The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

    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

    Excerpt:

    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

    Excerpt:

    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.

7 hours ago

In Alabama, conservation is for the birds

(Drew Heffenden/Contributed to Outdoor Alabama)

Whether it’s the Yellowhammer State or the Cotton State, whatever you call the state of Alabama, an abundance of birds call it home. “Yellowhammer” in fact refers to the common name for the northern flicker woodpecker — which just happens to be the state bird of Alabama.

Specifically, coastal Alabama is home to a treasure trove of avian species that nest on the beach and use the area for stopover on their migratory journeys around the world. Coastal Alabama is a particularly vulnerable area, as well as the other four Gulf state coasts. The Gulf’s coast is subject to battering from hurricanes and storm surge, land loss from a lack of sediment transfers, and increased development — making coastal restoration projects all that more important.

The incredible amount of bird habitat in the Yellowhammer State is good news for outdoors enthusiasts. Birding trails and hunting opportunities are prevalent, and per Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, birding as a sector of tourism is huge. Roughly $17.3 billion is spent on wildlife-watching trips and related expenses, with an estimated 20 million Americans traveling for birding.

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“While our 32-mile stretch of sugar-white sand beaches is what draws people to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their vacations, the broader nature and outdoors are part of our core marketing focus, especially in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Gendler, Chief Operating Officer of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “The Tourism Office learned during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill just how vital it is that we protect our special environment for residents and visitors to enjoy and appreciate in the future. Birding and bird conservation efforts are a key component of this because our area is part of the winter and spring migration routes.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Gulf Restoration Office is working to implement projects ensuring these opportunities continue to exist far into the future. Within these efforts, some Service biologists are focused on land restoration, while others are looking to the sky — literally — as they track birds’ migration patterns.

Dauphin Island’s West End

Amid settlement negotiations and cleanup efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in April 2010, one spit of land remained in focus for some Service biologists. Roughly 840 acres of coastal habitat, which until recently was privately owned, is known as the West End of Dauphin Island. Located near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island is a 15-mile long barrier island. The U.S. Census Bureau has designated the area as 166-square-miles, which includes about 96% open water. It offers invaluable habitat for coastal bird populations.

A major milestone on the path to restoring the Gulf of Mexico was marked recently as the state of Alabama acquired the West End of Dauphin Island. The acquisition conserves habitat for coastal bird populations that are dependent on the area. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment in December 2019. The 840 acres is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marshes, and beaches. Sea turtle and several bird species use these habitats for nesting. Migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations. The Service’s team will work in close coordination with the State of Alabama and Mobile County to restore this valuable property.

“Public ownership of the West End of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Among the bird species present at the West End are the piping plover and red knot. These two shorebirds are a threatened species within their Alabama range, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers frequent Alabama’s quiet shoreline throughout fall, winter and spring. Red knots are known for their more than 9,300-mile annual migration, one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Conserving this parcel of land will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come.

Tracking birds on the go

Conserving bird habitat is vital for species conservation, but so is knowing where Alabama’s coastal birds are going and staying. A project to track seasonal movements and habitat use of two species of colonial wading birds is providing valuable information for future planning to restore wading bird species in Alabama still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The project relies on the use of electronic transmitters attached to captured birds.

The Colonial Nesting Wading Bird Tracking and Habitat Use Assessment project has been underway since last July. Biologists will use the information to better understand important colonial wading bird foraging, resting and nesting areas in coastal Alabama which will allow for more efficient and effective restoration.

“This project gives us an important way to understand the many impacts that affect colonial nesting wading bird populations, including human disturbances such as the Deepwater Horizon spill. The data provided through this project will help us to more effectively restore bird species injured by the spill,” said Kate Healy, a Service biologist who works in the Gulf restoration office.

1 day ago

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest opens August 2

(Keith Bozeman/2021 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest)

The 2022 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Monday, August 2, 2021. This year’s contest is a joint project between the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Alabama Tourism Department. The deadline to enter is October 31, 2021.

The 2022 photo contest will focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of hand-held cameras. No cellphone, smartphone, game camera, or drone photography will be chosen as winning photos for nine of the 10 categories. Smartphone and tablet photos will be accepted in the Young Photographers category.

The photo contest is open to state residents and visitors alike, but qualifying photos must have been taken in Alabama in the past two years. Any amateur photographer not employed by ADCNR is encouraged to enter.

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A total of eight photos per person may be entered in the following categories. You may enter all eight in one category or among several categories.

2022 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Categories:
• Alabama State Parks
• Birds
• Bugs and Butterflies
• Cold-blooded Critters
• Nature-Based Recreation
• Scenic
• Shoots and Roots
• Sweet Home Alabama
• Wildlife
• Young Photographers (ages 17 and under)

First, second, third and one honorable mention will be awarded in each category. Winning images will be featured online and in an exhibit traveling to various venues across the state during 2022.

Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall.

An exhibit of the 2021 winning photos will be on display at the Johnson Center for the Arts, 300 E. Walnut St., in Troy, Alabama, from August 11, 2021 – September 11, 2021. To view the winning photos online, visit here.

For complete 2022 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-alabama-photo-contest.

3 days ago

Fall BOW workshop scheduled for October 1-3

(Billy Pope/Outdoor Alabama)

Registration for the fall 2021 Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshop opens on August 4 at 6 p.m. for first-time attendees and August 8 at 6 p.m. for both first-timers and those who have previously attended. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sponsored event takes place at the 4-H Center near Columbiana, Alabama, on October 1 – 3, 2021.

Alabama’s three-day BOW workshop is designed for women ages 18 years or older and offers hands-on instruction in a fun, outdoors setting. Participants can choose four classes from more than 50 courses such as backyard wildlife, rock climbing, camp cooking, map and compass, camping, mountain biking, shooting sports, fishing, hunting, canoeing, nature photography, archery, ATV handling, bird watching, boat handling and more.

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BOW coordinator Hope Grier said the classes are perfect for attendees who are new to the outdoors. “There are many ladies who have not been exposed to these outdoor activities and are apprehensive about trying them,” she said. “BOW is ideal for those women because everything is taught at a beginner level.”

The registration fee for BOW is $275, which covers meals, dormitory-style lodging, program materials and instruction. For more information about this fall’s workshop including a complete list of classes and class descriptions or to register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/bow.

“Enrollment is limited, and classes fill up pretty fast,” Grier said. “Those interested in attending BOW should register as soon as possible to make sure they get the classes they want.”

6 days ago

Alabama oyster farmers, environmental interests and researchers meet in the middle with CORE collaboration

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

Navy Cove oyster farm in Fort Morgan is one of the pioneers of aquaculture along the Gulf of Mexico. Chuck Wilson founded the farm in 2011, when the idea of growing single oysters in off-bottom cages or baskets was still a new concept in the area. As mouths around the South – and the country – started tipping up half-shells of Alabama-farmed oysters and slurping them down, the product’s popularity increased, and the number of devoted fans grew alongside the state’s oyster-farming industry.

In March 2020, Navy Cove was getting ready to harvest a bumper crop of bivalves and deliver them to restaurants that would serve them to hungry beach crowds, and they expected to do the same all summer long. The pandemic put the brakes on it all.

“We had a lot of oysters on the farm that were about to be market size in March and early April, right when things started shutting down,” Wilson said. Business dropped precipitously and quickly. “We expected to sell 15,000 to 20,000 oysters per week from spring through August. We sold a third of that.”

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Turbulent tides

Troubled times had come to Navy Cove, but Wilson wasn’t alone. The phone in the office of LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, started ringing in April 2020, with oyster farmers on the line asking for advice and assistance. The issue was surplus oysters, which was a two-pronged problem.

First, with restaurants shut down or at low capacity, demand for oysters was low and farmers were losing sales, so cash flow and bottom lines were being crippled. Second, the oysters not being sold were tying up valuable space on their farms. And while they sat in the water, they kept growing, eventually becoming too big for the half-shell raw market, thus losing value. Plus, the uncertain future made time-dependent decisions – like, should we buy more seed (baby oysters) and can we even afford to? – more fraught with risk than usual.

Swann listened and knew his organization and others that worked with and served the industry had to find a way to help. “We took what the farmers were saying, combined that with our knowledge of the oyster farming industry and came up with a plan,” he said.

Then they got funding. The National Sea Grant office reallocated some of its aquaculture dollars, as did the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. The Alabama Power Foundation also provided support. Swann expanded the team, pulling in Bill Walton and Rusty Grice of the Auburn University Shellfish Lab as well as the Alabama Marine Resources Division and the Mississippi Division of Marine Resources. Together, they created Concerned Oystermen Restoring Estuaries (CORE) and implemented an innovative strategy to provide fast and much-needed aid to farmers while delivering proven environmental benefits, as well as a bonus: the chance to conduct research that could pay additional environmental and industry dividends.

CORE uses farm-grown oysters to help restore Gulf estuaries from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Win-win-win

At the shellfish lab on Dauphin Island, Walton gets amped up talking about the program. There’s a stiff wind blowing in off the bay as the associate professor, extension specialist and all-around-oyster enthusiast explained, “We’re helping farmers; we’re helping the environment now; and we’re exploring ways to help the wild oyster populations even more in the future. There are so many positives.”

CORE’s solution is straightforward. Buy the farmers’ extra oysters, the ones they couldn’t sell. That gives them some income and frees up farm space. Next, load these big, healthy oysters in a boat, motor over to existing wild oyster reefs identified by Marine Resources and dump them into the water, where they settle below on the reefs mostly in Mississippi Sound. So far, CORE has deployed about 189,000 oysters purchased from 11 farms, eight in Alabama and three in Mississippi.

“More oysters in the water are always a good thing,” Walton said. First, they filter the water, taking out extra phytoplankton, which improves water clarity. Clear water lets more sunlight through, resulting in a healthier environment on the bottom, which can prompt sea grasses to grow. Live oyster reefs provide homes for other animals, and the bigger the reef, the bigger that habitat.

“There are lots of other sea critters that like to live amongst clusters of oysters,” Walton said. “What we did through this program was enlist oyster farmers to help us augment what’s going on in nature.”

Most oysters purchased during the pandemic for restoration were triploid and won’t spawn to make more new oysters, since most farmers are now raising triploid or “sexless” oysters. They do this because oysters that don’t put any effort into reproduction devote more energy into growing plump and tasty. Walton said it is no problem at all.

“So why would we put nonreproductive oysters out as restoration? There’s a really good reason,” he said. “Once wild oysters spawn, the juvenile oysters are just swimming around, looking for a place to set and call home.” The older oysters, including sexless triploids, on the reefs release a chemical cue, and when the new oysters sense it, they head over and grab a spot.

“So, we’re taking these big triploids and putting them down there, and they’re not going to provide the next generation. But, when they put out the ‘welcome home’ sign to all those microscopic larvae that are in the water, they are recruiting that next generation and helping them settle on the reef. And the more oysters there are, that sign is like a giant, flashing neon signal.” And then, that generation spawns, and the cycle expands and continues.

Gaining more insight into this process is one aspect of the Shellfish Lab’s role in CORE. “We’ll be watching to see these oysters’ survival and growth once they’re on the reefs,” Walton said. The obvious pluses – filtering water, providing habitat – are being documented, but the data will also help show how harnessing live oysters’ ability to recruit could be a key piece of tomorrow’s reef restoration efforts.

