ability’s Community Integration Academy, a facility at the agency’s Birmingham campus.

“I really like my new helmet,” Creech said. “It is much better because it is lighter. It really is comfortable now because my neck doesn’t get tired. The students at Hoover High School took the old design and created something that really meets my needs.

“I am able to move things easier, like when things get in my way on the table. The new design makes it easier for me to do my job, which is important.”

In a recent, socially distanced gathering at United Ability, Creech was able to personally thank one member of the student team and the teacher who heads the engineering academy. COVID-19 restrictions had prevented the group from gathering until now.

“I want to say, thanks very much for taking the time to create a better helmet for me,” he told former Hoover High student Andrick Raschke, now a student at Jefferson State Community College, and engineering academy teacher Robert Nidetz. “I know it took a lot of work. Thank you for getting to know me and helping me meet my goals.

“I want technology that helps me access the world around me,” Creech added. “I want to be very independent so that I can help other people.”

Raschke said of the headpiece, “I’m really happy with it, as long as Daniel is happy.” He said the student team, which included Seth Davis, Christopher Upton and Garrett Hogan, began working on the project in fall 2019. By spring 2020, the group was closing in on a final design when COVID-19 forced the students to attend school remotely and put the project on pause. It wasn’t until fall that the device made its way to Creech for testing and tweaking.

“It really changed his life, it sounds like – and I couldn’t be happier,” said Raschke, who earlier this month got to watch Creech use the headpiece.

Nidetz said the engineering program at Hoover High takes students through a progressive course with a focus on “user-centric design.” He said the program encourages students to “work with individuals with unique needs to help develop products and solutions for their everyday lives.”

He said during their four-year journey through the academy, students learn about engineering principles, drawing and design, technical writing and computer programming, among other skills. And then, “we bring it all together” with entrepreneurship and product development.

Nidetz said the experience gained with Creech in designing his new headpiece has led to another project, in which students are developing a device for another person with similar needs.

Jill Smith, manager of vocational services at United Ability, said Creech’s new headpiece is several notches above the heavier, hotter and more clunky helmet Creech used before. Smith first visited with the Hoover engineering students in fall 2019 to see if they’d take on the task of designing a better device for Creech.

“I have to say, the team that we worked with – they were awesome,” Smith said. “They were so involved with Daniel himself, and really wanted to get to know Daniel, which was the really, really great part.”

Smith said Creech described to the students his work responsibilities and the pros and cons of his old headpiece – “exactly what he liked about it, how it felt,” and what he would like the updated device to be capable of doing to help him become even more independent.

Through that process, the Hoover team not only improved on the helmet but devised an improved wand that attaches to it. They also created a special attachment for the device, using computer software and a 3D printer, that makes it much easier for Creech to push a button to open the entrance door at the Community Integration Academy – which is part of his responsibilities as the receptionist.

Smith said the student-designed device has practical applications for other United Ability clients who can use it to better perform a variety of tasks.

As for Creech, he’s never been one to shy away from expressing himself, those who know him said. Before COVID, Creech was an eager public speaker and advocate for the services provided by United Ability – something he looks forward to continuing after the pandemic wanes.

At the recent gathering to celebrate the success of his headpiece, Creech relayed his life story. Born in Georgia and raised in part by his grandmother, he initially attended special-education programs but was soon able to join regular classes. He later moved in with his mother in Alabama and was referred in 2002 to United Cerebral Palsy in Birmingham, which in 2017 changed its name to United Ability.

Creech eventually moved into an adult group home. Today, he lives in his own apartment with his wife, Belinda, who also is a United Ability client. The two met at the agency and married in 2015. “It was the best day of my life,” he said.

While the number of clients United Ability can serve at its campus has been reduced during the pandemic – and has forced the agency to provide more virtual services – Creech and his wife continue to come to the agency for services and to work.

The gregarious Creech not only is active in his personal and professional circles; he is also involved with church and is prominent on Facebook, posting updates regularly. He also reads to children at United Ability’s Hand In Hand Inclusive Early Learning Program.  

He said his new headpiece, combined with his other technologies, have helped him lift his abilities to greater heights, with the ongoing care and attention he receives from United Ability. The Alabama Power Foundation is among United Ability’s many supporters, along with United Way of Central Alabama.

“I have very good support at United Ability,” Creech said. “United Ability has helped me so much since I’ve been coming.”

Learn more about United Ability at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama woman designed the first operational windshield wiper

(Encyclopedia of Alabama/Contributed)

The next time you’re straining to steer safely through a sudden thunderstorm, give thanks to the Alabama woman whose clever idea made the path forward a little easier.

Mary Anderson (1866-1953) is credited with designing the first operational windshield wiper, and she had the patent to prove it.

Anderson was born just after the Civil War on a family plantation in Greene County. After her father’s death, the family moved to Birmingham in 1889, according to an account of her life in the Encyclopedia of Alabama.


But it was during a snowy trolley ride in New York around the turn of the 20th century that Anderson got the notion for an invention that hundreds of millions of drivers rely on today to see the road ahead.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama account, the trolley had to stop several times during the snowstorm so the operator could get out and wipe the windshield by hand. The experience inspired Anderson to design a device similar to today’s windshield wiper.

Anderson had a model built of her invention, which she called “a window cleaning device” for electric cars and other vehicles. It featured a spring-loaded arm with a rubber blade, which would move across the windshield using a hand-operated lever inside the vehicle cab. She secured a patent for the device in 1903.

Anderson wasn’t the first person to patent a windshield-wiping device. Some reports give that credit to George Capewell of Hartford, Connecticut, who filed his version in 1896. There were others who patented similar devices around the same time as Anderson. But it was Anderson who was the first to actually manufacture one, according to various accounts.

She had a model built of the wiper, and it was effective when tested. But Anderson was unsuccessful in finding a company to purchase the patent or reproduce the device. Her dream of creating a windshield wiper industry died there.

One can’t help but wonder whether Anderson resented never making a penny on a device that became obligatory on almost every motorized vehicle. It was Cadillac that led the way, making windshield wipers a standard device on all its models in 1922.

Anderson got to see a lot of windshield wipers during her lifetime; she died in Birmingham in 1953 – 50 years after securing her patent. She is buried in Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery.

According to a 2018 report in Business Wire, the “aftermarket” for replacement wiper blades in North America alone topped $883 million in 2016. The report projected the market would reach $1.04 billion by 2023.

So, no profits for Anderson, but some level of fame. In 2011 she was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Throughout March, Alabama NewsCenter is recognizing Alabama women of distinction, past and present, in celebration of Women’s History Month.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Montgomery eyes new nature park, recreational trail network

(River Region Trails/Contributed)

For years, greenspace advocates in Montgomery have eyed an extraordinary, city-owned property near downtown as a potential site for a new park. The proposed public space even has a name: Cypress Nature Park.

Others have longed for the city to create recreational trails that would better connect neighborhoods and capitalize on Montgomery’s historic and natural resources.

Those conversations are turning to action as the city, Montgomery County and a nonprofit group collaborate on a master plan for both Cypress Nature Park and a citywide trail network.

One piece in the puzzle could be under construction later this year: a new trailhead and small park north of downtown along the Alabama River near the Montgomery Marina/RV Park and famed Capitol City Oyster Bar. Plans call for constructing a bicycle and pedestrian path south from the trailhead, all the way back to the existing downtown Montgomery Riverwalk.


Meanwhile, the nonprofit River Region Trails expects to receive within a few weeks the first phase of a master plan for Cypress Nature Park and the trail network. The document, which is being prepared by a private consulting group, was funded in part by the nonprofit Alabama Power Foundation and will help guide the nonprofit trails organization and public officials on the best, next steps forward.

“We’re trying to get from knowing what this could be to defining what it should be, focusing on our overall goals for improving Montgomery,” said Will O’Connor, River Regions Trails executive director. “We want to build what we can build now to create momentum for more.”

At the heart of the parks/trails vision is the proposed Cypress Nature Park, a 260-acre parcel northeast of downtown, just north of the city’s historic Oakwood Cemetery. The parcel includes a stunning wetland area with mature black tupelo, water tupelo and bald cypress trees. From the wetland, the land rises 100 feet to a scenic bluff.

O’Connor said the qualities of the site indicate it may have once been part of the Alabama River, which now meanders past the city less than a mile away. The property is blessed with natural springs and seeps and is a haven for hundreds of species of birds, along with butterflies, a range of insects and invertebrates, and mammals, including racoon and deer.

He said few in town are aware of the site, although it is visited periodically by local college biology students. As a potential park, O’Connor and other advocates envision a host of amenities at the site, from a boardwalk trail through the wetlands, to hiking and biking trails, to interpretative signage and outdoor classrooms, making it a destination for environmental education. It would also be an amenity for a growing number of downtown loft and apartment dwellers.

“Most likely, the initial development focus would be the park,” O’Connor said, although the master plan will provide guidance. He said the initial hope is to begin development of the park in the next two years, with support from the city and other funders.

The bigger, long-term picture  – one that is likely take many years to refine and complete – envisions a 30-mile recreational trail, looping through multiple Montgomery neighborhoods and connecting to Cypress Nature Park. Tying into the “Loop” would be a network of smaller trails and sidewalks totaling 50 miles of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly routes for the community.

The loop – a precise route hasn’t been finalized – would make use of discontinued railway rights-of-way in some locations and newly created trails in others. It would link to the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail that cuts through west Montgomery to the state Capitol and connect with other city parks and historic sites.

O’Connor said the organization is looking closely at a six-mile section of privately held railroad right-of-way, heading southeast from near downtown, that could become the initial “spine” of the trail loop. If that section can be developed into a trail, “it will begin to show how impactful this could be.”

He said the trail network would weave city neighborhoods closer together, with inviting walk paths and sidewalks. The network has the potential to boost property values, encourage residential and business development, and entice tourists. It could also help improve the health of the community by offering residents an easily accessible recreational asset for fitness and stress relief, not to mention providing a safe, alternate method for people to move around town without a car.

“Our trail can offer different things to different people,” O’Connor said, “It promises multiple benefits for the community.”

City officials are enthusiastic about the potential impacts of the Loop and Cypress Nature Park.

“We are excited to promote the Loop as a way for locals and visitors alike to get out and enjoy the existing urban trails that connect downtown and the Alabama River with a surprising density of public art, cool destinations, deep history and wonderful views,” said Jocelyn Zanzot, an urban planner with the City of Montgomery. “Overall, we are very excited to partner with River Region Trails to make these new opportunities for exploring Montgomery possible.”

John Steiner is a board member of River Region Trails and chairman of the board of the The Nature Conservancy’s Alabama chapter. He said River Region Trails is working with other partners and experts, including representatives of local universities, on the park and trails plan. He said the master plan will help sketch out a roadmap for the projects, but also provide information that can be used to broaden the conversation with the community and with potential public and private-sector funders.

O’Connor said public input and participation will be critical as plans develop, to ensure community buy-in and build support.

“The Cypress Nature Park is a spectacular part of Montgomery,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Alabama Power’s Southern Division, which is headquartered in the city. “When we talk about innovative and exciting opportunities to enhance the quality of life for those in Montgomery, and the visitor experience, the work of River Region Trails should be very near the top.

“Few cities have such an opportunity to bring together such diverse and unique recreational and educational opportunities. The trails and park will be important to the growing narrative that Montgomery is a great place to live, work and visit.”

To learn more about the park and trails plan and how to support the effort, visit the River Region Trails website at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama Power hydro generation benefits from 2020 rainfall

(Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Lots of rain in 2020 meant lots of clean, renewable, low-cost hydropower for Alabama Power customers.

Preliminary figures show the company produced significantly more hydropower in 2020 than projected, placing 2020 as the eighth-best year on record for hydroelectric energy production.

“Hydropower is one of the most cost-effective sources of energy,” said Herbie Johnson, Hydro general manager for Alabama Power. “The more hydropower produced, the better for our customers.”


With hydropower, there’s no need to purchase fuel, since the source of the energy is a renewable resource: rain. Hydropower also creates no emissions, helping protect air quality.

Of course, hydropower is subject to the whims of Mother Nature, since it depends on ample rains to keep hydro reservoirs filled.

That wasn’t a problem in 2020, with record spring rains, adequate summer showers and two major hurricanes in the fall. Indeed, those record spring rains resulted in the best January through April in the company’s history for hydropower production.

Those spring rains broke records across the state, leading to higher-than-average rainfall totals for the year in multiple locations. At Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, for example, rainfall for all of 2020 was the fifth-highest on record. Rainfall data for Birmingham dates back to 1896. Anniston, Birmingham, Huntsville, Muscle Shoals and Tuscaloosa all recorded their soggiest first quarters ever in 2020, according to the National Weather Service.

The substantial spring rainfall, combined with wise management of water resources throughout the year, helped make 2020 a strong year for hydropower generation in Alabama.

Turbine upgrades at several Alabama Power dams in recent years have helped the company produce more renewable energy with less water. Alabama Power has 14 hydroelectric facilities on 11 lakes across the state. The company’s lakes also provide sources of drinking water, recreational opportunities and help fuel local economies.

Typically, Alabama Power gets between 4% and 8% of its electricity annually from hydro. The company’s diverse generating mix includes power produced from nuclear, natural gas and coal-fired power plants, and from renewable resources such as solar and wind.

Learn more about Alabama Power hydro generation at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant will help rare fish to thrive in Alabama

(Bernard Kuhajda/Contributed)

A tiny freshwater fish, recently rediscovered in Alabama, will get some help to survive, thanks to a grant from the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

For more than 50 years, the trispot darter had not been seen in the state. That is, until 2008, when scientists discovered a small population in St. Clair County.

The new grant, through NFWF’s Southeast Aquatics Fund, will be used in part to make habitat improvements along a creek where the fish lives. The grant will help support additional research to potentially identify other nearby sites where the fish may exist.

Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern Company, support NFWF and the Southeast Aquatics Fund. Alabama Power has actively participated, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in efforts to enhance habitat for the trispot darter.


Last year, FWS officially listed the trispot darter as a threatened species. The multi-colored fish, which grows to less than 2 inches in length, has long been found in parts of the Coosa River Basin in southeastern Tennessee and northern Georgia, but had not been seen in Alabama for decades.

“They’re very unique; they migrate like salmon,” Pat O’Neil told Alabama NewsCenter in 2019 when he was deputy director of the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA). O’Neil rediscovered the trispot darter population in Alabama.

Trispot darters typically live less than three years. In winter and early spring, they swim upstream to spawn, moving from larger creeks and waterways into smaller tributaries and rivulets.

Last year, Alabama Power worked with FWS and other partners on a project to improve trispot darter habitat. It removed culverts underneath a road on company property that crosses a tributary of Little Canoe Creek in St. Clair County where the trispot darter lives. The culverts, which prevented the fish from moving upstream, were replaced with a bridge and the stream bed restored to a more natural state.

With support from the new NFWF grant, a similar culvert-replacement project, coordinated again by FWS, will move forward at another location along the tributary.

“The NFWF funding will allow us and other partners, including private landowners, to expand upon ongoing restoration efforts within the Big Canoe Creek watershed,” said Lee Holt, an Alabama-based biologist with the FWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. “Specifically, this effort will include working with the St. Clair County Commission and engineers to remove a fish passage barrier within known trispot darter habitat. Such efforts are only possible through much collaboration and cooperation with various partners, including county and state governments, utility companies and corporations, and private landowners.”

Jeff Powell, deputy supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office, said that “for the trispot darter, implementing recovery actions would not be possible without the support of these dedicated organizations.”

In addition, FWS biologists will conduct research to gain a better handle on the darter population in the area. Additional surveys will be undertaken in hopes of identifying locations where the darter may live or that could be suitable habitat for expanding the population.

“We are pleased to work with NFWF, the private sector and other federal agencies to implement conservation actions through the Southeast Aquatics Fund,” said FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith. “Conserving aquatic species and habitats in the southeastern United States is an important focus area for the service, and our collaborative work in Alabama’s Big Canoe Creek watershed and other areas will benefit species, habitats and people.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was instrumental in helping us improve fish passage for trispot darters on our property,” said Jason Carlee, Alabama Power environmental affairs supervisor. “It’s great to see other landowners working together to make life easier for this little fish.”

“This little fish has a big spot in my heart,” said Jesalyn McCurry, Southern Company environmental stewardship program manager. “Protecting nature and communities are important to Southern Company, which is why we support on-the-ground conservation like this project for the trispot darter.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Bikeshare, transportation options expanding in Birmingham

Bikeshare companies Veo and Gotcha are ready to build on the momentum created by Zyp. (contributed via Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham’s pioneering Zyp bikeshare program, which ended its successful five-year run in December 2019, has left some local folks in the city going through micromobility withdrawal.

But in a matter of weeks, new players are expected to pick up where Zyp left off and take transportation-sharing in the city to a whole new level.

Earlier this month, the Birmingham City Council approved agreements with two private bike- and scooter-sharing providers. Veo, based in Chicago, is expected to start operating in Birmingham after the new year. The company will provide conventional bicycles as well as electric scooters. Gotcha, based in Charleston, South Carolina, is expected to begin operating in Birmingham in 2021. It will offer stand-up and seated “cruise” scooters and electric-assist bicycles.


“Veo is thrilled to be launching our state-of-the-art Astro e-scooters and Halo pedal bikes this coming spring as part of Birmingham’s shared micromobility permit program,” said Alex Keating, Veo’s director of Public Policy and Partnerships.

“Veo takes immense pride in designing, manufacturing and operating the safest and most innovative fleet of shared bikes and scooters in the country and we now look forward to providing all of Birmingham’s residents and visitors with a great new way of getting around the city in 2021,” Keating said.

Gotcha has agreed to establish a national distribution center in Birmingham, where equipment will be assembled, repaired and moved to locations around the country where Gotcha operates. The company is moving the new M2 development, at the former Old Car Heaven site, between Pepper Place and the popular Avondale area that is packed with eateries and watering holes. A representative for Gotcha was not available for comment.

Also moving in to M2 is the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, which has been a force in the development of the Red Rock bicycle and pedestrian trail system in Jefferson County. Work is expected to be underway soon to extend one of the major trails in the system – the Jones Valley Trail – from Sloss Furnaces National Historic Site, right past the M2 site, to Avondale, with plans to extend the trail farther east to the Continental Gin complex, home to Cahaba Brewing Company and other businesses. The Jones Valley Trail ties into the popular Rotary Trail in downtown Birmingham.

Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who chairs the transportation committee, said the new transportation-sharing options are expected to accommodate more people and cover a far wider geographic footprint that what Zyp served.

Under the Zyp program, a public-private partnership supported in part by the Alabama Power Foundation, up to 400 bicycles were available at nearly 40 docking stations in the central part of Birmingham. Zyp was the first bike-share system in North America to offer electric pedal-assist bicycles, which helped put the city on the map when it came to innovative approaches to transportation. Today, cities across the country have followed Birmingham in adding “pedelec” cycles to their bike-share fleets.

O’Quinn said that with two providers coming to Birmingham, there will be a combined 1,000 vehicles available, with expansion possible.

Also expanding is the number of neighborhoods where bicycles and scooters will be available. Unlike Zyp, where bicycles were clustered at a limited number of permanent docking stations, Gotcha and Veo vehicles will be parked at many more sites around town, without the need for docking infrastructure. Instead, the city will be setting up multiple “corrals” – essentially marked locations along curbs and street corners – where people can pick up and drop off bikes and scooters. Riders will be encouraged through pricing incentives to return vehicles to the corrals. Gotcha and Veo staff will be responsible for maintaining their respective bikes and scooters, as well as repositioning them among the corral sites.

“One of the things that I’m really excited about is that the initial service area will be dramatically greater than Zyp,” O’Quinn said. Multiple, additional neighborhoods, beyond the central city, are expected to be served, including Woodlawn, sections of north Birmingham, the Smithfield community and other areas to the west.

“I am so ready to see bikes back in downtown, and now scooters, too,” said David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, which operated the Zyp program. REV is an economic development and revitalization nonprofit focused on creating vibrant commercial districts.

“We knew private, micromobility companies were interested in the Birmingham market because they had seen how Birmingham embraced Zyp,” Fleming said. During its successful run, over 43,000 users took more than 218,000 rides on Zyp bicycles.

“More than 250,000 miles were ridden on those green bikes that will always hold a special place in our hearts,” Fleming said. “I wish Gotcha and Veo many more miles.”

Fleming said bikes and scooters add to the fabric of the city. “Right on the surface, the movement and color communicate that downtown is a vibrant, fun place to be. But it’s more important than just that. These options make it easier for people to explore and spend time downtown, which brings people back to the street level, over and over.”