In the past, there’s been major investment in putting out structures and oyster shells to build and refurbish wild reefs. But Walton is not so sure the work should stop there.

“For a while there was definitely the mindset that if you build it, they will come,” he said. “But I’ve seen a lot of places where shell or artificial reefs have been put out, and we don’t see many oysters there. That’s why I think what we’ve done here could help. Does making an area, a reef, really attractive to the next generation make sense as an intentional restoration technique? That’s the question I hope we can answer through this.”

While this program will eventually end, when Walton and his team complete their research they can make a case for what might advance oyster reef restoration: oyster farms raising oysters specifically for that purpose. “Right now, we think of an oyster farm, we think of them as raising oysters for food. But I can see what I would call an expanded restoration market,” Walton said.

Swann agreed with Walton on the many positives of the program. “We’ve helped the farmers with cash flow, so they can stay in business, buy more seed and keep moving forward,” he said. And, like Walton, he’s excited about the potential of expansion. “I really want to see this open the door to get farmers more involved in reef restoration. That would be great.”

Wilson is ready to go. “I think CORE has worked out a model for what oyster farmers could do in the future to help restore reefs. I think a lot of farms have some available capacity that they could dedicate to growing oysters strictly for restoration.” He also praised the team that collaborated through CORE.

“I think all involved saw this opportunity to help farmers and the environment in one swoop and worked together to find the funds and make it happen,” he said. “It’s been really wonderful to watch.”

This story is part of a series about nonprofits aided by the Alabama Power Foundation, based on the foundation’s 2020 Annual Report, “At the Point of Change.” Read stories about The King’s Canvas and Red Door Kitchen.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Adult mentored hunting program sparks outdoor journeys

(ADCNR/Contributed)

Learning to hunt can seem out of reach for those who didn’t grow up with hunting as part of their family experience. Fortunately, Alabama’s Adult Mentored Hunt (AMH) Program teaches all the skills needed to put wild game on the dinner table and help start new traditions.

Jessie Barcala grew up in a military family that moved several times when he was a kid. While his dad was stationed at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Barcala finished high school in nearby Arab, Alabama. After graduating, he entered the U.S. Air Force where he would serve as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hunting was never a part of his childhood. However, the sense of peace Barcala experienced while fishing and camping as a Boy Scout was one of the motivating factors that led him to participate in the AMH program.

“As a combat veteran, I suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” Barcala said. “I fondly remember growing up fishing and being outdoors. I figured this would be a good way to calm my mind and get into an activity that I have always wanted to do.”

It was turkey hunting, in particular, that fascinated Barcala.

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“The fact that you can call an animal, get them to come into your area and hopefully harvest them seems like the ultimate sport,” he said.

Barcala learned about mentored hunting programs while living in Virginia. One of the first things he did after moving back to Alabama in 2019 was sign up for a Turkey Hunting 101 workshop at the Cahaba Wildlife Management Area (WMA) through outdooralabama.com.

After completing the workshop, Barcala was chosen to take part in a three-day adult mentored hunt at the Portland Landing Special Opportunity Area (SOA) in Dallas County. His experience on that hunt would lead to a freezer full of turkey meat and a friendship with his mentor, Justin Grider, from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’(ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF).

“It was absolutely amazing to be out in the woods again,” Barcala said. “There are so many different sounds and sights that people who don’t get out there just won’t experience. The sound in the morning as the woods come alive, from the crickets and owls that stop sounding off at dawn to the morning songbirds and crows making a ton of racket. Nothing compares to watching the sunrise and going out for a walk with a purpose.”

The workshop instruction combined with mentoring in the field paid off for Barcala when he harvested a 17-pound Eastern wild turkey.

“I could have come away from the hunt empty-handed and been perfectly fine,” Barcala said. “I learned so much from Justin that I felt 100% ready to hunt solo. Having said that, being able to harvest my turkey was so exciting. The adrenaline rush afterward was overwhelming. I still talk about the hunt to this day.”

Harvesting his first wild turkey wasn’t the only lasting memory Barcala took away from the mentored hunt.

“Justin and I had a great time and I consider him a lifelong friend,” he said. “Hunting with another person is a special bond that some people don’t get to enjoy. He and the other mentors took time to explain everything I needed to know about turkey hunting. It was one of the most invaluable instructional experiences I’ve had.”

Like Jessie Barcala, Dianne Jordan from Mobile, Alabama, didn’t grow up with hunting as part of her life, but she had been interested in learning how to hunt for years.

“I finally decided one day to search the internet for any information I could use to teach myself to hunt,” she said. “That’s how I learned about the Conservation Department’s mentored hunting program. It took another year before I worked up enough courage to register for one of the workshops.”

A variety of interests can spark a non-hunter’s desire to hunt. For Jordan, establishing a deeper connection with nature and a desire to harvest her own food were her primary motivations for developing new outdoors skills.

“Having a closer connection to the food cycle and being more sustainable are becoming more important to me as I find myself getting older,” she said.

To begin her journey, Jordan registered for a Hunting 101 workshop at the Upper Delta WMA near Stockton, Alabama. She was later chosen to participate in a mentored deer hunt at the Portland Landing SOA. While white-tailed deer was the target of her hunt, the woods sometimes offer unexpected opportunities.

In the waning minutes of her first day hunting, Jordan harvested a 162-pound feral hog.

“I was so nervous, but my mentor’s guidance helped me make the perfect shot to harvest the animal,” she said. “After taking the shot, I was literally shaking from the adrenaline. It was such a joyous moment. To experience harvesting an animal to sustain my life humbles me and highlights the importance of responsible resource management.”

Jordan’s mentor, Doug Deaton, with WFF’s Wildlife Section guided her through the field-dressing process and coached her on how to age the meat. She has since been enjoying a variety of sausages and carnitas tacos from the bounty of her harvest.

Jordan wasn’t the only member of her household to participate in the AMH program. Her partner Karen was also selected for an adult mentored archery hunt at Oak Mountain State Park. Jordan was able to join her for that hunt, which sparked the beginning of a new family tradition.

“After that experience, Karen is now totally excited about the upcoming hunting season,” Jordan said. “The adult mentored hunting program not only gave us the skills and knowledge to be safe, responsible and successful hunters, it also gave us a hobby we can enjoy doing together.”

The first AMH workshop of 2021 will take place at the Oak Mountain Community Archery Park (inside the State Park) on August 14. This Bowhunting 101 class focuses on how to hunt deer with archery equipment.

To be eligible to attend a three-day Adult Mentored Hunt for deer or turkey, participants must be at least 19 years of age, possess a valid driver’s license and be new to hunting or have limited hunting experience. Participants must also attend at least one daylong AMH workshop in order to be eligible for a three-day hunt. After attending a workshop, participants will be notified by email if they have been randomly selected to participate in an AMH hunt.

There is a $20 registration fee for the AMH workshops. To view the workshop schedule or to register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/adult-mentored-hunting-program.

2 weeks ago

WFF Law Enforcement Section teaches Ladies Who Hike firearms basics

(Billy Pope/ADCNR)

Two of the main barriers facing folks interested in outdoors recreation is a lack of access and not knowing others who already participate in those activities. Birmingham’s Brittney Davis is working to reduce those barriers for members of an organization she founded in 2017, Ladies Who Hike.

The group treats its members to 12 local and regional hikes each year as well as an annual trip and other outdoors-related experiences. Since their first hike with 19 members at the Forever Wild Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Birmingham, the group has grown to 125 members and has traveled extensively throughout the Southeast.

Davis created the hiking group to provide a community for women in the Birmingham area in which they could share a variety of adventures.

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“Ladies Who Hike was started when I went on a solo hike,” Davis said. “I had the idea to invite other women along and make a day out of it. The group grew organically from there. My motivation is to have a community and sisterhood where like-minded, positive women can come together and enjoy nature.”

As a Girl Scout growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Davis enjoyed camping and all things nature related. In addition to hiking trips, Davis takes inspiration from her time as a Scout to help introduce other women to new outdoors experiences.

This spring, 18 Ladies Who Hike members attended an Introduction to Handguns course offered by the Law Enforcement Section of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF). The class provides basic tips on firearms safety and storage as well as shooting range experience. Most of the members who attended the class had never had the opportunity to fire a gun.

The 4-hour course is taught at various WFF public shooting ranges throughout the state and is perfect for anyone with an interest in learning how to fire a handgun in a safe, family friendly environment. All firearms, ammunition and eye and ear protection are provided, but you will need a Wildlife Heritage License to participate.

“I believe gun safety is very important, and I wanted to provide my ladies an opportunity to learn how to use a firearm properly and get comfortable using a gun,” Davis said. “Many of our women said it gave them the confidence to go and purchase their own gun.”

The Firearms 101 class was Tiffany Morris’ first adventure with Ladies Who Hike. The Grayson Valley resident grew up in Ensley, Alabama, and had never fired a gun prior to attending the class. Hiking and shooting sports were not a part of her childhood.

Morris joined the group for the sense of community it offers women looking to explore the outdoors.

“I enjoy hiking,” she said. “But I don’t always want to go by myself.”

Morris said her experience taking the Firearms 101 class sparked an interest in target shooting. She plans to practice her new skills at one of the WFF public shooting ranges in the future.

“The instructors taught us how to stand and how to hold a firearm while using it,” she said. “We also learned about the correct type of ear protection and safety glasses you need and the best clothes to wear when target shooting. Learning how important it is to focus on the target and your breath was also a surprise.”

Sgt. Scott Kellenberger, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator for District 2 in northeast Alabama, was the lead firearms instructor during the Ladies Who Hike visit to the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Shooting Range near Helena, Alabama, earlier this year.

Kellenberger learned to shoot a .22 rifle under his dad’s supervision when he was about six years old. Later he would learn how to fire a shotgun while hunting with his dad and grandfather. Today, he holds certifications from the FBI in firearms and patrol rifle instruction and is a Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) Master Instructor.

Like Kellenberger, many people once learned how to use a firearm from a family member. That’s not always the case today. One of the first things he tells new students is that even the most experienced gun owner had at one time never fired a shot.

“I never really shot pistols until I got into law enforcement,” he said. “For anyone taking the Firearms 101 class, we can teach everything they need to know about how to be a safe and responsible gun owner.”

Topics covered in the class include the safe handling and storage of firearms, range safety and etiquette, the correct stance, grip, sight alignment and trigger press and reset when firing. The instructors also teach the students about how the purchase of a hunting, fishing or Wildlife Heritage license helps support conservation efforts in the state.

“We spend about two of the four hours shooting and each shooter has their own instructor,” Kellenberger said. “That one-on-one instruction isn’t something you’ll experience in most firearms classes. To prevent fatigue during the shooting portion of the class, we frequently take breaks to answer any questions the participants may have.”

Ladies Who Hike’s Davis said the class was perfectly structured for her first-timers.

“We arrived at the training facility where all the instructors greeted us and everyone was very friendly,” she said. “They started by going over a very informative handout that made everything easy to understand. Then we transitioned into dry firing where we were able to get comfortable shooting an empty gun. Finally we were given the opportunity to shoot a loaded gun as well as load the gun ourselves. Everything was very well organized.”