O’Quinn said, “Trying to implement this type of system without having the context of Zyp to build on would have been more difficult. Zyp did lead the way to show our streets really can be multimodal – for visitors but also for people who live here – to get around.

“From our perspective, reliable transportation is key to people having access to opportunities,” O’Quinn said. “We want to make sure as many folks as possible have the ability to use the service.”

He said the bicycles and scooters will complement ongoing efforts to enhance and expand transportation services in Birmingham. In addition to the traditional MAX bus transit system, also operating now in Birmingham is Via, an on-demand, ride-share program. Meanwhile, construction is expected to begin in a few weeks on the Birmingham Xpress, a bus rapid-transit system designed to better connect downtown to neighborhoods in east and west Birmingham.

Plus, there is the expanding network of bike lanes, sidewalks, and walking and bicycle trails, in Birmingham and across the metro area. Planners view the pedestrian and bike trail network as another transportation link to connect all parts of the city. Combined, they are important resources, O’Quinn said, to make it easier for people in Birmingham to get around, safely, without needing a car.

“Plenty of places around the country are making more accommodations for pedestrians, for bike users, so they can access the things they need – healthcare, education, job opportunities,” O’Quinn said. “This is an important step forward for improving quality of life.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Researchers use new technology in bid to solve centuries-old Alabama mystery of Mabila


An ongoing research project is applying cutting-edge satellite technology in a quest to finally pinpoint one of Alabama’s – and North America’s – most important “lost” historic sites.

On Oct. 18, 1540, an armed contingent of Spaniards led by explorer Hernando de Soto savagely attacked Native American warriors led by the famed chieftain Tascalusa. The blood-soaked confrontation decimated Tascalusa’s forces and left the fortified Indian village of Mabila a charred ruin. The number of dead – fewer than 100 Spaniards but as many as 5,000 Indians, according to historic chronicles of the event – puts the carnage on par with or greater than the battle of Antietam during the Civil War as potentially the single deadliest day of combat on North American soil.

As devastating as the fight was to the pre-Alabama natives, the monumental clash also ultimately led to De Soto’s demise. After the battle of Mabila, the infamous conquistador pressed deeper into the wilderness with his battle-weakened troops. De Soto ultimately perished – precisely where is also unknown – and what was left of his army retreated to Mexico.


Nearly five centuries later, the exact location of Mabila – believed to be somewhere in West Alabama, possibly in Clarke or Dallas County – remains elusive, despite multiple efforts to find it. But a Birmingham-based nonprofit, known for using the power of satellite imagery to identify important archaeological sites from Egypt to Peru, is now on the case.

GlobalXplorer was founded by internationally recognized “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at UAB and a National Geographic Society Archaeology Explorer.

Parcak is also the winner of the 2016 TED Prize, which came with a $1 million award that she used to create GlobalXplorer.

Parcak is a pioneer in using high-resolution satellite imagery to identify subtle patterns on the Earth’s surface that may indicate the location of hidden archaeological sites. Her techniques have helped to locate thousands of potentially significant sites in Egypt as well as important sites connected to the Vikings and the Roman Empire.

Through GlobalXplorer, Parcak and her team trained volunteer “citizen explorers” to scour satellite imagery in Peru to identify, and protect from looters, important ancient ruins. They’ve also, with support from the Alabama Power Foundation, begun to analyze satellite imagery of West Alabama where, in the future, they may locate archaeological sites that will help determine where Mabila might lie.

Chase Childs, GlobalXplorer executive director, said dense tree cover in some sections of West Alabama poses some challenges for using satellite imagery, compared to the open deserts of Egypt. The amount of soil disturbance in west Alabama over the centuries, where native prairie was turned into farmland or cotton plantations, and later became forest or planted tree farms, may also have led to the destruction of some or all of the Mabila site.

Despite the challenges, early analysis, he said, has turned up some intriguing patterns worthy of further, ground-based investigation. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a pause in field expeditions for now.

Childs said GlobalXplorer, following initial investigations on the satellite imagery, will ensure that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma – the descendants of native Americans who lived in what is now West Alabama and Mississippi but who were forced west in the early 19th century during the infamous Trail of Tears – will be consulted for any potential ground-based work.

“This is a major question remaining for Alabama’s history, and it continues to cause significant debate and discussion in the archaeological community. We are hopeful that the application of these new technologies will help shed light on a potential location for Mabila and help guide future groundwork,” Parcak said.

Childs said more definitive information regarding GlobalXplorer’s findings should be available in a few months. Based on those findings, further research and field studies – by GlobalXplorer or others – will likely be needed to determine if the work has brought the world any closer to locating Mabila. He said the information gathered through this initial phase would be made available to other scholars.

In addition to the scholarly value, finding Mabila could bring an economic boost to west Alabama, drawing visitors and more research dollars to the area, as well as resources to preserve the site, if found.

“One can rightfully say that the lost battle site of Mabila is the predominant historical mystery of the Deep South,” now-retired University of Alabama Professor Jim Knight wrote in “The Search for Mabila,” a 269-page volume about the quest published by the University of Alabama Press. The book, edited by Knight, was the product of a three-day gathering of Mabila scholars hosted by the university in 2006.

Six years ago, Knight participated in a field expedition, also funded by the Alabama Power Foundation, that examined a site along the Alabama River where it was thought De Soto’s troops may have crossed on their way to Mabila. That expedition failed to turn up artifacts that dated the site to around the time of De Soto’s journey.

While that expedition did not blaze a path to Mabila, it did contribute – through process of elimination, if nothing else – to the base of knowledge that may ultimately lead scholars to the site.

For now, the GlobalXplorer project keeps alive the promise of bringing the world closer to the day when the centuries-old mystery of Mabila is solved.

Learn more about GlobalXplorer at Learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

New pavilion at Alabama’s Turkey Creek Nature Preserve expands education options

(Turkey Creek Nature Preserve/Contributed)

Turkey Creek in north Jefferson County is home to not only one, but three endangered species of fish, including one found nowhere else on the planet.

Meanwhile, the nature preserve just north of Birmingham that bears the same name is drawing ever-larger crowds who come to enjoy the creek’s pristine waters, the preserve’s hiking and biking trails and the popular swimming hole that stays refreshingly cool on even the hottest summer days.


New pavilion coming to Turkey Creek from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Protecting the preserve’s delicate and important habitat while accommodating people who want to enjoy its natural beauty is a delicate balance. So is finding ways to cover the ongoing costs of maintaining the preserve.

A new classroom pavilion under construction at the 466-acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve will hopefully provide a revenue source sustaining the preserve while also offering an eco-friendly amenity to further the preserve’s education mission. A recent grant under the public-private Five Star program will support the project in a way that protects the preserve – and the rare creatures that inhabit it.

“The new pavilion – we are calling it an Alabama forest classroom,” said Roald Hazelhoff, director of the nonprofit Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College, which has been managing Turkey Creek Nature Preserve for more than a decade.

“The pavilion will allow us to educate more people about why this place is so special – and so deserving of ongoing protection and conservation,” Hazelhoff said. “And the Five Star grant will help us ensure the pavilion not only enhances the experience of people coming here, but that the project doesn’t adversely affect what we are trying to protect.”

The preserve, near Pinson, opened in 2009 following a community effort to protect the area. For decades, the creek and its natural waterfall was a party spot for locals. Later on, Jefferson County considered building a new jail at the site, which sparked community protest and efforts to save the nature area. Local activists proposed that the land be purchased by the state’s Forever Wild Land Trust, as other organizations, including the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust and the Southern Environmental Center joined the effort.

The preserve protects one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the region, with the creek supporting three tiny, federally endangered fish species: The Vermillion Darter, Watercress Darter and Rush Darter. The Vermillion Darter is found only at Turkey Creek.

In addition, the preserve is home to a protected species of turtle; two protected species of bats; and the rare eared coneflower.

Alabama Power and its parent, Southern Company, are partners in the Five Star program, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Five Star grants support projects that help protect and improve urban and coastal waterway habitats, and the animals and plants that rely on them.

Construction is underway on the multipurpose pavilion, which will accommodate up to 120 people. The project required clearing roughly 2 acres at the site, which will include an entrance and parking for people with disabilities. The Five Star grant will offset the environmental impacts of the project by helping pay for plantings of native trees and shrubs, installation of a rainwater harvesting system, and the creation of a 0.3-mile “Return of the Natives” trail. The trail will feature native plants and interpretative signage, and connect the pavilion to an existing outdoor amphitheater on the banks of Turkey Creek.

The Southern Environmental Center previously partnered with Five Star at the nature preserve to install permeable parking and a bioswale at the entrance to Turkey Creek Falls, located adjacent to the popular swimming hole. The permeable parking and bioswale help slow and filter rainwater from the road and parking area before it reaches the creek. The previous Five Star grant also paid for the removal of about 9 acres of invasive plants – part of a project to improve habitat for native bats.

In addition to being able to accommodate up to 120 students for educational programs, the new pavilion will be an event space. Proceeds from rentals will bolster the nature preserve’s finances.
As part of the pavilion project, another bioswale – essentially a natural area designed to retain and filter rainwater – will be constructed, while the new rainwater harvesting system will gather runoff from the pavilion’s roof in a 1,400-gallon cistern. The captured water will be reused at the pavilion and supply a new drip-irrigation system for native plants.

he pavilion project is expected to be completed by year’s end.

Like many outdoor parks and greenspaces, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve experienced a surge in visitors at the onset of the pandemic, forcing new restrictions at the site. As cooler autumn weather sets in, safety precautions remain in place for visitors. And while it is free to visit the preserve, donations to the Southern Environmental Center are encouraged to help pay for upkeep, security and other expenses.

To learn more about Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and to support its continued operation, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Alabama Power providing helping hand to Texas, Louisiana, after Hurricane Laura

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Searing heat and humidity, obliterated infrastructure and clogged roads are just some of the challenges Alabama Power crews have had to overcome as they help bring some normalcy back to communities recovering from Hurricane Laura.

For nearly a week, the Alabama team of more than 350 personnel have been working to rebuild the grid and restore service to people in Texas and Louisiana.

Alabama Power crews arrived in Houston last week, and from that base have helped get the lights back on in Beaumont and Orange, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana – which took a direct hit from Laura.


Wray Anderson, a manager in the company’s Power Delivery organization and one of the leaders in the company’s restoration efforts, has worked multiple disasters since the early 2000s. He said the damage in Lake Charles is some of the most severe he has seen in more than 15 out-of-state operations.

“It’s pretty much devastation” Anderson said via phone from Lake Charles, where Laura’s howling winds took apart even sturdy brick structures – something Anderson hadn’t witnessed before.

Anderson also has seen boats tossed far inland by the storm surge, multiple snapped trees, and businesses shredded by the winds and water.

According to the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC)a coalition of groups representing the public and private electric utility industry, more than 1 million customers in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas were affected by the monster storm. As of late Wednesday, about a quarter of a million customers remained without service. In Louisiana alone, more than 1,000 transmission structures were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

More than 29,000 utility workers from 29 states, the District of Columbia and Canada were mobilized to support the recovery, ESCC reported.

On Thursday morning, Alabama Power crews were continuing to work for the third day in an area of Lake Charles where the electrical grid was essentially destroyed by the hurricane, Anderson said. Already, the team had replaced some 50 broken poles in one short stretch of the system.

“Everything is so damaged and mangled, you pretty much have to start from scratch,” Anderson said.

High heat and humidity mean crews need to stay well-hydrated, in addition to following government protocols to protect against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The health and safety of Alabama Power crews during restoration efforts, and at all times, is the company’s top priority.

Anderson said crews are maintaining social distancing as much as possible and eating individually boxed lunches and dinners that have to be trucked in from across the Texas line, since there are few restaurants functioning in the Lake Charles area.

Indeed, traffic has been one of the biggest challenges for the crews. With hotel space limited, Alabama Power teams have been driving into Lake Charles from Houston every day, about a 170-mile journey. With roads filled with government and nonprofit relief groups, as well as other utilities supporting recovery, the trip from Houston can take up to four hours one-way, Anderson said.

“Typically, we will work 16-hour days. But because of the travel time, about five hours is about the best we’ve been able to do,” he said.

“The conditions are difficult, so I am really encouraged by the attitude of the team,” Anderson said. “When you see the level of destruction, there’s a strong desire among everyone here to help.”

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, electricity has been restored to more than 773,000, or nearly 80% of customers impacted by this historic and devastating storm, according to the Edison Electric Institute.

Alabama Power crews have been on the road helping others for a good portion of the summer. Crews recently returned from a trip to New Jersey, following Tropical Storm Isaias, and Illinois, where they assisted communities affected by a damaging derecho wind event. The company provides resources to other investor-owned utilities, when they are not needed at home, under longstanding mutual assistance agreements.

Alabama Power customers should always be aware of the potential for severe weather and have their storm-readiness plans in place beforehand. Learn more about how to prepare at Click on “Our Company” and then “Outages & Storm Center.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Alabama cities taking to the water with new shoreline public parks

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

More Alabama cities are discovering, or rediscovering, the allure and economic development potential of their waterfronts.

In the coming months, at least two Alabama cities located along Alabama Power reservoirs expect to open new waterfront parks – not only to support community recreation but to draw new visitors, residents, businesses and revenue.


In Lincoln, in Talladega County, construction is well underway on a 38-acre fishing park off Travis Drive on the shore of Lake Logan Martin. The $6 million project is designed for major fishing tournaments, with a boat launch that can handle multiple vessels at a time, plus parking to accommodate up to 300 trucks with boat trailers.

A fish weigh-in station, multiple pavilions and boat piers round out the amenities that are critical for major fishing tourneys. Playgrounds, restrooms, walking paths and shoreline access for people who want to play in the water round out the park’s features.

“We are absolutely enthralled with what we are creating,” said Lincoln Mayor Lew Watson. He said the city consulted closely with fishing organizations, such as the Alabama Bass Trail and Bassmaster, in designing the park. “I’m a fisherman and I love to fish but I’m not an expert on fishing tournaments,” Watson said. “They have been totally involved with us, and the park is the result of their input.”

New fishing park coming to Lincoln from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

He said the city is already in the process of scheduling fishing tournaments for after the park’s anticipated opening in March 2021. “Everybody can’t wait,” Watson said.

Meanwhile, on Neely Henry Lake, construction continues on a long-planned waterfront park in the city of Southside, on State Highway 77 at Fowler’s Ferry Road.

Southside Mayor Wally Burns said the project, on about a 9-acre site, will be the city’s first waterfront park. About two-thirds of the city limits runs along Neely Henry Lake, on the Coosa River.

“This is going to be a huge asset for our people, and anyone else who wants to use it,” Burns said.

So far, a parking area has been carved out and two 20-foot-wide boat ramps are complete. Work is nearly finished on a bait store with public restrooms. The bait shack will also sell snacks. Next up is construction of a boardwalk along the shore, as well as a pier where people can fish. Burns said the first phase of the park should be open early next year, at the latest.

Additional phases may include a refueling facility for boats, a walking track, a pavilion with picnic tables and a restaurant. Burns said the site will be able to accommodate fishing tournaments. The project is designed to be both a recreational attraction and an economic development asset for the city.

Keith Strickland, with Birmingham architecture and construction firm Goodwin Mills Cawood, is overseeing the project in Lincoln. He said the park, on the site of a defunct sod farm, takes advantage of the sweeping shoreline, just minutes from Interstate 20. “From a design standpoint, it is meant to be sustainable,” Strickland said, with high-quality construction, underground utilities and aesthetically pleasing architecture. Like the project in Southside, it will be Lincoln’s first waterfront park.

Strickland said city leaders wanted a facility that not only provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors but also has the potential to drive growth and boost tax revenues.

Watson hopes the park will be an attraction and catalyst for commercial projects, such as hotels and restaurants. He said the I-20 exit nearest the park and Honda Drive – which leads from the interstate toward the park site as well as to the Honda automotive plant that is the city’s most well-known employer – are ripe for development.

“That’s one of the things we hope to accomplish with this. It’s absolutely an opportunity,” Watson said.

He said it’s thrilling that all Lincoln residents will soon have access to the water and the many recreational options that Logan Martin Lake and the Coosa River provide. “We are on the lake; we ought to be doing that. The time was right to move forward.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Scientists search for rare mussel on Alabama’s upper Tallapoosa River

(Dick Biggins/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

On a steamy July morning, along a quiet stretch of the Tallapoosa River north of Wedowee, a small team of biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) eyed the fast-moving water. The prior day’s rain had turned the river murky – not the best circumstances to search for an elusive and threatened species of freshwater mussel.

Conditions were better the prior morning, when the team scoured a four-mile section of the Little Tallapoosa River, to the north. During that day’s survey, biologists found freshwater mussels – but not the one they were seeking: the finelined pocketbook.

Somewhat disappointed but undaunted, the team plans to return to the river in August, when drier conditions will hopefully aid the ongoing search.


Searching for finelined pocketbook mussels in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A year ago, federal wildlife officials worked with multiple partners, including Alabama Power, and a private landowner to remove an old mill dam on the Tallapoosa, just above the river section the team hoped to search last week. For nearly a century, the 100-foot-wide dam adversely affected the river habitat and impeded the finelined pocketbook and its preferred “host fish,” black bass, from moving up and down the waterway. The pocketbook can be found in the upper reaches of the Tallapoosa watershed and in other isolated locations in Alabama rivers that flow toward Mobile and the Gulf of Mexico, but it is not known to exist at this time in the sections of the Tallapoosa where the team is now searching.

Alabama is rich in aquatic life and ranks at the top of the list for mussel diversity, with 182 species reported over the course of state history. But over the past 150 years, habitat destruction, construction of river dams, polluted runoff and other factors have led to a serious decline in the population of finelined pocketbook and other mussels across the Southeast. Removal of the old Howle and Turner Dam was one reason to expand the search for the fine-lined pocketbook in the Tallapoosa. The survey is also part of the ongoing process of relicensing Alabama Power’s Harris Dam, located farther downriver.

In order to support restoration of mussels and other species, federal officials designated stretches of select waterways in the Mobile River Basin, including portions of the Tallapoosa, as “critical habitat” for the finelined pocketbook and other freshwater mollusks. The designation is helping drive a coordinated effort to manage and improve water quality in the river.

Mussels are considered a “keystone” or indicator species – essentially a gauge for the health of creeks and rivers. Mussels need good water quality to survive, and their absence can indicate water quality issues.

Jeff Baker, a biologist at Alabama Power, is among the team on the lookout for the finelined pocketbook along with state conservation experts, in coordination with federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and others. The ongoing survey on sections of the Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa, in addition to several smaller tributaries, will help inform efforts to protect the mussels and, hopefully, help expand their population.

“This continues the history of cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Baker said.

The finelined pocketbook gets its name from the delicate lines that ring its shell. But the name also harks to the remarkable way the pocketbook propagates.

As part of their reproductive process, pocketbooks release a glue-like mucous that stretches out in the river current, like fine fishing line. At the end of the gummy line, the pocketbook’s larvae are attached in a tiny clump. The larvae wiggles and shimmies in moving water, mimicking tiny bait fish, and are snapped up by larger fish, especially black bass. The bass serve as a host for the larvae, which grow and develop over a two-week period in the fish’s gills before eventually dropping off into the water. By hitchhiking on the fish, pocketbook mussels can also spread their offspring farther along the waterway.

Todd Fobian, a biologist with ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, was among the team searching for the finelined pocketbook last week. “They kind of look like rocks on the bottom of the river, but they’re a lot more than that,” he said.

“They’re down there filtering and feeding on algae and bacteria. Mussels are nature’s little filter systems,” Fobian said.

He said the oval-shaped pocketbooks can grow as big as 4-inch saucers, with some freshwater mussel species known to live as long as 100 years. Mature freshwater mussels can take in and filter as much as eight gallons of water a day, helping protect and improve water quality, Fobian said.

Mussels also are “pretty big components of the ecosystem and the food chain,” Fobian added, providing a source of food for fish and reptiles, small mammals and birds.

Eric Spadgenske, state coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program at FWS, said there are relatively few mussel species thriving in the Tallapoosa, which makes efforts to find existing populations and improve their habitat especially important. The goal: to expand the population to the point that they can be removed from federal protection and to prevent other species from being added to the list.

Removing the Howle and Turner dam was a significant step toward improving water quality in the upper Tallapoosa, Spadgenske said. He said the survey by Alabama Power and partners, and other ongoing research, point to better days ahead for rare species in the Tallapoosa. “That’s certainly our expectation and hope over the next five to 10 years.”