While the class is aimed at new gun owners, Kellenberger also recommends it for those who might need a refresher course.

“Even if you are a longtime, well-trained gun owner, there is always something new to learn,” he said. “The course teaches lifelong firearms safety habits to new shooters and is a great way for experienced shooters to sharpen their skills. It’s also an excellent way to make new friends who share an interest in shooting and supporting conservation efforts within our state.”

The next Firearms 101 classes will take place at the Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range on Saturday, July 10, 2021. Participants must be 16 years old or older and registration is required. To view the class schedule or to register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/programs/firearms-101-introduction-handguns.

To learn more about Ladies Who Hike, visit ladieswhohike.org.

3 weeks ago

Student archers from Alabama make strong showing at national championship

(Lisa Counselman/Contributed)

Patience, determination and focus are a few of the skills the sport of archery teaches students who participate in Alabama’s National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). Those skills recently paid off for several student archers from Alabama who attended the 2021 NASP Open and Championship in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on June 10-12.

Nearly 2,100 archers from 33 states competed in the event. Of the 93 students from 13 Alabama schools in attendance, four individuals placed in the top three of their respective divisions in the championship portion of the event. Additionally, Causey Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, took 1st place in the Overall Middle School Division, and Cullman’s East Elementary School placed 5th in the Elementary School Division. Causey also took 2nd place in the Overall Middle School Division of the IBO/3D Challenge at the Myrtle Beach event.

Alabama’s top individual archers in the championship include Carrie Daniels, 8th grade, Phillips Preparatory School (Mobile), 1st place, Middle School Girls Division, with a score of 294; Grace Feenstra, 8th grade, Causey Middle School, 3rd place, Middle School Girls Division, with a score of 293; Hunter Horton, 8th grade, Causey Middle School, 2nd place, Middle School Boys Division, with a score of 292; and Jace Law, 5th grade, Dawes Intermediate School (Mobile), 2nd place, Elementary School Boys Division, with a score of 283.

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Other Alabama archers making the top 10 in their divisions include Sandra Shropshire, 7th grade, Causey Middle School, 4th place, Middle School Girls Division, with a score of 291; Will Bolzle, 9th grade, Cullman High School, 5th place, High School Boys Division, with a score of 295; and Ethan Wheat, 6th grade, Causey Middle School, 7th place, Middle School Boys Division, with a score of 288. Student archers from Alabama also placed in the Open portion of the event. For complete championship results, visit nasptournaments.org.

In addition to placing in the championship, Carrie Daniels, Grace Feenstra, Sandra Shropshire, Jace Law and Ethan Wheat are Academic Archers. The NASP Academic Archer program recognizes students who maintain high academic achievement while enjoying the sport of archery. Student archers are nominated by their coaches to be included in the program. Since the program began in 2015, Alabama has consistently ranked in the top five participating states.

Scoring for the championship is based on Olympic-style, target archery in three divisions – elementary, middle and high school – and includes team and individual levels. A perfect score for an individual archer is 300 points.

“This is one of the strongest showings ever on the world stage by Alabama’s student archers,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “Their determination and dedication to both archery and academics will serve them well in other aspects of life.”

The NASP was founded in Kentucky in 2002 and has since spread around the country. In Alabama, the NASP is a joint venture between the ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and the Alabama Department of Education. Each year, more than 4,000 student archers from 125 schools across Alabama compete for a chance to qualify for the state, national and world championships.

The Myrtle Beach event was the first in-person, national NASP championship to take place since 2019. NASP President Tommy Floyd said everyone involved in the program is excited to see a return to in-person competition.

“We are thrilled to be conducting in-person tournaments again,” Floyd said. “Our entire team loves to see the large crowds and the smiling archers. These past months have been difficult. Many of our student archers were unable to attend any in-person events due to the pandemic, but we are glad to announce that NASP is back. We congratulate all of the Alabama archers who competed and placed in the championship.”

Prior to the pandemic precautions of 2020, Alabama held eight regional qualifying tournaments in February and early March. In lieu of an in-person state championship, trophies for the year were awarded based on the regional scores. Just like most office meetings across the country, NASP’s National Championship also went virtual, allowing students to shoot in their school’s gym under the observation of a neutral adult. Those scores were verified and tallied for a virtual ranking. Teams that competed in the virtual national championship were then eligible to compete at the in-person Myrtle Beach event.

Lisa Counselman, Causey Middle School Archery Coach, said the pandemic put a damper on last year’s season, but her team was determined to make this season as normal as possible. Extra effort put into safety precautions allowed the team to focus on preparing for the event. Those efforts paid off with four of her archers placing in the tournament as well as earning them top honors in the Middle School Division.

“This was the first time Causey has taken a team to the championship,” she said. “We began our season in July 2020 and worked non-stop until the event in June 2021. We knew going in that we had some tough competition, so taking 1st place in teams was an incredible feeling. When I saw the updated scores, I was overcome with emotions.”

Coach Counselman has high praise for her champs who are heading into 9th grade this fall.

“Grace Feenstra, who is one of our team captains, and Hunter Horton were 8th graders when they competed at the event,” she said. “Seeing them shoot so incredibly well made their wins even more special. It was their first trip to the championship and they definitely made it count.”

In addition to taking 3rd place in the Middle School Girls Division, Feenstra placed in the top five of the Overall Girls Division, making her eligible to participate in a scholarship shoot off.

“That was very exciting to witness,” Counselman said. “She overcame a lot of nerves and walked away with a $1,000 scholarship that she can use toward any college of her choosing.”

Coach Counselman also recruited some excellent 5th grade archers from Dawes Intermediate to accompany the Causey team to the championship. One of those 5th graders was Jace Law.

“Jace has taken lessons with Coach Joshua Clarke for two years and also attended bullseye and 3D practices with Causey leading up to the championship,” she said. “He is very driven and self-motivated and has worked very hard to accomplish this goal.”

This fall, Jace will begin 6th grade at Causey and officially draw his bow for the school’s archery team.

Carrie Daniels also trained with Coach Clarke. He is very proud of her 1st place win in the Middle School Girls Division at the NASP Open and Championship. A former student archer himself, Coach Clarke shot for Alma Bryant High School in Irvington, Alabama, from 2009 to 2012 and knows just how difficult the competition can be.

“I am proud of Carrie and her hard work,” he said. “She has come a long way since she first started.”

As a student at Alma Bryant, the future coach would travel to various schools in the Irvington area throughout the week to help other archers perfect their skills. Coach Clarke said that experience helped him grow as a leader. Today, he is working to pass on those types of life skills to his students.

“I hope my students learn that teamwork and determination pay off,” he said.

This year’s big wins at the NASP Open and Championship are exciting, but there is more good news for Alabama’s NASP archery students. The Alabama NASP State Championship is returning to the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 7-8, 2022. During the event, ADCNR will be awarding up to $10,000 in scholarships to qualifying archers. To learn more about the state championship or how your school can start its own archery program, visit outdooralabama.com/programs/alabama-archery-schools.

4 weeks ago

Federal, state programs guarantee boating access

(Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources/Contributed)

Hank Weldon is a native Alabamian, born in the state 36 years ago. He’s also a traveling man; as director of student and junior tournaments for Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, he’s seen a lot of fishing spots.

Few, he said, can rival those found in his home state.

“If you want to go fish deep clear water, you can do it,” said Weldon, who works for a nonprofit organization that promotes angling for America’s most popular freshwater game fish. “If you want to go fish shallow muddy water, you can do it. It’s all within the state and it’s all good fishing, no matter where you go.”

Part of Alabama’s appeal as an angling hot spot can be traced to a federal funding program overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The program is called the federal Sport Fish Restoration Program. It is authorized by the Sport Fish Restoration Act. The money is generated from taxes charged on fishing tackle and boat fuel. The funds pay for fisheries projects, building boat ramps, docks and other related needs on public waterways.

The program apportions money to states in a formula that pays 75% of the costs for approved projects. In Alabama, that means the state received $6.5 million from the program this year.

From that sum, 15% – almost $1 million – was set aside specifically for public boating access facilities. From that, 60% will pay for new construction; the remaining amount will fund operations and maintain established access sites.

In real numbers, that means Alabama maintains 114 freshwater access areas across the state. Each is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are also free.

The state access program, created in 1957, has been a template that creates access to waterways while meeting the demands of the boating public – people like Weldon.

“You can be riding in a pontoon boat on a Sunday morning or canoeing down the Coosa River,” he said, “It can be so peaceful and tranquil and can get you away from the business of life.”

Or you can bring business to your boat. Paul Smith, 55, is a seasoned boater, having first stepped on a deck when he was 2. His boat, a 1979 43-foot Viking, is also his office.

During the pandemic, Smith has moved his office to his boat while his wife has set up shop in their house. Both now have plenty of room to telework.

“I can sit in here and work in the boat and step outside and take a 10- to 15-minute break and catch at least one crappie,” Smith said, “It’s relaxing.”

Another bonus: watching birds. Just this year, he’s enjoyed seeing bald and golden eagles and a passing flock of common loons.

Kay Donaldson shares Smith’s appreciation for floating transportation. Another resident of Alabama, she treasures the time she spends on her pontoon boat. She calls it “rejuvenating.”

“A day on the pontoon boat with no cell phone, the wind in your hair, and just enjoying watching everybody else… it’s so good for my soul,” said Donaldson, 48. “You’re away from your cell phone, you’re away from the TV, you’re away from all the things that sometimes clutter our minds and our bodies.”

She also appreciates how boating facilities improve the quality of boating.

“People don’t understand how important a boat dock is,” she said.

For example, a dock is perfect for securing a boat after it has slid off its trailer into the water. A lone boater needs a place to keep the boat until he or she can move the trailer and truck. For that boat owner, no dock means no boating.

“Freshwater access is imperative,” said Donaldson. “Being able to get access to the water in many different places where you’re not just putting in and having to travel 60-something miles on water is significant.”

The state provides services to residents as well as visitors, Donaldson adds.

“They try their very best to provide the best facilities for Alabamians and visitors,” she said. “From the people who enforce the laws out on the water to the people who develop the facilities, I really think that we have the best people in place.”

Chuck Wills, 65, began his love of boating as a teenager enjoying the water with friends on their crafts. Eager to have his own, he worked hard and saved his money. Two years after graduating, Wills purchased his first boat, a runabout.

A resident of Alabama, Wills depended heavily on the Boating Access Program’s sites as a younger boater. “For the average boater, you can’t take advantage if you don’t have easy access to water,” he said. “It’s critical that you have nice launch ramps.”

Wills is now a member of a yacht club where he docks is 19-foot runabout and 40-foot Sea Ray motor yacht, but he keeps tabs on his old boat launch. The Boating Access Program recently upgraded the ramp with more parking and a wider launch area. Wills is excited to see these improvements –a benefit for more boaters.

Retirement has allowed Wills more time to spend on the water. At least once a week he and his wife take a cruise. They also like to anchor out and enjoy a night on the water.

Soon, Wills and his wife, along with 10 other boats, are joining together to travel up the Tennessee River to visit Chattanooga. They’re eager to get going. Life, they know, is as much about the trip as the destination.

“It’s a great way to take in the sunset with friends,” Wills said. “It’s always something magical to be out there on the water, taking in the scenery.”

Lanier Clegg is a Junior Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

1 month ago

Lakepoint Community Archery Park opens June 24

(Alabama State Parks/Contributed, Annie Spratt/Unsplash, YHN)

Alabama’s newest community archery park will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at Lakepoint State Park, 104 Old Highway 165, in Eufaula, Alabama. The Lakepoint Community Archery Park is located near the park’s campground and day use area. The public and media are invited to attend the grand opening ceremony.

The archery park will be open year-round during normal park hours for recreational shooting, competitive tournaments and outdoor educational programming. The facility features an eight-target adult range from 15 to 50 yards and a four-target youth range of 5 to 20 yards.

Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or over 65. Lakepoint entry fees still apply. Alabamians ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range. For non-residents, an annual WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com.

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Lakepoint joins several other community archery parks currently in operation throughout the state. These facilities are one component of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) effort to increase awareness and participation in the life skill of archery. To find a community archery park nearest you, visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/archery-parks.

The new archery park was made possible by the following agencies and organizations: Alabama State Parks, the Archery Trade Association, and ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with funding through license sales and federally matched Pittman-Robertson Act funding.

Additional recreational opportunities available at Lakepoint State Park include fishing, boating, swimming, wildlife and bird watching, camping, dining, picnic areas and playgrounds. The Park also features a Resort Lodge and Convention Center. In addition to the lodge, Lakepoint offers 29 cabins and 10 lakeside cottages. Handicap-accessible and dog-friendly units are available.

For more information about the Lakepoint Community Archery Park, call the park office at (334) 687-8011. For more information about Lakepoint State Park, visit www.alapark.com/parks/lakepoint-state-park.

1 month ago

Big show back at Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo

(ADSFR/Contributed)

The big show will be back for the 88th annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), scheduled July 15-18 at the rodeo site on Dauphin Island.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, a long weekend of fun, fishing and entertainment awaits those who venture to Alabama’s barrier island for the event that attracts more than 3,800 anglers to the state’s fertile waters and Gulf of Mexico.

“We’re very much looking forward to it,” said Ryan Schumann, 2021 Rodeo president. “That’s not to say I’m not proud of everything we accomplished last year. Being in the middle of COVID, we were still able to put on a fishing tournament and have right at 3,800 anglers. But we’re looking forward to getting back to the full of it. What that means is a sponsorship tent with our vendors to allow our sponsors to interact with the spectators. I’m looking forward most to getting back to the entertainment, having spectators and having people at the event outside of just our anglers.”

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Schumann said one aspect of the ADSFR he really appreciates is that it exemplifies what Dauphin Island is about – community fellowship, fun and entertainment.

“It’s an annual event that everybody looks forward to and comes together to participate,” he said. “People from out of town who have family at Dauphin Island always come to town for the rodeo. I’ve got friends who grew up on Dauphin Island and moved away. But the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo is a signature event that they always come back for. The rodeo has always been a label for the community, a staple for the community.

“We are happy that people will be able to see the culture on Dauphin Island. I’m excited that we will see people out and about, having fun again.”

Rodeo festivities kick off on Thursday, July 15, with the Captain T-Bone’s Liars Contest at 6 p.m., followed by music from Yellowhammer, featuring former Major League Baseball Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. The music theme this year is “Reelin’ in the Years” with 70s music on Thursday, 80s music on Friday and 90s music on Saturday.

Fishing begins at 5 a.m. on Friday, July 16, with the traditional cannon blast. The weigh station will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The musical entertainment will start at 7:30 p.m. with The Molly Ringwalds.

Mustache, The Band will be Saturday’s entertainment at 5 p.m. The weigh station will again be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On Sunday, the final day of competition, the weigh station will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., any rodeo participant who weighed in a legal fish will be eligible for random drawings for a Contender 25 Bay boat and Yamaha 250hp SHO outboard package and a Seakeeper boat stabilizer. The awards ceremony will be at 6 p.m. Monday at The Grounds in Mobile.

Anglers will compete in 30 regular fish categories as well as the Yamaha Speckled Trout Jackpot, the Synergy Laboratories King Mackerel Jackpot and the Raymarine Big Game Jackpot. Cash Prizes categories are available for several species. Visit www.adsfr.com for details.

Schumann said the rodeo decided not to have red snapper as a regular category because of the uncertainty of when the season will close.

“As everybody knows, the most popular fish along the Alabama Gulf Coast is red snapper,” he said. “Currently, we do not have it in the 30 open categories or as a jackpot. For the past few years, red snapper has not been available for fishing come rodeo weekend. The red snapper season is based on a quota. Based on projections, we don’t see us having red snapper this year for the rodeo. But, if it is in season, we will add it back to the tournament as a jackpot category.”

Swordfish has been added as a category for the 2021 rodeo with a minimum length of 50 inches measured from the lower jaw to the fork in the tail.

The grouper category will include yellowedge, gag and red grouper.

The speckled trout jackpot entries will be limited to fish in Alabama’s speckled trout slot limit of 15 to 22 inches, measured with a pinched tail. A cash prizes lunker category is available in speckled trout with a minimum size of 26 inches, pinched tail.

In the live weigh-in category, the rodeo will have a “Race to 18” for anglers who weigh in a daily limit of six live speckled trout in the slot limit. The first angler who weighs in a three-day total of 18 live slot fish wins the prize.

Capt. Richard Rutland, past rodeo president and co-chairman of the rodeo rules committee, said a new method will be used to measure speckled trout and redfish.

“We’ll be using a measuring device called a Check-It Stik on a tilted board with a Perfect Pincher that is a hands-free way of measuring the fish,” Rutland said. “The Perfect Pincher will pinch the tail, and then the fish will be called by the judge. This way, we will have consistency during the weigh-in process. This will be used for speckled trout and redfish, the only two slot species.”

Last year’s restricted rodeo was a flashback to rodeos past, when the only extra people on Dauphin Island were anglers. Despite the extra workload at the contemporary rodeo’s return, Schumann said the rodeo is ready to rock and roll.

“Last year, for the organization and the Mobile Jaycees who work the rodeo, we had fun,” he said. “It was a lot less work. We were able to breathe a little bit. We got back to our roots as just a fishing tournament, which is at our core. And it was an extremely successful one. We had almost 3,800 anglers participate.

“But this year, we’re going be nonstop the whole tournament. That’s a good thing. We’re glad we’re going to be able to provide the full entertainment and spectator package. We’ve grown fond of everything we do to attract people to the island. We’re excited about that.”

The weekend preceding the big rodeo, the Jaycees will hold the annual Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament. The tournament begins at 5 a.m. on July 10, and the weigh station will be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The Roy Martin event is open to all anglers 15 years old and younger. The young anglers will be competing in 31 fish categories. All proceeds will benefit the Mobile Jaycees Children’s Christmas Shopping Tour.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 month ago

Alabama’s University of Montevallo wins 2021 national fishing championship

(University of Montevallo Fishing Team/Contributed)

The University of Montevallo’s bass fishing team outfished more than 200 other collegiate fishing programs this season and reeled in the national championship for 2020-21.

After taking over the top ranking in November, Montevallo never relinquished its lead, ultimately earning the distinction of Bass Pro Shops School of the Year.

“I am extremely proud of what this team has accomplished. These guys have been so focused since the season started,” said William Crawford, Outdoor Scholars Program director and bass team campus adviser. “We had the goal at the beginning of the year to be the No. 1 team in the country, and since November they have done just that.”

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Throughout the year, the Montevallo fishing team competed in tournaments against some of the largest universities in the nation and earned points based on its performance. Following the final tournament of the season at Lake Murray in South Carolina on May 27, UM had amassed the most cumulative points of any team in the nation, taking home the team’s first School of the Year honor.

Montevallo finished second in last season’s School of the Year rankings. This season, the team knocked off two-time defending national champion McKendree University of Lebanon, Illinois, and topped large universities, such as the University of Tennessee, Auburn University and East Carolina University, en route to this year’s national crown.

Here are the full national standings for the 2020-2021 season.

The 2020-2021 University of Montevallo bass fishing team

Justin Barnes, senior, Monroeville

Jarrett Brown, senior, Montevallo

Adam Carroll, senior, Carrollton, Georgia

Tyler Harless, senior, Helena

Miller Spivey, senior, Tyler

Hunter Ward, senior, Rockford

Weston Hollar, junior, Dadeville

Jack Baron, junior, Arnold, Maryland

Cal Culpepper, junior, Hamilton, Georgia

Trey Dickert, junior, Greer, South Carolina

Cade Holcomb, junior, Helena

Bradley Martin, junior, Pace, Florida

Da’Kendrick Patterson, junior, Ramer

Kopeland Rosser, junior, Helena

Elliot Torode, junior, Montgomery

Drew Traffanstedt, junior, Hoover

Mason Waddell, junior, Waverly Hall, Georgia

Cole Dodson, sophomore, Gardendale

Merritt Arnold, sophomore, Warkinsville, Georgia

Jaxson Brown, sophomore, Birmingham

Tyler Cain, sophomore, Bessemer

Josiah Campbell, sophomore, Pelham

Solomon Glenn, sophomore, Lakeville, Minnesota

Wesley Gore, sophomore, Clanton

Trent Jones, sophomore, Thorsby

Ethan King, sophomore, Wilsonville

Grayson Morris, sophomore, Birmingham

Chandler Olivier, sophomore, Maylene

Griffin Phillips, sophomore, Mount Olive

Chance Schwartz, sophomore, Ball Ground, Georgia

James Willoughby, sophomore, Gulf Port, Mississippi

Kyle Bahr, freshman, Brainerd, Minnesota

Aaron Cherry, freshman, Kinsey

Tyler Cory, freshman, Amherst, Wisconsin

Nick Dumke, freshman, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Tanner English, freshman, Centerville

Easton Fothergill, freshman, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Brenton Godwin, freshman, Stapleton

Brock Gullixon, freshman, Iola, Wisconsin

Chandler Holt, freshman, Sterrett

Andrew Howell, freshman, Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

Tommy Loper, freshman, Perkinston, Mississippi

Hagan Marlin, freshman, Opelika

Hunter Odom, freshman, Chunchula

Jordan Pennington, freshman, Bessemer

Jacob Pfundt, freshman, Canton, Georgia

Jackson Pontius, freshman, Wilsonville

Scott Sledge, freshman, Greenwood, Indiana

Davian Smith, freshman, Eufaula

Ryan Thomas, freshman, Madison, Georgia

Riley Underwood, freshman, Hoover

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Archers take aim against breast cancer in weekend tournament in Cullman

(BCRFA/Contributed)

Cameron Mitchell helped put the “bull’s-eye” on the back of breast cancer.

This weekend on June 12-13, more than 150 archers – experienced and amateurs – will compete in the Bow-Up Against Breast Cancer tournament, which is Mitchell’s brainchild.

The mission is personal for many archers who will take part in the event at Cullman Community Archery Park, co-hosted by members of the Heritage Archery Club. Indeed, some patients find release by pulling back a bow to “attack” their breast cancer with arrows. Some find a soothing balm in sharing stories about a loved one’s health battle with those who can relate.