Fobian noted that the finelined pocketbook is among the species ADCNR is breeding at the agency’s Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Marion. Depending on the outcome of the Tallapoosa survey, the agency could consider augmenting any pocketbook populations found in the survey with mussels raised at the center or re-introducing the mussel to some sections of the river – if none is found. Other elements of a management plan for the mussels could include streambank restoration to reduce sediment and working with private landowners along the river to improve water quality.

Spadgenske said there is a growing alliance of individuals and groups working together to protect and improve waterways and water quality in Alabama. The Alabama Rivers and Streams Network includes multiple federal, state and local agencies, researchers, private landowners, nonprofits and businesses, such as Alabama Power, who all agree that clean, abundant water is a benefit to everyone.

Baker said Alabama Power will continue to coordinate with others to support habitat and species protection on the Tallapoosa River and other parts of the state.

Spadgenske added, “Everyone has a role to play. Without the work and support of all these organizations and stakeholders, public and private, including Alabama Power, a lot of these projects wouldn’t get done. It has really become a fine, moving machine.”

To learn more about the extraordinary array of mussel species in Alabama, and those in greatest need for conservation, check out ADCNR’s interactive map.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Recreational releases from Jordan Dam keep whitewater enthusiasts on their game

(Tallapoosa Publisher's Inc./Contributed)

Matthew Thornton has been paddling since he was 6 years old. He did his first solo kayak float at age 8.

More than 30 years later, he’s still on the water, although these days you’re more likely to find him doing some “whitewater SUPing” – that is, running rapids on a stand-up paddleboard.

And his go-to place for it all? The Coosa River.

“I was pretty much born in it,” the Titus native said of the river just a short hop from his native stomping grounds. “It just feels like home.”


It’s also convenient that where Thornton lives – near Lake Jordan and Jordan Dam – is one of the best places in the region to catch some serious whitewater.

For years, Thornton has helped spread his love for paddling and whitewater as a member, and now president, of the Coosa River Paddling Club. The club hosts the annual Coosa River Whitewater Festival, which takes place on the Coosa between Wetumpka and Jordan Dam. On weekends during warm-weather months, Alabama Power releases water from the dam for recreational purposes, creating the conditions that fuel paddlers of all stripes and abilities, as well as the annual festival.

Typically, the Coosa River Whitewater Festival runs for three days in June. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause.

After careful consideration and consultation with its members, the paddling club is moving forward with a more low-key, two-day competition this weekend.

“This is one of the oldest paddling competitions in the South. And it may be one of the few that take place this year,” Thornton said.

The event July 18-19 will include extra precautions so people adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

Giant crowds that would be an issue this year because of the pandemic have never been a problem at previous festivals, since attendees must paddle out to where the competition takes place. The shorter notice about this year’s festival is likely to reduce the number of paddlers and keep it more of a local event.

“We’re going to be doing everything we can, to the best of our ability” to maintain safe distancing, said Thornton, who is thrilled the club will be able to keep the long-running event alive in 2020. The first festival took place in 1985.

Proceeds from the festival typically go to local conservation efforts, including park improvements and nonprofits working to protect the environment and enhance outdoor recreation.

“Alabama Power has been very supportive and cooperative. They’ve really helped to keep it going over these many years,” Thornton said.

In addition to the summertime recreational flows on weekends, throughout the year Alabama Power maintains a minimum flow of water through Jordan Dam to support the health of the Coosa and wildlife that rely on the river.

One of the most important beneficiaries of the minimum flow has been the rare tulotoma snail, which was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1991. The damming of the Coosa, beginning nearly a century ago, helped electrify the region and improve the economy and quality of life in local communities. But it also was among the factors that contributed to the decline of the snail’s population. Over the past 20 years, however, efforts by Alabama Power and multiple government and community partners have resulted in a comeback for the snail. In 2011, it became the first North American mollusk species to be moved or “downlisted” from the endangered species list to the less-serious threatened list. Efforts continue to help the snail further recover.

The weekend recreational flows typically begin in mid-June and continue through the end of October, depending on the availability of water. Recreational flows also are provided on the Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day holidays. Alabama Power varies the recreational flows in a three-weekend rotation. The three levels of flow provide a gentler experience for novice paddlers on some weekends, while higher flows on other weekends draw more-seasoned whitewater enthusiasts. Information about scheduled releases is posted three days ahead on the Lake Jordan page on Alabama Power’s reservoir information website,, and on Alabama Power’s Smart Lakes app.

Chris Carter, owner of local outfitter Coosa River Adventures, is another great source of information about this stretch of the Coosa River and the best ways to enjoy it. He started his boat rental business 25 years ago with six canoes and a trailer. Today, he has 200 single-person and 50 two-person kayaks, and the demand is there to grow more.

It’s not only paddlers who are hitting the local waters in kayaks, he said. Anglers are increasingly inclined to drop a line from a kayak and avoid the big bass boats that ply surrounding lakes. He said the section of the Coosa below Jordan Dam offers some of the best spotted bass fishing around, an assertion affirmed by others who a few years ago proclaimed the Coosa as the only river (vs. a lake setting) worthy as a national top 10 fishing locale.

Carter said heavy rains this spring, more than COVID-19, dampened business for a time. But this summer, with outdoor recreation one of the best ways to exercise and stay safely apart, business is not suffering. “We are pretty much maxed out on the weekends,” he said.

Carter said the scheduled flows from Jordan Dam provide an advantage for those who want more predictable conditions for paddling and river pastimes. And with the Coosa being a warm-water river, that, too, can be more appealing for some people and families, compared to tackling cold-water rapids.

“I’m a lover of the river,” Carter said. “I love the fact that I get to look out my backyard and see the last fall line on the Coosa River.”

For more information about this year’s Coosa River Whitewater Festival, Thornton recommends sending a message from the festival’s Facebook page. Festival organizers will respond.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Shipt logo tops Birmingham’s tallest building

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

The whirring of helicopter blades and streets blocked by police barricades interrupted a quiet Saturday in downtown Birmingham as one of the city’s most prominent corporate residents put its new mark on the city’s tallest building.

Shipt, the online grocery-delivery service founded in Birmingham in 2014 that has since grown into a nationwide force, needed the helicopter to carefully place its shiny green logo on top of the old SouthTrust Tower. The skyscraper, on Birmingham’s north side, was most recently called the Wells Fargo Tower – before Shipt began leasing space in the building last year.


Shipt takes a higher place in the Birmingham skyline from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Shipt adopted a new logo early this year, switching from a throwback flying saucer to a look that includes the company name in bold letters plus a stylized “S” that resembles a shopping bag – a nod to the bright green bags used by Shipt shoppers.

“Shipt is excited to bring our new logo to one of the tallest buildings in Alabama, the Shipt Tower, and to show our continued commitment to the city of Birmingham.” a company spokesperson told Alabama NewsCenter.

“Earlier this year, Shipt made the investment to show who we are, what we do and the quality in how we do it,” the spokesperson said. “Our new logo is bold and distinctive, yet human and approachable, and will allow us to stand out in markets while still resonating with our target audiences.”

The 34-story tower, in what used to be known as Birmingham’s financial district, was completed in 1986 for what was then SouthTrust Bank, also founded in Birmingham. It later merged with Wachovia Bank, which later merged with Wells Fargo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Memorial Day ceremonies canceled, postponed or going online due to COVID-19

(United States Department of Veterans Affairs/Contributed)

It will be a different kind of Memorial Day for those who want to honor the men and women who died while defending the nation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still threatening, and the health risks of holding large gatherings continuing, many Memorial Day observances and ceremonies across the state have been canceled or postponed.

The Alabama Veterans Memorial Foundation Board canceled its Memorial Day ceremony, held each year at the Alabama Veterans Memorial Park in Birmingham. Instead, the event will be incorporated into the organization’s Veterans Day ceremony scheduled for Nov. 8. Visitors can still tour the site from dawn till dusk daily but are asked to follow safe social distancing guidelines.


Memorial Day events also are canceled at American Village in Montevallo. The commemoration typically includes musical tributes, historical reenactments, wreath-laying ceremonies and special tours. American Village is home to the National Veterans Shrine and Register of Honor, housed in a building modeled after Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.

At the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spanish Fort, the traditional Memorial Day program is going virtual, with a pre-recorded ceremony scheduled to post on the cemetery’s Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m. Monday. The program will include a wreath-laying ceremony, folding of an American flag and a moment of silence followed by a rifle volley and the playing of taps by the U.S. Armed Force Honor Guard of Baldwin County. Cemetery staff will also place American flags at each veteran’s grave.

“We want to honor our fallen veterans during these challenging times while allowing the opportunity for family and friends to pay their respects,” said Bob Horton, assistant commissioner for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said while the Memorial Day program is not open to the public, the state veterans cemetery will be open for visitation. Also open for visitation are all 142 federal Veterans Affairs (VA) cemeteries nationwide. In Alabama, VA cemeteries are located in Montevallo, in the community of Fort Mitchell in Russell County and Mobile.

VA officials say certain areas of the cemeteries that are usually open to the public, such as public information centers and chapels, are closed because of the pandemic. Visitors should follow government health guidelines and maintain safe social distancing from those not in their immediate parties. The VA has canceled all Memorial Day weekend activities in which volunteer groups place or retrieve flags from gravesites – events that typically draw thousands of people to the cemeteries. All VA cemeteries will conduct a wreath-laying cemetery that will not be open to the public, although images from the events are expected to be posted on Facebook and other social media sites. Some cemeteries will live stream a Memorial Day ceremony, which will be posted here. Additional COVID-related information regarding federal cemeteries can be found at

One way people can recognize Memorial Day while staying safe at home is to tune in to a series of live online concerts by the U.S. Army Field Band. Memorial Day weekend concerts will take place at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon Sunday and Monday. The concerts can be viewed at and also on the Army Field Band YouTube and Facebook sites. Additional daily concerts are also being streamed on those sites every week at 6 p.m. central on Fridays and Saturdays and noon Sundays through Thursday. Archived streams also are available.

Also perfect for home viewing is the annual National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, which will be broadcast on Alabama Public Television on Sunday at 7 p.m. and repeated at 8:30 p.m. For local listing information, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power biologists doing their part to protect, nurture rare bird

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

The red-cockaded woodpecker is making a slow but steady comeback at a site near Lake Mitchell.

On a remote hill along the shore of Lake Mitchell, a spring ritual is underway once again.

It’s nesting time for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. And this spot, dotted with longleaf pines, is one of a few privately held sites in central Alabama with a small but growing population of the rare birds.


For years, Alabama Power biologists and foresters have worked with federal officials to nurture and improve this important habitat, with the goal of helping expand the woodpeckers’ numbers.