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“Getting volunteers for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama and Bow Hunters of Alabama has created a powerful team for raising money for research,” said Mitchell, a longtime bow hunter who noted that, after nine years, the tournament is a “well-oiled machine, thanks to all of the incredible volunteers.”

On Saturday and Sunday, competitors will begin meeting at the registration desk at 7 a.m. Participants bring their own equipment. Moving around a course with 3D animal targets, it takes about 2 hours to shoot the course. The last card for scoring goes out at 2 p.m. The event has drawn more than 200 spectators.

The cost to play is $25 or adults and $15 for youths. Attendees can bid for bows donated by Nichols Outfitters in Pelham, which will be auctioned by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama (BCRFA).

The event aims to save lives in Alabama and beyond

The event is all in good sport. In the past nine years, Bow-Up Against Breast Cancer has helped the BCRFA donate more than $190,000 toward research in the Yellowhammer state. The event has attracted up to 250 archers. Most importantly, treatments funded by the BCRFA help save the lives of breast cancer patients in Alabama and beyond.

“It’s a great event and it’s family friendly,” said Beth Bradner Davis, executive director of the BCRFA since 2014. “The funds we raise stay in Alabama. This is our 25th anniversary, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama has invested $10.8 million in research.”

Mitchell, who works for an international hunting and conservation organization, put the deadly disease in his sights about 11 years ago.

“My boss a few years ago said one of his biggest pet peeves was people who come up with great ideas but don’t have enough lead in the pencil to follow through,” Mitchell said. “I came up with the idea, and everybody with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama, along with the Bow Hunters of Alabama, put together plans for the event.

“The first year, a representative from the BCRFA asked, ‘What’s your goal?’” Mitchell replied that he hoped to raise at least $20,000.

The woman told Mitchell, “I don’t want to burst your bubble, but we’ve never raised that amount for an inaugural event.” That year, the group raised $23,000 for BCRFA.

“It was wildly successful. Since the first year, it has remained one of the largest archery tournaments at the state level,” Mitchell said.

As people saw the event’s success, Mitchell said, it was easier to attract more vendors and sponsorships. The large tournaments drew more competitors, as well as spectators unfamiliar with the sport. Because Alabama’s bow-hunting season opens in October, the BCRFA holds its tournament in June.

About four years ago, Mitchell was forced to step away from organizing the tournaments because his wife was experiencing health issues.

“But I knew the tournament was in very capable hands and the success of the event would continue long into the future,” he said.

Bow-Up Against Breast Cancer supports research in Alabama 

While many attendees look forward to Bow-Up Against Breast Cancer year after year, Bradner Davis said the foundation sponsors several fundraising events. Each October, the BCRFA joins about 25 fire stations in supporting the Pink Ribbon Project. The BCRFA on Sept. 18 will make its foray into competitions at disc golf courses at Oliver Park in Shelby County and George W. Roy Recreational Park in Calera.

“Because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to hold some events this year,” Bradner Davis said. “I’m really excited for us to be able to expand with some events this summer that we weren’t able to do last year, such as our Pink Palace Casino Night on July 24th.”

Alabama’s Breast Cancer Research Tag continues to be a huge fundraiser in the fight against breast cancer. The BCRFA receives $41.25 for each specialty license plate, which is framed with a pink ribbon on a gray background. Alabama drivers can personalize their Breast Cancer Research Tag.

“We’re on target at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama to invest $1.1 million into research in 2021,” Bradner Davis said. “We’re so excited about the Bow-Up Against Breast Cancer tournament and helping patients in Alabama.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Logging crew protects turkey nest, observes hatch

(Dustin Phillips/Contributed)

Logging crews in Alabama have wildlife encounters on a regular basis as they harvest one of the state’s renewable resources. One crew from Sullivan Timber Company was busy cutting timber in north Mobile County when the loggers spotted something worthy of protection – a turkey hen sitting on a clutch of 10 eggs.

Dustin Phillips, the procurement manager for Canfor Southern Pine’s Mobile mill, had hired the crew to harvest the timber on the tract near Gulfcrest. Crew foreman Brent Weaver spotted the turkey nest while he was running the feller-buncher and sent Phillips a photo on May 8.

“I called Brent and asked him what he was going to do,” said Phillips, an avid turkey hunter. “He said, ‘I’m going to flag around it.’ He flagged an area about 20 by 20. They kept working around her, felling these trees, and she would just sit there on the nest. They were riding all around the area that was flagged, and she did not move one time. I couldn’t believe that. I said, my gosh, she is committed to that nest. I cruise timber and have busted hens off the nest all the time. This time, they were cutting all around her, and she stayed put.”

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Weaver, who also loves to hunt turkeys, soon learned the hen’s daily schedule, sitting on the nest until about 4 p.m., when she would walk to a nearby mudhole for a drink of water. She would then stroll through a nearby greenfield to forage for seeds and insects. By the time the crew arrived the next morning, the hen was back on the nest.

“When we weren’t cutting and skidding right next to the nest, we were loading trucks 100 yards away,” Phillips said. “The loader operator would call on the radio and say, ‘Here she is. She’s getting some water.’ I guess she got used to the equipment. I was just pretty surprised. I’d always been told that if you bump a hen off the nest, she might not come back. I don’t know if that’s true. Evidently it’s not, at least to this hen anyway. I just thought it was neat how she stayed there with all this loud logging equipment. That’s what the crew talked about. They kept track of her every day.”

Phillips went to the site on May 18 and checked on the nest. He found good news. Eight of the eggs had hatched. Two were infertile.

“A day or two later, less than a quarter mile from there, the guy who manages the land went to check on the crew,” Phillips said. “He saw the hen and eight little ones. I told Brent I couldn’t believe that nest had survived.”

Phillips was also encouraged by the amount of turkey activity on that tract.

“There were turkeys all over that place,” he said. “Every time I’d go out there to check on them, you’d see a gobbler or two. They had a huge greenfield there, and sometimes you’d see 20 to 30 turkeys in that field. Brent said two mornings in a row, a gobbler was strutting in the road to the site.

“Sometimes loggers have a reputation of destroying habitat, but we do what we can in situations like this. All you have to do is flag around it. We do that with gopher tortoise burrows too. We flag around it and stay off of it.”

When he wasn’t working timber, Phillips spent his off time in the turkey woods in Wilcox County. He deemed his turkey-hunting success as “an okay year.”

“I missed two. The first two chances I had I missed,” he said. “I was sick. I was hunting this bird the first couple of weeks of the season. It was one of those birds that just didn’t want to cooperate. My dad said, ‘You’re going to waste your whole season on that bird.’ I told him I didn’t care if that was the only bird I got. Then I missed him. I missed another one and was really sick. But I ended up on a pretty good note. I got three the last couple of weeks of the season. I got lucky.”

Steven Mitchell, Upland Game Bird Coordinator for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said the number of hunters who got lucky in 2021 was slightly lower than that total in 2020.

“From the Game Check reporting numbers, we had almost two thousand fewer harvests and about the same number of hunters in 2021 as compared to 2020,” Mitchell said.

According to Game Check, 14,905 harvested birds were reported in 2021. That final number is pending the WFF’s post-season harvest survey. In 2020, 16,850 birds were reported through Game Check. After the post-season harvest survey was completed, WFF estimated about 35,000 birds were harvested in 2020.

“Conditions for the 2020 and 2021 seasons were similar,” Mitchell said. “The 2020 season might have been a little better the first couple of weeks of the season. I think the 2021 season went well overall.”

Mitchell said the reports he received throughout turkey season were typical with some areas reporting the gobbling activity was good and hunters were having success. Hunters in other areas of the state were reporting the gobblers were henned up at the start of the season. As the hens started nesting, the gobbling improved in most areas.

“Then it was reversed in other areas,” he said. “The last week of the season where I hunted, the turkeys didn’t gobble much. They were gobbling a few times on roost, but when they got on the ground they weren’t saying much. I saw a few gobblers by themselves, but they didn’t respond to my calling with gobbling. I still had a couple of turkeys I called in. They just didn’t gobble, but they came in strutting and drumming. And, then again, I’ve had reports from as recently as last week of turkeys strutting and gobbling as far south as Clarke and Geneva counties.”

Mitchell said he and the WFF staff will be conducting brood surveys during July and August to evaluate the 2021 hatch and poult survival.

“Most of the poults are so small right now they’re hard to see,” he said. “We won’t be able to do a good survey until they get out in fields and pastures where we can see them and put them in a size category.”

Although he received a few reports of turkeys hatching at the end of April, Mitchell said the average hatch date is around the last week in May.

Mitchell said nest predation is always a concern, especially in areas where people are not actively controlling the predators like coyotes and raccoons.

“But turkeys have always had to deal with predators,” he said. “Habitat improvement is going to be the number one thing we can do to benefit turkeys.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 months ago

TAG Alabama provides vital information on trout, redfish

(Ugly Fishing LLC/Contributed)

Thanks to a tagging program started by CCA Alabama in 2017, Alabama anglers who target speckled trout and redfish know a great deal more about the movement and growth of these prized inshore species.

The TAG Alabama program, which is compiled and analyzed by the University of South Alabama (USA) School of Marine Sciences and Dauphin Island Sea Lab, enlists CCA (Coastal Conservation Association) members to tag trout and redfish (red drum) and rewards anglers who file a report after a tagged fish is recaptured.

For the first time in a year because of COVID restrictions, CCA Alabama was able to hold tagging seminars last week in Birmingham and Daphne to give interested anglers guidance on how to properly tag the fish to ensure the trout and redfish are not injured and the tag is properly secured.

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CCA Alabama Executive Director Blakeley Ellis and USA graduate student Dylan Kiene teamed up to provide instruction in safe tagging techniques and an update on tagging program data.

Kiene, who is studying several inshore species at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Fisheries Ecology Lab, said speckled trout seem to be constant travelers, but redfish are unpredictable.

“We had one redfish tagged at Dauphin Island that went to Pensacola in about 30 days,” Kiene said. “We had one redfish tagged near one of the islands in the Mobile River that went all the way to Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana in 130 days. On the other hand, we had one red drum that was recaptured three times by Capt. Richard Rutland in the same spot, the first time in 2017 and twice in 2018.”

Kiene said his program predecessor, Reid Nelson, observed little to no movement from red drum in certain locations.

“When Reid was doing acoustic work on red drum, he was tagging fish in Dog River and Fowl River,” Kiene said. “One of the things you look for when you’re doing acoustics is that if a tag is detected constantly on the same receiver, you may assume the fish is dead. That was what he thought until some of the fish were recaptured in the same spot. They were literally within 100 yards from the spot where they had been tagged. They had enough food. They were happy. But speckled trout are basically always on the move. You’ll catch them in the same spots at the same time of the year, but they’re always moving.”

New to the Tag Alabama program is the bull redfish tag that was handed out to participants last week. Fish larger than 26 inches are considered bull reds, but Kiene would prefer to see anglers tag fish 30 inches and larger.

“With the bull red tags, once we get enough of these out, it’s going to be really interesting to actually see if these fish are going offshore where they’re supposed to be spawning or going up into the Delta,” Kiene said.

Ellis said CCA Alabama also recently approved funding for USA Marine Sciences to do a study on offshore bull reds with acoustic and satellite tags.