On a brisk but sunny April afternoon, Chad Fitch, an environmental specialist at Alabama Power, makes his way through the longleaf forest above the lake, taking stock.

Using a wireless camera strapped to a long pole, Fitch peeks into the woodpeckers’ nesting cavities, carved into the pines, about 22 feet up. He’s checking to see which ones are already occupied by the rare birds, and which ones may have been commandeered by predators or squatters, such as flying squirrels, or gray rat snakes. Smacking or scraping the tree’s trunk with a large branch or rock can help scare off the unwanted animals.

Fitch is particularly interested in nine, new artificial cavities that were added to the site earlier this year. To help increase the woodpecker population, bird conservation experts in recent years have taken to installing artificial cavities – basically tiny birdhouses inserted into mature pines – to encourage more breeding. It can take six months to a year and a half for woodpeckers to carve natural breeding cavities into the trees’ soft wood.

“I’m optimistic,” Fitch remarked. The nine new artificial cavities are in good shape, including four installed in a new “recruitment area” – a section of the 1,779-acre site that has been newly prepared to make it more conducive for woodpeckers to find and occupy.

The survival of the red-cockaded woodpecker is dependent on open, longleaf pine habitat. At one time longleaf forests blanketed more than 90 million acres, from Virginia to Texas. But extensive timbering, starting in the mid-19th century, plus decades of commercial and residential development and fire suppression have left only a fraction of the original longleaf forests intact. And with the decline of the forest, so went the woodpecker.

Over the past 20 years, however, a broad coalition of public and private partners has been working to re-establish healthy longleaf pine habitat and secure the future of the red-cockaded woodpecker. And real progress has been achieved.

According to a just-released report by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), over the past 10 years the amount of healthy longleaf forest in the Southeast has grown – from a historic low of about 3.4 million acres to 4.7 million acres. And with that growth, the number of red-cockaded woodpeckers also has grown.

At the time the woodpecker was first listed as a federally endangered species, in 1970, only around 10,000 were still known to exist in the United States – down from an original estimated population of between 900,000 and 1.5 million. Today, the number is more than 14,000.

The work at Lake Mitchell represents a small portion of that progress.

Team effort to track, assist unique woodpeckers in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

For years, Alabama Power has cared for and improved this small section of longleaf pine forest. The care includes periodic, controlled burns to clear off undergrowth and encourage native grasses and wildflowers. A healthy longleaf forest more closely resembles a sun-dappled savannah, with widely dispersed, mature trees, rather than a densely packed pine plantation. It is also a habitat bursting with a diversity of plants and animals. According to the NRCS report, healthy longleaf forests support an estimated 900 plant species, 100 bird species, 36 mammal species and 170 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Alabama Power and parent Southern Company also have partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and others on a broader effort to expand and improve longleaf pine habitat across the Southeast. Since its creation in 2012, NFWF’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund has secured more than $37 million for projects that will establish more than 100,000 acres of new longleaf forest and improve more than 1.7 million acres of existing habitat. Alabama benefited from six Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants awarded in 2019.

During the April-to-June nesting season at Lake Mitchell, biologists from Alabama Power, including Fitch, record the number of breeding pairs of red-cockaded woodpeckers, the number of eggs laid and the number of surviving fledglings. The information is shared with state and federal officials.

If the observations show there are more birds than suitable cavities, the company works with partners to add more cavities so that each breeding pair can find a home.

The work is paying off. In 2003, when experts first started counting, there were 14 red-cockaded woodpeckers at the Lake Mitchell site. Last year, officials counted 32 adults that produced 13 fledglings, bringing the population to 45.

“We’ll be going out about once a week, until the end of June,” Fitch said. “We are hopeful the woodpeckers will use the newly installed cavities and move into the new recruitment site. We are very optimistic they will use it.”

If all goes as planned, it will be another, small step on the red-cockaded woodpecker’s slow but steady comeback trail.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s environmental stewardship efforts at Click “Our Company,” “The Environment” and then “Stewardship”.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama driver’s license offices closed, but renewals available by mail and online

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

The COVID-19 crisis has led to new constraints for driver’s license operations in Alabama, but folks who were pressing up on this year’s deadline to upgrade to a STAR ID are getting a reprieve.

As of March 26, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) closed all driver license offices, although staff members are answering phones and supporting online services, according to an ALEA news release. They were contacting people who had scheduled appointments to give them the news. According to the release, the closure means customers temporarily will no longer be able to:


  • Obtain a first-time issuance of driver’s licenses (DLs), including commercial licenses (CDLs) or identification cards.
  • Take knowledge tests, such as learner’s licenses, motorcycle licenses or CDLs.
  • Take road tests.
  • Transfer out-of-state licenses.
  • Obtain foreign national renewals.
  • Register vessels – first-time registrations or transfers.
  • Obtain Ignition Interlock Licenses.

Customers can:

  • Renew DLs, CDLs and IDs online.
  • Renew by mail – for Alabama drivers out of state for military, employment, missionary work, under a physician’s care or other issues on a case-by-case basis.
  • Request a hearing online or by mail or fax. No law enforcement actions will take place until the hearing can be held.
  • Change address by mail, email or fax.
  • Change name by mail or email.
  • Renew hardship licenses.
  • Have a license reinstated by mail, email or phone.
  • Order a driver history by mail, email or phone.
  • Order crash reports by mail, email or phone.
  • Submit medical cards by fax or email.
  • Submit medical unit forms by fax or email.
  • Handle mandatory liability insurance online or by mail.
  • Renew vessel registration online.

Before the coronavirus struck, Alabamians faced an Oct. 20 deadline to obtain the more-secure STAR ID if they wanted to use their driver’s license as identification to board domestic flights. Getting a STAR ID requires a visit to a driver’s license office and showing specific forms of personal identification and proof of address.

Because of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 26 extended by a year the federal REAL ID enforcement deadline to Oct. 1, 2021. STAR ID is Alabama’s version of REAL ID.

“As always, we are dedicated to serving the citizens of this state, but we must make the health and safety of our customers and our personnel a priority,” ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said. “This deadline extension should relieve some of the wait time at ALEA’s DL offices to obtain a STAR ID during the next several months.”

Federal motor carrier officials have granted an extension to people with expired CDLs, commercial learner’s permits and medical certifications. The waiver lasts until 11:59 p.m. on June 30 for CDL and permit holders whose paperwork expired on or after March 1. ALEA advised those who receive a notice of cancellation of commercial licenses or driving privileges in the coming days to disregard it. The agency announced it is granting an additional 120 days from the date of expiration to renew any CDL or commercial learner’s permit or to submit an updated medical certification. For a complete set of terms, conditions and restrictions, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. For questions about medical certifications, contact ALEA’s CDL medical unit at 334-242-4400 and select option 4.

ALEA officials said after the driver’s license division resumes normal operations, customers will be able to schedule an appointment on the agency’s website to obtain a STAR ID and conduct other business. A date for operations to return to normal has not been set.

Taylor reminded Alabamians there is a 60-day grace period for driver’s license renewals, but he encouraged customers to renew online, if possible.

For the latest information from ALEA and details about STAR IDs, online renewals and other agency services, go to

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Central Alabama community needs evolving as COVID-19 crisis unfolds

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

As president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA), Drew Langloh is often at the center of conversations about meeting critical community needs.

But as the coronavirus expands its reach, it’s clear this crisis will demand significant resources to tackle multiple issues – some familiar from past disasters, and some the community has rarely or never experienced.

“When people call us, they are usually having a bad day,” said Langloh, referring to UWCA’s 211 Connects referral center. But with COVID-19, the real and immediate needs of people – and fear about the future – have triggered a dramatic influx of inquiries from across central Alabama, the region of the state where the largest number of COVID-19 infections have been recorded.


“There are two faces to any disaster – the first is the first responders’ response – addressing lifesaving and stabilization efforts. The second is the long-term recovery: how to help people get back on their feet,” Langloh said.

United Way of Central Alabama adjusts Meals on Wheels during coronavirus pandemic from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Langloh said the response during these first few weeks has focused on maintaining critical services — for example, making sure meals continue to be delivered to homebound seniors, while instituting precautions to protect volunteers and the vulnerable, older population receiving food.

Another immediate need was ramping up the 24-hour, 211 call center so it could handle the crush of requests for help. In the past two weeks, the center has gone from a normal three to five operators manning phones and computers to up to 30 operators, working remotely from home.

“Those pieces have fallen into place,” Langloh said.

But just as the impact of COVID-19 is evolving, so is the response. Volunteers are still delivering hot meals. But over the longer run, putting the volunteer team in daily contact with seniors – even if maintaining a safe distance – can increase the health risk. So, UWCA volunteers are preparing to make bigger deliveries of food, but less frequently.

On Thursday, volunteers with vehicles lined up at UWCA headquarters in Birmingham to receive the first of nearly 7,000 boxes of “shelf-stable” items, including cans of stew and tuna, beans and rice, packaged snacks and single-serving cereal containers. The packages, to be delivered over the next two weeks, will provide life-sustaining food to the most vulnerable populations: older and fragile individuals who can’t leave their homes and may not be able to receive visitors for an extended period while the virus moves through.

Becky Wright, director of Meals on Wheels for UWCA, said volunteers typically deliver 1,100 hot meals daily. She said the shelf-stable packages will provide “extra support … extra assurance” as the organization temporarily shifts away from delivering daily meals. UWCA has lined up volunteers to make daily phone calls to all meal recipients during the crisis to ensure things are OK.

Scott McGlaun of Hoover was one of the volunteers who packed his pickup with food packages. An executive at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, like many people he is working remotely through the crisis and has flexibility in his schedule to help with this special food delivery.

“Our community is only as strong as our most vulnerable population,” McGlaun said. “Those of us who can, we should be doing what we can to help.”

Langloh said the No. 1 concern of those calling United Way is food insecurity – “fear of running out and not knowing where to go to get food.” He said while local school systems are doing a tremendous job of getting meals to vulnerable children, there’s a serious and growing need for meals among younger adults, ages 18 to 55, who live paycheck to paycheck and are getting laid off as businesses close. At the same time, food pantries and soup kitchens that rely in part on large supermarket chains and brand food companies to help fill their shelves are seeing their supply chain choked as companies focus on keeping retail stores stocked.

Langloh said as unemployment deepens in the next few weeks, families of laid-off workers will have pressing needs beyond food, such as paying for housing and basic services. “This is a real crisis that is just starting to hit us.”

And there’s another growing need, Langloh said: sustaining many smaller nonprofits that provide a host of important services in the community but are seeing their own revenues squeezed.

“Most nonprofits – a big part of their budgets come from fees for services,” Langloh said. But many of those agencies are having trouble providing fee-paid services because the virus has cut them off from direct contact with clients. Canceled fundraisers and donors turning their attention to other organizations focused on critical coronavirus-related relief have only compounded the problem for nonprofits.

“People don’t think about nonprofits as small businesses, but they are just as hamstrung right now,” Langloh said. “The needs these organizations address is not going away. We need to keep these nonprofits in business now, so they are here to serve us when all this is over.”

To generate financial resources for the many challenges around COVID-19, United Way of Central Alabama and United Way organizations across the state have launched a network of community crisis funds to provide grants for immediate human needs and local nonprofits. Donations can be made to support a United Way operating in a particular community, or to help multiple United Way organizations across a broader stretch of the state.

Langloh said UWCA is working with other nonprofits and charitable organizations, such as the Alabama Power Foundation, the Birmingham Strong small business loan initiative, corporations and others to coordinate and address the many critical needs.

Learn more about United Way of Central Alabama’s emergency relief efforts and its other, ongoing initiatives at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama’s public parks, greenspaces adjusting to COVID-19 crisis

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

With most people confined to their homes during the COVID-19 crisis, escaping to a beautiful park or public greenspace has been one of the few healthy respites from coronavirus cabin fever.

Shelter-in-place rules that have been imposed across the state generally have an exception to allow people to walk or bike or hike in their neighborhoods and beyond – as long as social distancing and other hygiene protocols are observed.

But as people rush to parks to enjoy the spring weather, some have had to adjust to maintain public health and safety. In some communities, parks have closed altogether.


In the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, for example, park facilities are closed. Same goes for Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in the northern Birmingham suburb of Pinson, and the city pier and north beach area in the Mobile suburb of Fairhope. Mobile city parks, meanwhile, remain open, although officials are strongly advising visitors to adhere to social distancing standards. Parks also are open in Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County, although community centers have closed and programming has been suspended.

“We have beautiful parks and walking paths our residents can take advantage of to enhance their mental, physical and emotional well-being,” said Anitra Belle Henderson, director of community affairs with the city of Mobile.

“We are following the joint guidelines provided by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the National Recreation and Park Association that are encouraging people to get out and exercise by walking, biking, running and skating on trails and various paved paths within the park system. However, we do discourage people from using playground equipment, workout stations, water fountains, restrooms and pavilions,” Henderson added.

In Birmingham, the city Park and Recreation Board shuttered all facilities, including dozens of community parks, until April 6. But the nonprofit-operated Railroad Park is open with officials there encouraging social distancing. Park staff have removed all tables and chairs from the central pavilion to discourage large gatherings.

Across the city at the nonprofit Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, a surge in visitors and overflow parking issues raised health and safety concerns, leading staff to close restrooms and pavilions. The preserve’s nature center had already been closed to visitors. Walking and hiking trails at Ruffner are now restricted to members and city of Birmingham residents. “While we support exercise and getting out in the fresh air, we are asking visitors to think before they put themselves, our staff, others and first responders at risk,” said a statement on Ruffner’s website.

At Alabama State Parks, many of which are in rural areas, facilities are open but new restrictions are being put in place.

Officials have now closed beaches and beach access – not only at Gulf State Park but at other parks that have freshwater reservoirs, such as the popular beach area at Oak Mountain State Park. About half of the state’s 21 parks have some type of beach access.

Individuals and families can still camp and reserve spaces for recreational vehicles at state parks, but restaurant facilities are limited to offering takeout only, and all gift shops and stores are closed. Playgrounds and playground equipment, and caves at Rickwood and Cathedral Caverns state parks, also are closed.

“Right now, it’s a good time and it’s a challenging time,” said Jerry Weisenfeld, promotions manager for Alabama State Parks.

“We are here for the enjoyment, recreation and relaxation of the people of Alabama,” Weisenfeld said. He encouraged visitors to practice safe, social distancing, but acknowledged that “not all are following the rules.”

“Just like everybody else, we are trying to encourage only small groups or no groups at all,” Weisenfeld said.

Beth Thomas contributed to this report.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Volunteers put muscle behind protecting the watercress darter

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

It doesn’t look like much from the road – just an unassuming tributary of a local creek that flows into a man-made pond in a pleasant, historic subdivision, south of Bessemer.

But the volunteers who gathered at the site to yank out invasive plants and remove piles of brush knew they were helping to preserve something special.

In 1964, Samford University biologist Mike Howell first identified, in this modest, spring-fed waterway, a tiny fish that, to this day, is known to exist at only five sites in Jefferson County and nowhere else: the watercress darter. By 1970, the colorful fish, which typically grows no larger than 2½ inches, had been placed on the federal list of endangered species.


Since that time, a recovery plan for the fish has been developed that includes ongoing efforts by public and private partners to try to protect and enhance the few habitats where the darter lives.

On Saturday morning, volunteers, guided by conservation experts with the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust and with support from the local REI Co-op, took on the task of uprooting privet and other non-native vegetation growing along the tributary, known by locals as Glenn Springs. The volunteers included local neighborhood residents, students from UAB and others who signed up through the local REI store’s website.

By lunchtime, volunteers had opened up a section of the creek that had been hidden by a wall of nearly impenetrable privet – an Asian import that is notorious for choking out more beneficial, local plants. Darters need natural vegetation and sunlight, in cool, clear spring water to survive.

Experts with the land trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are expected to return soon to the springs to continue the work to help improve condition of the site, which also will help improve water quality for the teeny darter.

Recently the land trust, which is supported by Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation, completed a habitat restoration project at another site where the watercress darter lives, in the Roebuck Springs area of Birmingham. The land trust worked with the city and Fish and Wildlife experts on the project, which included removing asphalt from a city park near the springs and replacing it with natural bioswales, which can slow hot, polluted water from summer rains hitting paved surfaces and filter the water before it flows into the creek. Another project to protect the darter is continuing at Seven Springs, a tributary of Valley Creek in Birmingham, in coordination with neighboring Faith Apostolic Church.

Learn more about efforts to protect the watercress darter in Alabama at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Power Moves: Bobbie Knight taking helm at Miles College is the latest in a lifetime of leadership

(Chad Allen/Alabama NewsCenter)

Becoming president of Miles College – the first female chief executive in the school’s 122-year history – wasn’t part of Bobbie Knight’s retirement plan.

After 37 years with Alabama Power, where she held several leadership positions, including vice president of Public Relations and vice president of the company’s Birmingham Division, Knight wasn’t in the market for a new, full-time job.

Indeed, Knight had plenty going on even after her 2016 retirement from the power company.


In 2017, she was elected to Miles’ board of trustees and co-chaired newly elected Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s transition team. Then, in 2018, she was appointed to the Birmingham Airport Authority, where her colleagues immediately elected her chair. She also had her own consulting company, not to mention other, ongoing volunteer civic obligations.

But when longtime Miles President George French announced last year that he was leaving to become president of Clark Atlanta University, the Miles board of trustees quickly turned to Knight to serve as interim president of the 1,700-student college in Fairfield near Birmingham.

“I was absolutely floored,” Knight said.

“I deliberated long and hard after I got over the initial shock of being asked to consider this opportunity and I have continuously prayed for the wisdom, strength and courage it will take to lead this institution with integrity, compassion and a servant’s heart,” Knight said during a press conference announcing her appointment.

Bobbie Knight shares her plans for Miles College from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“During this transition, the job before me is clear; first, to serve the students of Miles College by ensuring they receive a quality education, that they are equipped with the tools they need to be successful here and in the future and that they enjoy a safe and fulfilling campus life. Second, my job is to maintain a fiscally sound institution. I have a business background and my plan is to use business principles and practices to keep this institution financially strong.”

It didn’t take long for Knight to make a mark.

In January, Miles announced it had received its single largest contribution from an individual donor in school history – $1 million.

The donation came from a celebrity more often associated with another Alabama institute of higher learning: Charles Barkley, the former Auburn University and NBA basketball great and television commentator.

Barkley singled out Knight in his comments about the donation. “I’ve gotten to know Bobbie Knight over the last year and it was really something I wanted to do,” Barkley said in a statement. “To have a female president is a big deal and I want to help Bobbie be as successful as she can be.”

Knight said that even though Barkley didn’t attend Miles or any other historically black college or university, “he understands how vitally important HBCUs have been in this country.”

Barkley’s donation drew national attention, and Knight hoped it would set the stage for more contributions as Miles embarked on a $100 million fundraising campaign. Before the month was over, the school announced it had received a $50,000 contribution to its football program from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and Hueytown native Jameis Winston.

“Having someone of Jameis’ stature selflessly contribute to our growth here at Miles gives credence to what we are trying to accomplish, which is to give our student-athletes the best collegiate experience possible,” Knight said in a news release.

That Barkley cited his relationship with Knight in making his donation is hardly the first time Knight has been recognized for her skills – and for making a difference.

Knight grew up in the Birmingham neighborhood of Zion City, one of five children. Her mother worked as a pastry chef in the long-closed Pizitz department store bakery. Her dad was an inspector at Stockham Valves and Fittings, at that time an important member of Birmingham’s heavy industrial sector. He passed away when Knight was 14.

“Bobbie truly comes from humble means,” said Robert Holmes, a retired Alabama Power executive and longtime civic leader who serves as vice chair of the Samford University board of trustees. Holmes watched Knight rise through the company ranks, starting with an evening shift in customer service and moving through positions of increasing importance.

“She has an unparalleled work ethic,” Holmes said, noting how Knight went back to school to get a law degree while working full-time.

After becoming a vice president at the power company, Knight was chosen among 21 women worldwide for the annual Leadership Foundation Fellows Program of the International Women’s Forum. The exclusive fellowship for female executives included study at Harvard University and the Judge School of Business at Cambridge University in England.

Knight has been honored with numerous other accolades through the years, including Outstanding Alumni in Public Relations by the University of Alabama School of Communications and recipient of the Women’s History Award from the Birmingham Chapter of the NAACP.

She has served on numerous civic and nonprofit boards, including Red Mountain Theatre, VOICES for Alabama’s Children, the Alabama Literacy Council and United Way of Central Alabama. She helped to create Birmingham’s Railroad Park as a member of its founding board and served as chair of the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

“When Bobbie gets engaged in projects, she gets engaged,” said Norm Davis, a retired financial services executive who has known Knight for 25 years.