Anglers participating in the TAG Alabama program can report tagging data through the Fishing Chaos app, at tags.usouthal.edu, which is best used on a computer, or 1-800-372-5950. Kiene said the Fishing Chaos app blurs the angler’s tag capture location data to keep that information private.

Ellis said the tagging program is for legal-sized fish only. For speckled trout, the minimum total length is 15 inches. For redfish, the minimum total length is 16 inches. He said when a fish is recaptured, two reports are sent via email, one to the angler who tagged the fish and one to the angler who recaptured the fish.

“Our recapture rate in Alabama is pretty high,” Ellis said. “I think that is due to a more educated group of anglers through the seminars, which results in more of the tags staying in the fish, therefore increasing the odds of tagged fish being recaptured.”

Since its inception, TAG Alabama has tagged 2,615 redfish with 424 recaptures for a recapture rate of 16 percent, Ellis said. For speckled trout, 2,364 fish have been tagged with a recapture of 206 fish for a recapture rate of 8.7 percent.

“That actually is a really high recapture rate,” Kiene said. “For the larger tagging programs, a 4- to 5-percent recapture rate is what they normally see. That red drum recapture rate is extremely high. Redfish are mostly homebodies and tend to stay in the same areas. Those areas also tend to have a lot of fishing pressure, and the fish get recaptured more. Speckled trout move around a lot more and are a little more difficult to catch compared to red drum.”

Ellis said TAG Alabama has been a big success for CCA Alabama.

“This is a neat opportunity for citizen science, to have anglers participating in the research,” Ellis said. “This type of program gets more people involved and is more efficient in getting fish tagged.”

In related tagging news, the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) has provided funding for Kiene and the Fisheries Ecology Lab to capture and tag Southern flounder, a species that has seen a significant decline during the past 10 years. In 2019, MRD increased the minimum total length to 14 inches for flounder with a bag limit of five fish per person. The harvest of flounder for recreational and commercial anglers is prohibited during the entire month of November to protect the fish migrating to spawn.

“We’re acoustically tagging Southern flounder in the fall in Mobile Bay,” Kiene said. “We have an acoustic array of receivers. When the tagged fish gets within range of the receiver, it will actually log the information from that fish. We have the entire Mobile Bay encapsulated with the receivers. We’re tagging these fish in the fall to see how many of these fish are actually migrating offshore. We’re also collecting otoliths (ear bones) for age information, and we’re doing some reproductive work.”

Kiene said Southern flounder females get considerably larger than the males, which don’t get much larger than 13 inches and spend most of their lives offshore.

“We’ve been going out in the fall in the upper parts of Mobile Bay, catching these fish on hook and line and inserting acoustic tags,” he said. “In 2019, we tagged 67 flounder, 55 of which were in Mobile Bay. In 2020, we ended up with 70 tagged. This year, we’re going to try to tag 100. We don’t have all the data from 2020, but we have the data from 2019. About 30 percent of the flounder we tagged are leaving Mobile Bay. And we’re tagging big flounder too. We’ve had them six and seven pounds. We even had one 10-pounder. That was an incredible fish. But we won’t know how many fish are going offshore until we can get several years of data.”

One interesting aspect about the flounder tagging study is they seem to have an instinct akin to salmon.

“The big fish are leaving the rivers in the late fall and returning about six months later,” Kiene said. “Those fish are returning to the exact same rivers they were tagged in originally. It’s a characteristic we call homing, kind of like salmon. That’s another part of fisheries that isn’t fully understood – how fish figure this out, whether it’s water chemistry or magnetism or whatever. We’re putting that all together to research the decline in the fishery and how we can get it back at least close to what it once was.”

MRD Director Scott Bannon said the TAG Alabama and Fisheries Ecology Lab tagging efforts greatly aid in the management of these species.

“Inshore tagging programs provide valuable data regarding the movement of fish throughout the seasons in addition to providing catch effort data,” Bannon said. “The data collected in tagging programs are valuable because they assist us in our management decisions. The more people that participate and the more fish that are tagged just increases the flow of valuable data.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 months ago

Hands-on project growing oysters in Alabama making high school science fun

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

For students enrolled in the Bryant Oyster Academy at Bayou La Batre’s Alma Bryant High School, science is fun.

“We’re teaching students how to grow oysters,” said aquaculture teacher Charles Baker. “They’re learning the whole process of putting out the long line system and then hanging baskets where you grow oysters to either market size or a size where they will be resilient enough to make it when you place them on a reef.”

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Bryant Oyster Academy teaches students valuable career skills from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Bryant Oyster Academy was started several years ago by Julian Stewart. Baker picked up the project after Stewart retired.

“We’re trying to build on what he started,” Baker said. “I really want to reach as many different types of students, whether that’s students looking for a career on the water straight out of high school, preparing them so that they know what they are doing and they can go work on an oyster farm right out of high school, but also through the restoration side of things, getting them to learn the whole process: scientific method, testing hypotheses, measuring growth over time and setting up different experiments so if they want, they can go and have that on their resume going into a college.”

Baker’s current project for the academy involves creating an oyster farm in Sandy Bay, just around the corner from Lightning Point. He has partnered with the Auburn University Shellfish Lab and Dauphin Island Sea Lab and has received financial assistance through two grants: one from Gulf Coast RC&D to purchase a boat and materials to build a platform and two off-bottom oyster lines capable of growing up to 100,000 oysters at the oyster farm, and a second via the Students to Stewards grant from the Alabama Power Foundation to purchase safety equipment and pay for maintenance on the boat and trailer.

“We’re so grateful for the support we’ve received for this program,” Baker said. “We couldn’t do it without the support of groups like Alabama Power and Gulf Coast RC&D. So many people helping with this and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Baker said he ultimately wants students to graduate from the academy with hands-on experience growing oysters in three contexts: research, conservation and aquaculture.

“That ties into the whole idea of a living shoreline,” Baker said. “It’s been great so far getting kids interested in working down here on the water and preparing for possibly careers down here on the water.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

University of Alabama to launch campus tree farm

(University of Alabama/Contributed)

University of Alabama Campus Development has teamed with Facilities and Grounds to begin steps to create a campus tree farm, which will be used to propagate many different native plants including camellias, oaks and magnolias.

The project for propagation of historical and heirloom trees coincides with the team goals for the campus to become more self-sustainable and play a key role in the green initiative. The team hopes the project will encourage more members of the UA community to get involved with this new service opportunity.

“I am excited about building a tree farm on university property,” said retired Air Force Col. Duane Lamb, who is associate vice president of UA’s Facilities and Grounds Department. “Cultivating the seedlings and cuttings within our own greenhouse will be cost-effective for our institution, as well as help build camaraderie among different department employees who are making our tree farm a reality.

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“Throughout history, trees have often been considered sacred and honorable. I feel that way about trees, but especially about the trees on our campus.”

The idea for the project was developed in summer 2020 when Tim Leopard, senior associate vice president of Campus Development, noticed that magnolia seeds were falling from one of the grand specimen trees on the Bryce Campus. The seeds were then collected from other prominent large magnolias from locations across campus, such as the President’s Mansion, Bryce Lawn and Gorgas House.

“To begin with, our tree farm will produce trees that are prominent on our campus, such as live oaks, magnolias and ginkgoes that will give us a surplus of replacement trees for our future generations,” Lamb said. “The trees from this project will be used to populate and beautify the campus forest and replacement of dead and dying materials. Students and alumni will be able to enjoy the benefits of these trees for many years to come.”

Donna McCray, senior director of Facilities and Grounds Operations, said, “Each year, Facilities and Grounds reaches out to various student organizations and solicits help with an annual campus tree project that gives our student population an opportunity to contribute to the health of the overall tree canopy.”

“This project is a good news story for the university, as trees do so much for all of us,” Lamb said. “Not only do they produce oxygen, fight soil erosion and help clean the soil, but they also provide beauty, shade and lower temperatures, while also helping with storm water control and often act as windbreakers.”

UA has made great efforts in working to become more sustainable across campus. Along with UA’s Departments of Facilities and Grounds and Construction Administration, other departments, such as Bama DiningEnergy ManagementRecycling and Campus Mail, have been part of the campuswide sustainability movement.

When working to build and grow the university’s landscape and tree population, Leopard has always been inspired by a quote from Nelson Henderson: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Go Fish, Alabama! teaches basics of fishing

(Kasie McKee/ADCNR)

Have you ever wanted to learn the basics of fishing but didn’t know where to begin? The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) has developed a beginner fishing course just for you.

WFF’s “Go Fish, Alabama!” Program provides adults and families with little-to-no fishing experience an opportunity to fish under the guidance of a skilled fishing mentor. The program is for anyone interested in learning how to fish, socializing outdoors, putting fish on the dinner table, or simply enjoying the thrill of the catch. Each event is conducted in a safe, welcoming and constructive environment.

“The goal of the program is to highlight the benefits of spending time outdoors while learning about conservation, including the importance of purchasing a fishing license,” said Justin Grider, WFF’s R3 Coordinator (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation). “When you purchase a hunting, fishing or Wildlife Heritage license, all of those funds are reinvested in conservation efforts throughout the state. Fisheries and wildlife management, habitat restoration, land conservation, public access to outdoor recreation, and state Conservation Enforcement Officers are just some of the ways your license dollars make Alabama one of the best places in the country to fish or hunt.”

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During the events, all the necessary bait, equipment and tackle are provided. However, you will need to bring a cooler to take home your catch. The events take place at State Public Fishing Lakes, State Parks lakes, city lakes and other fishing destinations throughout the state. For select events, a $10 registration fee may apply. Online registration is required to attend.

Jennifer Cohron from Cordova, Alabama, took part in a recent Go Fish, Alabama! event at Walker County Public Fishing Lake. She recommends the program for anyone who has been around fishing for years and wants to move from being an observer to being a participant.

“The program is ideal for someone who is interested in the idea of fishing but wants to get more comfortable with it by having an instructor there to help,” Cohron said. “I’d especially recommend it to women. I have to believe there are others like myself who have an interest in fishing, but no one took the time to teach them, and now they feel a little embarrassed to admit that they don’t know how.”

In addition to learning the basics of fishing, including how to clean and prepare her catch for the dinner table, the program helped Cohron deepen her connection with a family tradition.

“My husband Zac and I have spent a lot of time fishing this year in memory of my dad, Rocky Williams, who passed away in July 2020,” Cohron said. “Usually, Zac is the one doing the fishing and I’m reading or enjoying the scenery. When I fish, he takes care of everything, just as my dad took care of everything when I was a kid. All I had to do was cast. I’ve really enjoyed being on the water this past year, but I wanted to know how to do things like tie on a hook or pick out a lure. If I had wanted to go fishing by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to before the class.”

Since attending the Go Fish, Alabama! event, Cohron and her family have kept up that tradition.

“My husband and I went out for an hour or so the afternoon I took the class, and we’ve taken our son out to Walker County Public Fishing Lake once since then,” she said. “It’s something we’ve been doing on a regular basis anyway, but we will continue for sure.”

To view the current Go Fish, Alabama! schedule or to register for an event, visit www.outdooralabama.com/GoFishAlabama.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

2 months ago

Students helping restore critical Alabama shoreline

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The restoration and preservation of Lightning Point, one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats, is getting a big boost thanks to the efforts of some area high school students and volunteers.