“Bobbie is very strategic in her thinking and her actions,” said Davis, who was working with French on plans for Miles’ fundraising campaign when French announced his move to Atlanta.

“She’s just done everything right,” he said about Knight’s new role as college president. “She’s one of those people that, when she sees something where she can make a difference, she is always willing to roll up her sleeves and go to work.”

He recalls observing Knight on a scalding summer afternoon, watching practice for the Miles marching band. “She is all over the campus, engaging the kids. She is working on strengthening the graduation rate, recruiting students, building relationships.

“She continues to build the community,” Davis added, noting that he and Knight both believe a vibrant Miles College can serve as an economic engine in Fairfield and for western Jefferson County.

“I think we have the opportunity to make a huge difference in this region. That’s what I see,” Knight said.

“She is going to leave Miles better than how she found it,” Holmes said, citing Knight’s passion for the community that raised her.

“Bobbie wants to give back to the city, and the county and the state, from where we’ve both gotten so much from,” said Holmes, also a Birmingham native. “She is a living example of what one can do.”

Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama. Visit throughout the year for inspiring stories of those working to elevate the state.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Plan to extend Jones Valley Trail excites Birmingham walkers, bicyclists

(Freshwater Land Trust/Contributed)

For years, bicyclists who’ve cruised through central Birmingham have looked longingly to the right as they rode east along First Avenue South past Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark toward the resurging Avondale neighborhood.

Just south of the road, there’s a strip of land that has long been eyed as a potential walking and bike trail connection to Avondale. Anticipation grew as the Red Rock Trail network expanded in central Birmingham with the opening of the downtown Rotary Trail. It links to a popular section of the Jones Valley Trail that runs past the Pepper Place retail complex and farmers market and on to Sloss Furnaces.


Extending the Jones Valley Trail to Avondale’s 41st Street always seemed like a no-brainer. That dream came a step closer to reality as the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust unveiled plans to raise funds to complete the next phase of the trail.

“We are thrilled to move forward on this long-anticipated project,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. She said the Land Trust is working with the city of Birmingham and a number of landowners to complete design and construction documents. The next step is to solicit and secure funds for construction, which the Land Trust hopes to begin this year and complete in time for the 2021 World Games.

When complete, the Jones Valley Trail will be a safe, car-free route for walkers, joggers and bicyclists to travel some 2.5 miles to the east, from Birmingham’s booming Parkside area, which includes Railroad Park and Regions Field, through Lakeview with its expanding housing, restaurants and clubs, and on to Avondale. The Jones Valley Trail connects to downtown’s north and south sides, including the central business district, UAB and its medical complexes, as well as the neighborhoods of Highland Park, Forest Park, Glen Iris and Five Points South.

“The Jones Valley Trail is another great example of how trails, sidewalks and greenways can connect communities and inspire growth and economic development,” said Carolyn Buck, who directs the Red Rock Trail project for the Land Trust.

Conceived more than a decade ago, the Red Rock master plan envisions a 750-mile network of trails, sidewalks, greenways and “blueways” – accessible creeks and rivers where people can canoe and kayak – throughout Jefferson County, connecting nearly every community. To date, more than 115 miles of trails have been completed along six major corridors. The network is helping connect neighborhoods to major parks and open spaces across the county, including Vulcan Park and Museum, George Ward Park, Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain Park. It sets the stage for expanding trails into surrounding counties. Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation have long supported the Land Trust and efforts by others to expand parks and greenways in the Birmingham area and statewide.

Smith said fundraising for the Jones Valley Trail extension is underway. She said the project fits in with Birmingham’s sustainability goals, which include making the city more walkable and providing more transportation options that reduce the need to drive a car. In 2018 the city approved a new “complete streets” policy that is driving upgrades of city roadways to include sidewalks, bike lanes and other improvements. The policy is designed to encourage people to get outdoors and walk or bicycle, which provide important health benefits.

“There are so many benefits to having a true network of parks, trails and greenways in our community,” Smith said. “Extending Jones Valley Trail is another positive development in boosting quality of life for all of us who live here. But it also helps make Birmingham and Jefferson County even more attractive – for tourists, for people and businesses looking to relocate, and especially for young people and entrepreneurs who seek out communities with these amenities.”

Learn more about Red Rock Trail system and the Freshwater Land Trust at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Birmingham’s Zyp bike-share program paves the way for new “micromobility” options coming in 2020

(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

After five years of successful operation, Birmingham’s Zyp bike-share program is winding down as leaders gear up to provide new transportation options for the central city in the coming year.

REV Birmingham, an economic development and revitalization nonprofit focused on creating vibrant commercial districts, launched Zyp in 2015 with a five-year commitment from partners and sponsors. The goal: to prove there was a demand for bike-sharing in Birmingham.

And prove it, Zyp did.


During its successful run, which ends Dec. 31, more than 43,000 users took more than 218,000 rides, logging more than 252,000 miles. Now, privately owned bike and scooter companies have shown a strong interest in offering services in Birmingham. City officials are negotiating with potential vendors, with plans to have new shared-use transportation offerings available in spring 2020 for residents and visitors, including electric bicycles and scooters – and potentially more options.

Birmingham’s Zyp changed bike-share programs across North America from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are at the close of the Zyp era, and we feel very good about what we’ve accomplished,” said David Fleming, REV Birmingham president and CEO. REV partnered with RegionsBlueCross BlueShield of Alabama, the Alabama Power FoundationBirmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to support Zyp.

“We set out five years ago with partners who believed in the potential of Birmingham joining the increasing number of cities implementing bike-share systems,” Fleming said. Indeed, Birmingham became the first city in North America to install a bike-share system that offered electric-assist bicycles, with 37 docking stations, powered by solar panels, spread across several central city neighborhoods.

“That was exciting – to do something that was state of the art. It got us a lot of positive attention as a city on the cutting edge, as far as the technology, and pointed to the progressiveness of Birmingham,” Fleming said.

Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn chairs the council’s Transportation Committee and has been closely involved in planning for the upcoming transition from Zyp to new transportation options.

“Zyp bike share really allowed people to understand that bikes were a viable means of transportation and an amenity that would benefit the city,” O’Quinn said.

“If you use Railroad Park as a metaphor, Zyp was the Railroad Park for multimodal transportation in Birmingham,” O’Quinn said, referring to the popular green space built in the heart of the city that helped spark hundreds of millions of dollars of redevelopment projects in downtown Birmingham.

O’Quinn agreed with Fleming that Zyp helped to spread the word beyond the city’s borders that Birmingham was a city focusing on innovation. “It went beyond what was generally accepted and put the city on a lot of people’s radar. There were immediate benefits, but it also added to a more general perception – that Birmingham was a city where new ideas were possible.”

That growing perception, he and Fleming said, added to Birmingham’s allure – drawing more people to enjoy downtown, recruiting younger people to come to live and work in the city, and attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs. Fleming said he’s heard from several recent business arrivals and startups that the city’s bike-share system was among the amenities that helped to draw them to Birmingham.

Another mission accomplished with Zyp was to make bike share inclusive and accessible. The system not only offered discounts for lower-income individuals but pushed into nearby underserved neighborhoods. O’Quinn said city officials are committed to making sure the system that replaces Zyp, which will no longer require docking stations, provides even more opportunities to serve a wider number of users in even more neighborhoods.

O’Quinn uses terminology that many people may not be familiar with when talking about where bike share and other forms of alternative transportation are headed: shared micromobility.

“For what it was, Zyp bike share was very successful,” O’Quinn said. “From an external perspective, people could look to Birmingham and see we were doing something completely innovative. Now, following the natural evolution of the industry, we are looking to transition to what shared-use, micromobility has become. When Zyp started, that term hadn’t even been invented yet.”

O’Quinn and Fleming said Zyp also helped inspire progress toward another goal: making the Birmingham region, where automobiles have long dominated, more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

For example, since ZYP’s creation, the city of Birmingham has adopted a “complete streets” plan designed to add more sidewalks and bike lanes over time.

Keith Rawls, the director of Zyp, said helping make the city a more friendly place for bicyclists was part of the mission.

“In addition to proving our residents and visitors would use bikes to get around Birmingham, Zyp has also been advocating for more bike-friendly environments and policies,” Rawls said. “After five years of Zyp, we’re seeing more people than ever getting out of their cars, enjoying the city by bike, foot and more – a trend we hope to see continue.”

Meanwhile, more leaders across the Birmingham metro are taking a harder look at how to make the region better for walkers and bicyclists through better infrastructure, including the expansion of greenways that provide alternate routes for people to get around without getting behind the wheel.

Since Zyp’s inception, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) – which conducted the early research and conceptual planning that preceded Zyp – has developed the B-Active plan – a visioning document for a broader multimodal transportation network for Jefferson and Shelby counties. It serves as a guide for the two counties and area municipalities to create more safe routes and better connections for walkers and bicyclists.

Hunter Garrison, a community planner at RPCGB, commutes by bicycle to his office from his home in the Crestwood North neighborhood, about five miles east of downtown. “I’ve spoken with many people who started bike-commuting with Zyp and liked it so much they went out and bought their own bike for commuting.

“Zyp has done a great job of increasing the visibility and profile of bicycling in the city,” Garrison added. He believes it also has had a positive effect, from a safety standpoint, on drivers. He said many local drivers have no interest in bike commuting themselves, but they are now more aware of bicyclists and the need to share the road.

He said the Zyp program has inspired elected officials’ interest in improving infrastructure for bicyclists. “Zyp was at the forefront of making the public realize that biking is a viable and fun way of getting around in Birmingham. That may be ZYP’s greatest legacy.”

O’Quinn said elected officials and community leaders are also exploring and testing other transportation ideas, inspired in part by the success of Zyp. He cited the city’s new Via microtransit pilot program, an on-demand ride-share program supported by the community foundation, which focuses on providing residents in underserved neighborhoods with more transportation options.

Meanwhile, the city is working with partners on final designs for the Birmingham Xpress, a new regional bus rapid-transit system designed to better connect the city and nearby communities. Construction is expected to be underway in late 2020.

Overall, O’Quinn said, there is a growing focus on “giving people options other than owning an automobile – which is not an option for everyone.”

“There is definitely a mentality and very strong intent that Birmingham should move in the direction that you don’t have to have a car to get around.”

(Courtesy Alabama News Center)