About two dozen students from Bayou La Batre‘s Alma Bryant High School recently joined volunteers from The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) and Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) to replant native marsh grasses at Lightning Point. The work was funded thanks in part to a Students to Stewards grant from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“I’m just so relieved and excited to finally be here,” said Pamela Baker, lead teacher of the Coastal Environmental Science program at Alma Bryant High School. “We were supposed to come out last April to replant but then COVID happened. We’re just thrilled to be here.”

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The project began in 2019 when Baker reached out Tina Miller-Way at DISL looking for hands-on learning opportunities for her students. Miller-Way connected Baker with TNCA’s Mary Kate Brown, who was leading an effort to restore and preserve the southernmost tip of Bayou La Batre’s Lighting Point, which was struggling to recover from long-term erosion caused by years of hurricanes. Lightning Point is the hub of Alabama’s fishing and seafood processing industry.

“We have an active education program and we’re always looking for opportunities to get students out into the environment and see and do for themselves,” Miller-Way said. “In working with TNCA, we learned about this project and, of course, the school that we looked toward is Alma Bryant because this is in their backyard. They have a vested interest in coming out.”

Before restoration began, students at Alma Bryant came out to Lightning Point and collected seeds and cuttings from the native marsh grasses growing at the site, including the juncus black needlerush and the spartina smooth cordgrass. They then grew more marsh grasses in the school’s 14,000-square-foot greenhouse.

“It’s very exciting,” said Kevin Simmons, a 12th grader at Alma Bryant High School. “I really like the development. I like how it’s grown. I like how our community has come together to be able to build this up. I know past hurricanes have torn this place apart. I’m just glad we are able to come out here and rebuild it.”

As the students grew the plants in the school greenhouse, TNCA and its partners got busy restoring Lightning Point. From November 2019 until summer 2020, crews installed two jetties at the mouth of the channel and 1.5 miles of overlapping, segmented breakwaters along both sides of the navigation channel, creating nearly 40 acres of coastal wetlands. The work was completed just as 2020’s unusually active hurricane season began, where four storms affected the region within four months: Tropical Storm Cristobal, Hurricane Marco, Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Zeta. Brown said everything held up well.

“It did everything it was supposed to do,” Brown said. “We were really kind of nervous about what we would see afterward but the revetment protected the site. Our engineers at Moffatt & Nichol took in those considerations of extreme wave occurrences and that’s why the breakwaters did the job to stop the wave erosion. We were very fortunate.”

On April 28, the students returned to Lightning Point to plant the marsh grasses they had grown in the school’s greenhouse, adding to the 90,000 native grasses and scrub-shrub TNCA and its contractors had already planted since July.

“This is really exciting,” said Alma Bryant High School sophomore Jayda Gregson said. “I’ve never done anything like this before where you’re regrowing a beach, basically. It’s something new to me and I’m very happy to be experiencing this.”

Miller-Way said she is thrilled to see the students involved.

“It’s hands-on and doing, as opposed to talking about and seeing pictures of, and we don’t get enough opportunities to come out, especially in the past year,” Miller-Way said. “That is our mission: to get kids out into the field to see and to do and learn experientially, and what better way than to put them to work out here putting some plants in the ground.”

Baker said she appreciates everyone’s help in getting the students involved.

“Thank you to Alabama Power and everyone who came together to make this possible,” Baker said. “Many of our students have never even been down to the water even though they live in this community. They can’t afford to go on a field trip or do so many things, so we really appreciate Alabama Power’s support in making this possible.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Turkey Creek celebrates the Darter Festival, unveils new pavilion

(Turkey Creek Preserve/Contributed)

The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in north Jefferson County attracts thousands of people from neighboring localities annually and from as far away as Europe and South America. The preserve in Pinson is home to three endangered species of fish: vermilion, watercress and rush darters. It is the only place on Earth where you will find the vermilion darter.

While visitors flock to the preserve to enjoy its scenic swimming hole and hiking and biking trails, there are also opportunities at the site to learn about how to protect Turkey Creek and its rare and important habitats.

And, this coming weekend in Birmingham, there’s an opportunity to help support the nature preserve while safely enjoying live music, food and libations at the annual Darter Festival.

This spring, a pavilion was built at the nature preserve, surrounded by stunning beauty. The nature preserve was established through a partnership between Alabama’s Forever Wild Program and the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust and is co-managed by the Southern Environmental Center.

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“We are now able to accommodate nearly 140 schoolchildren at a time at the multipurpose teaching pavilion,” said Roald Hazelhoff, director of the nonprofit Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College. “We are excited that the event space includes a bathroom, storage space and catering area.

“Turkey Creek is a nonprofit organization and funding is needed for security, maintenance and educational programs,” Hazelhoff said. “The annual Darter Festival will help bring awareness to the public about the endangered species. The proceeds will go to protecting Turkey Creek and keeping the doors open for the general public.”

This year’s eighth annual Darter Festival is Sunday, May 23, outdoors at Avondale Brewery from noon to 5 p.m. There will be a Darter Dance performance by Birmingham preschoolers, live music, beer, food and socially distanced family fun to support educational programs at the nature preserve. Live performers are AJ Beavers from noon to 1 p.m., Dead Fingers from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and Early James from 3 to 4 p.m. The Avondale Burger Co. and Little London food trucks will be on-site. Guests will also get to try Avondale Brewery’s seasonal Darter Ale and, for the first time ever, people can take home Darter Ale in a limited-release, vermilion darter six-pack.  Advance general admission tickets are $10, and advance VIP tickets, which include food, drinks and prime seating, are $50. Tickets at the door will be $15 for general admission and $60 for VIP. Donations are also welcome.

Alabama Power, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are among the supporters of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, and have partnered with the Southern Environmental Center to help restore portions of the banks along Turkey Creek and remove invasive, non-native plants. The improvements are supported through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant Program.

To learn more about educational programs and workshops at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, click here. Follow this link for directions. For general information, email turkeycreekedu@gmail.com or visit turkeycreeknp.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

WFF teaches survival skills to outdoors scholars students

(Ben Kiser/Outdoor Alabama)

Restrictions from the COVID pandemic provided a new learning opportunity this spring for a group of students enrolled in the University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoors Scholars Program.

Because of restrictions on large gatherings, Outdoors Scholars Director William Crawford and Assistant Director Chris “Scooter” Stano had to get creative with the curriculum for the program that serves students with a passion for wildlife and conservation.

“We usually have a speaker series where we bring in people from the outdoors industry to all of our students,” Stano said. “Due to COVID, we couldn’t put 83 students together at one time. William and I came up with the idea to do small groups in dog training, turkey hunting strategies and trapping. One of the small groups we came up with was survival and camping.”

Stano contacted the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division for help with the survival and camping class.

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WFF Enforcement Section Chief Matt Weathers directed Stano to Senior Conservation Enforcement Officer (CEO) Ben Kiser, who has an extensive background in survival training.

With Kiser’s assistance, three classes were set up for the spring semester – fire starting and maintenance, emergency medical care and animal and human tracking.

Kiser’s background fit perfectly for the task of teaching the students survival skills. An Air Force veteran, Kiser taught those skills in the military and continued that training after he returned to civilian life.

“Before I got into law enforcement, I was a wilderness survival instructor,” Kiser said. “I took people into the woods and taught them how to survive. At Montevallo, I sat down with Chris and he asked me what I could do. I told him for a group of 18- to 19-year-olds my first recommendation would be a primitive fire craft class.”

That meant the students were taught how to start a fire using no modern methods, including lighters.

“They learned how to start a fire with a spark and material you find in the woods,” Kiser said. “I broke it down to the stages you need to make a fire – tinder, kindling and fuel. I taught them how to prep it, produce it and then let them do it themselves.”

The second recommendation was for a wilderness medical skills class that taught the students how to deal with accidents or other medical emergencies.

“I tailored it for them. If they’re camping and fall and break a leg, or if they shoot themselves when they’re hunting, or treating a snakebite, they will have the basic skills to more effectively deal with those events. I taught them how to use a tourniquet, pressure bandages, splinting and how to make litters out of materials you find in the woods or the clothes you are wearing. I taught them how to buy life-saving time if they are a long way from a roadway and need help in getting where an ambulance can get to them. They also learned how to stabilize themselves, stop bleeding and get themselves or a buddy to a place where they can receive a higher level of care.”

The third class covered the fundamentals of tracking both humans and animals.

“They learned what to do if they get in woods and get lost,” Kiser said. “It also included the basics of tracking, whether you’re tracking a deer or trying to find your buddy who is lost in the woods.”

To cap the Montevallo classes, students traveled to Cheaha State Park for an overnight camping trip. Kiser was able to join the students on Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in the state, site of one of Alabama’s premier state parks.

“I met them at Cheaha and they showed me what they had learned in the classes,” Kiser said. “They made a fire using nothing but the fundamentals they were taught. They broke it down in the stages of the tinder, the kindling, the fuel. They did everything the right way. I was impressed with that. We talked about the medical training. It was obvious they were paying attention. I didn’t have anyone who wasn’t keyed in. They were excited.”

When Montevallo finalizes its 2021-2022 curriculum, Kiser is more than willing to teach the survival classes again.

“I’m all for getting the kids out of the house, out of the classroom and showing them what we have to offer and furthering their skills and abilities,” he said.

Stano said the survival series will be a part of the Outdoors Scholars Program for the new year.

“The kids really enjoyed the whole series,” Stano said. “We’re doing it again next year and possibly expanding with some other topics. We talked to our students and they really enjoyed the small-group settings and the things they got to learn.”

Stano said the Outdoors Scholars Program started three years ago with 24 students. This fall, he is expecting between 90-95 students to enroll in the program.

Kiser said the Montevallo classes were a condensed version of the classes he teaches for the Enforcement Section’s Rural Operations Training Program that WFF offers to other law enforcement, first responders and new Enforcement Section hires.

Carter Hendrix, Assistant Chief of the WFF’s Enforcement Section, said people don’t have to be a first responder to benefit from outdoors survival skills.

“The wilderness survival training, like medical care and fire starting, can be useful to anybody,” Hendrix said. “And the tracking can be used if you’re trying to find a lost family member or finding your way back out of the woods. Those skills can be utilized whether or not you’re a first responder. Many of these students at Montevallo are involved with the school’s fishing team or archery team. These are skills they can use whether in their college careers or when they graduate and continue to enjoy the outdoors.”

As part of the Outdoors Scholars program, Montevallo fields a bass fishing team and an archery team. The Montevallo bass anglers are leading the Bass Pro Shops Collegiate Bass Fishing Series, and the archery team is competing in the USA Archery Collegiate Target Nationals this week in Virginia.

“It may sound unusual to be teaching college kids survival skills, but at the same time, we’ve been teaching hunter education since the early 1970s, and basic survival and first-aid skills have always been an element of those courses,” Hendrix said. “The Montevallo classes were extremely well-received. This is a good thing for us. These students might not ever come in contact with a game warden otherwise. We consider this a valuable tool, whether teaching outdoors skills or responding to complaints they might have on their property. This is an outreach effort in the same way we utilize our instructors to teach and assist rescue squads in survival and tracking to be able to find lost children or Alzheimer’s patients. We’re always open to assisting the public, whether it be college students or community groups, in educating them on outdoor survival. We’ve been ‘off the pavement’ law enforcement since 1907.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 months ago

Alabama Wildlife Federation continues mission of conservation and stewardship

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

For nearly a century, the Alabama Wildlife Federation has been on the front lines of promoting environmental stewardship, wildlife and natural resource conservation across the state. The federation’s important work includes educational outreach that has informed generations of Alabamians about the state’s natural beauty and incredible biodiversity. It is why the Alabama Power Foundation supports the federation.

“Our priority is to deliver programs and projects that promote conservation of Alabama’s world-class outdoor resources,” said federation Executive Director Tim Gothard. “We appreciate the Alabama Power Foundation and our partners for supporting our efforts to educate and build the type of projects that will enhance the quality of life for future generations.”

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Alabama Power Foundation supports the work of the Alabama Wildlife Federation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The federation has taken the lead on a number of significant, ecologically focused projects in recent years. Last year, it teamed with Alabama Power to deploy an offshore, artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico near Dauphin Island, using repurposed tanks from the company’s Plant Barry in Mobile County. The reef will help expand fish habitat while supporting recreation and tourism.

“The Alabama Wildlife Federation continues to be a leader in stewardship and conservation,” said Tequila Smith, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “Their commitment to improving our communities through education, awareness and diverse projects that strengthen our natural environment helps responsibly grow our state.”

To learn more about the Alabama Wildlife Federation, visit alabamawildlife.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Anglers are hooked on Smith Lake’s new weigh-in pavilion

(Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

Anglers, tournament staff and community leaders are thrilled with their new shaded place on Lewis Smith Lake in Walker County to host fishing tournament weigh-ins.

Many of them gathered May 8 to share their appreciation for the weigh-in pavilion during a dedication ceremony prior to weigh-in at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open. The pavilion provides shade for fish-holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“It’s particularly important for community events and smaller tournaments to provide better fish care,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “They’ll come in the pavilion, bring their fish, keep them in the shade, keep in the water until they weigh them. It provides a great way to take better care of the fish to get them back in the water so they can grow up and we can catch them a little bit bigger each time.”

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New weigh-in pavilion dedicated on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion, constructed in 2020, was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, built with the help of volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“It took some funds available, used some donated organized labor, and just came up with a great pavilion,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We are happy to be a part of this project and to continue to partner with B.A.S.S. and others to bring these tournaments to the communities we serve,” said Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews. “These partnerships help enhance access points to the beautiful natural resources that our state has to offer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama angler Wes Logan wins 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake

(contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Before the tournament began, Wes Logan predicted it would take 55 pounds to win.

He was wrong. It took 57 pounds.

The Springville native landed 57 lbs. 9 oz. to land the blue trophy Monday at the 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake. He beat Paul Mueller, who was 1 lb. 6 oz. back in second place.

“I give it all I had,” Logan said at Monday’s weigh-in. “I’ve led some tournaments going to the last day but never been able to close it out. To do it here on this body of water as many hours I’ve spent here, it just makes this that more special, and to do it in front of all of these people it’s even more special. The good Lord blessed me.”

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The tournament wrapped up Monday afternoon with weigh-in at the Gadsden City Boat Docks. The four-day tournament was originally scheduled to end Sunday but heavy rains last week forced tournament officials to delay the start of the tournament by one day.

“I had a great week,” Mueller said after his weigh-in. “Just to be able to do that under tough conditions I was happy with it.”

Mueller did catch the biggest fish of the tournament, hooking a 6 lb. 6 oz. bass Monday morning.

“That fish was a game changer,” Mueller said. “We had a mud puddle with moving water and look at the weights.”

Fan favorite and Guntersville native Gerald Swindle ended the tournament in third place, more than three pounds back from Logan. Swindle said despite coming up short he had fun.

“It’s been a great week,” Swindle said. “I enjoyed all of the changes in the water and I was blessed to get a few key bites. I got this place dialed in. It was really good to be in Gadsden.”

The tournament was the first Bassmaster Elite series tournament to ever be held on Neely Henry Lake and the second of three Elite events scheduled in Alabama during the 2021 season. Anglers in the Elite series will compete May 20-23 at Lake Guntersville for the 2021 Berkley Bassmaster Elite. To learn more, visit bassmaster.com.

Final Standings – 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake

1. Wes Logan (Springville, AL) – 57 lbs. 9 oz.
2. Paul Mueller (Naugatuck, CT) – 56 lbs. 3 oz.
3. Gerald Swindle (Guntersville, AL) – 54 lbs. 2 oz.
4. Jason Christie (Park Hill, OK) – 52 lbs. 13 oz.
5. Matt Arey (Shelby, NC) – 52 lbs. 1 oz.
6. Bryan New (Belmont, NC) – 50 lbs. 2 oz.
7. Bob Downey (Hudson, WI) – 49 lbs. 10 oz.
8. Brock Mosley (Collinsville, MS) – 47 lbs. 7 oz.
9. Austin Felix (Eden Prairie, MN) – 46 lbs. 4 oz.
10. Todd Auten (Lake Wylie, SC) – 42 lbs. 11 oz.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Conservation Advisory Board limits rods at Sipsey Fork

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board voted to limit rainbow trout anglers to two rods per person on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River below Lewis Smith Dam and placed a portion of Colbert County on the dog deer hunting permit system at its recent meeting in Jasper.

The Sipsey Fork from Lewis Smith Dam to the confluence of the Mulberry Fork provides anglers with the state’s only year-round trout fishery. The Board voted to limit the number of rods per person to reduce any potential conflicts between anglers.

The importance of the Sipsey Fork trout fishery to the economy in the Walker County area was highlighted by Paul Kennedy, one of the people who spoke to the Board during public testimony.

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“I ask (the Board) to join with us to plan for the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River to become a world-class fishing destination,” said Kennedy, President of the Walker Area Community Foundation. “Two years ago, we petitioned the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to be one of the communities it would adopt to help us develop a recreational-based economy. We were one of only 10 such sites selected in the United States. We have created a 31-mile blueway. We are working on a mountain-bike trail that surrounds this school (Jasper High School). One of the key opportunities identified in the planning process was that trout fishery. We have the opportunity to turn the Sipsey Fork fishery into the crown jewel of our local outdoor economy. I’m a registered Alabama forester, and I am very aware of the potential this fishery has for us and the state of Alabama. I’m asking (the Board) to work with us to make this a better fishery and a magnet for wildlife tourism, not just for Walker County but for all of Alabama.”

The Board also voted to place the area west of Highway 43 in Colbert County on the dog deer hunting permit system. In the system, the use of dogs for hunting deer in certain regions is prohibited except for those properties with a special permit from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). Those hunting clubs on the permit system must abide by the applicable regulations or the permit will be revoked.

After the Board recommended changes to the wild turkey season at its March meeting, adjustments to the 2021-2022 turkey season were approved. The turkey season in Zone 1, which covers the bulk of the state, will be from March 25 through May 8. Zone 2, which covers northwest Alabama, will be open April 1 through May 8. The dates for Zone 3, which includes Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Clarke, Monroe and Covington Counties, are November 20-28, December 11 through January 1, 2022, and March 25 through May 8, 2022.

The daily turkey bag limit is one gobbler per person per day with a season limit of four, including fall and spring seasons. Decoys are prohibited for the first 10 days of the spring season and for all of the fall seasons.

Also approved at the Jasper meeting were WFF recommendations to close bobwhite quail and fox squirrel hunting on Bankhead National Forest and to establish a special nighttime season for feral swine and coyotes.

The Alabama Legislature passed a law to allow the nighttime hunting of feral hogs and coyotes with a new license that costs $15 for residents and $51 for non-residents. The 2021 season will be from July 1 through November 1. The 2022 season will be from February 11 through November 1. A new law also allows disabled veterans to buy lifetime hunting licenses at reduced prices to make it more convenient instead of renewing yearly.

ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship agreed with Jasper Mayor David O’Mary’s praise of the facilities at the Walker County Public Fishing Lake, which was annexed into the City of Jasper.

“I echo what Mayor O’Mary said about the Walker County Lake,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It is a good example of great outdoor recreational opportunities at the same location. We have a great fishing lake with a boat ramp, an archery park and hiking trails. And there are plans to do other things to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for the citizens of Jasper and Walker County.”

Commissioner Blankenship also provided the Board with an update on ADCNR facilities and activities.

He said a tornado on March 25 went through a portion of Oak Mountain State Park but fortunately missed the campground.

“Speaking of Oak Mountain, the state park will be the venue for three events in the upcoming World Games in 2022,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “I don’t think that I knew initially how big of a deal that is that Alabama will host the World Games. I do fully appreciate they are going to hold three events at our state park. One of the areas hit by the tornado was where one of those events is to take place, so we have a real incentive to get that back to first-class before it is open to the people of the world.”

Commissioner Blankenship mentioned the setting of the red snapper season, which will start on May 28 with four-day weekends (Friday through Monday) until the quota of about 1 million pounds is met.

“Instead of projecting an ending date as we have done in the past, this year we’re using the Snapper Check system to monitor that quota every weekend and provide an update to the public on where we stand,” he said.

The Commissioner said boating and tournament fishing access will be improved with new projects at Roland Cooper State Park and Lewis Smith Lake Dam. ADCNR is partnering with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to construct a new overnight mooring and tournament pier at Roland Cooper. The Department also partnered with Alabama Power, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society to expand boat launching and parking capacity and construct a tournament weigh-in pavilion at the Smith Lake Dam boating access area.

“Public boat ramps are very important for economic impact to the communities and getting people out on the water,” Commissioner Blankenship said.

The Commissioner reported that the Alabama Legislature approved a constitutional amendment for an $80 million bond issue for Alabama State Parks that will be on the ballot in 2022.

“This will provide the funds to State Parks to do renovations, build campgrounds, build cabins and really turn our parks into first-class facilities and bring us into the 21st century,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “When a lot of those campgrounds were built, camping was a tent or a pop-up camper. Now camping is done in half-million-dollar motorhomes with three air conditioners that pull 50 or 70 amps of electricity. In order for us to accommodate those campers, we need to upgrade those facilities to keep up with the times. That bond issue will allow us to do that.”

The Alabama Legislature also approved the Alabama Reservoir Management bill that would add $5 to boat registration fees to provide funding to deal with aquatic invasive species or invasive aquatic vegetation and public water debris removal. ADCNR will manage this program for the state.

“Marine debris is a problem in coastal areas with boats that sink or debris left after hurricanes,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “There had been no funds to take care of that. This bill will provide the means to better take care of our waterways in the state. Even though it wasn’t a Department bill, I’m excited about our role in keeping our waterways safe and clean.”

Commissioner Blankenship, who sits on the federal RESTORE Council, also highlighted the funding the state has utilized from the RESTORE Act and GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. An additional $81 million in funds have recently been approved for work in Alabama.

“That brings our total to over $900 million in projects that have been funded by either Deepwater Horizon funds or by GOMESA funds that are being managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” he said. “That $900 million is a huge investment in coastal Alabama and is really going to make a generational difference in the resiliency of our coast. I think that’s a high point for our staff.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.