2 weeks ago

‘Hiking with Hailey’ explores Alabama’s great outdoors

For someone who really doesn’t care for insects, Hailey Sutton has put her fears behind her to share Alabama’s great outdoors via her increasingly popular “Hiking with Hailey” segments on Montgomery’s WSFA-TV.

Sutton, who hails from Red Oak, Texas, has been in Alabama for less than a year after her first TV gig in Montana.

The weekend sports anchor at WSFA, Sutton has a background in soccer rather than the outdoors. Despite her lack of outdoors experience, she pursued an idea of hiking through numerous Alabama State Parks and other natural wonders. That concept blossomed into weekly episodes that may turn out to be more than the summertime feature she originally envisioned.

“This whole series is kind of funny,” Sutton said. “I don’t really like to be dirty, and I’m terrified of bugs. Living in Alabama, this has been challenging. My first job was in Montana, and their bible up there is the outdoors. I had wanted to do a similar series in Montana, but I just didn’t have the resources. When I moved here, I saw all these different parks. I was able to pitch the idea to my boss, and then the coronavirus happened. That kind of gave me a chance to step away from sports since they haven’t had as many sports going on.”

Sutton admits the series has caused her to expand her horizons to provide her viewers with snapshots of the beauty of Alabama.

“It was a refreshing way to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said. “In this past weekend’s episode at Cheaha State Park, our guide had us eat a leaf. If you had told me three years ago that I would be on TV eating plants for my job, I would have LOLed. But it’s been really fun to do something different and push myself.”

The Cheaha State Park episode, where Park Naturalist Mandy Pearson got Sutton to sample a leaf from the sourwood tree, was the sixth in the series that started at Oak Mountain State Park.

“Cheaha was awesome,” Sutton said of the park that sits atop the highest mountain in the state. “I’d seen pictures and videos of Cheaha, but pictures and videos can’t do justice to how cool it is to get up there and be able to see all the way to Birmingham, which seems crazy to me. I’ve just been blown away by how diverse Alabama is. What we have focused on each week is trying to show something every week. We started out at Oak Mountain, which is the largest state park (9,940 acres) in Alabama. So, if you’re looking to get a little bit of everything, that’s a great place to start.”

Sutton decided to downsize the next week with a visit to the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Alabama Nature Center at Millbrook.

“Obviously, the Alabama Nature Center is smaller, but they do a lot of programs to educate kids about nature,” she said. “I thought that was really neat, especially during the summer, highlighting that this is still something available to do with your kids.”

Sutton and crew then visited Wind Creek State Park, the 1,445-acre park on the banks of scenic Lake Martin in east central Alabama.

“Wind Creek was really neat because you’ve got the forest and the lake atmosphere,” she said. “That was really cool.”

Next up was a visit to 696-acre Chewacla State Park and its iconic waterfalls that were formed when Moore’s Mill Creek was dammed to create Lake Chewacla.

“I had been to Chewacla once before,” Sutton said. “It’s just so funny. You hop off I-85 and you’re right there at the park. That’s one of the things our guide, Joshua Funderburk, said was one of the things that make this park so interesting is you’re in the middle of Auburn, but you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you’re there.”

Sutton found her trip to Rickwood Caverns State Park, just north of Birmingham, to be one of the most enjoyable for a variety of reasons.

“Rickwood was awesome,” she said. “That may have been my favorite place. One, it was cool in the caverns. It was 60 degrees, so it was nice to not be sweating. The other thing is it was so ‘otherworldly.’ It was just so different from anything I had ever seen.”

Sutton highlighted all of the amazing features of the caverns with their numerous formations estimated at 260 million years old. She also discussed the exit from the caverns and the number of steps involved.

“It was crazy,” she said. “Going into the cave, it’s not 110 steps down to get to the features. It was a gradual descent. Then our guide told us, ‘Oh, by the way, to get out you have to go up 110 steps. We had to sit for a couple of seconds after we got done with the steps.”

Designed to give a glimpse of the great outdoors before her busy season started, the series surprised Sutton with how quickly it gained a widespread following. She said the impact of the coronavirus will likely dictate what happens next.

“I guess it just kind of depends on what happens to football season,” she said. “It was originally a summer project. But, if there’s no football, it will depend on how busy my schedule gets. I don’t know if we have a timeline on it. To be 100 percent honest, I didn’t know it was going to be as popular as it has become. I guess as long as people are watching…”

Sutton said she is amazed at how quickly word has spread about the “Hiking with Hailey” series.

“We have people reaching out to us on a regular basis asking us to come to their park,” she said. “We had to make a list of all the places we would like to go. If we have to stop, then there’s always next summer or later in the year. It’s been good. There are so many parks and forests to explore. I’m really excited that we’re going to Bankhead National Forest in a couple of weeks.”

Visit www.wsfa.com/authors/hailey-sutton/ and scroll to find each episode of “Hiking with Hailey.” The episodes are also on the “Hiking with Hailey” Facebook page.

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.

4 mins ago

7 Things: College students with coronavirus will be isolated, PPP saved 672,861 jobs, State Rep. Dismukes has another bad day and more …

7. Fauci is already looking at coronavirus next year

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci has predicted that the coronavirus is going to be something that we live with for a while since it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to completely get rid of it due to how “highly transmissible” it is.
  • Fauci said that we need a “combination of a good vaccine and attention to public health measures,” and he doesn’t mean more shutdowns, but we could be wearing masks and social distancing for quite some time. Fauci added that “by the time we get through 2021 and go around for another cycle that we’ll have this under control.”

6. No plans to clean the Madison County monument

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  • Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong has addressed the issue of the vandalized Confederate monument outside the Madison County courthouse in downtown Huntsville, saying, “It will be left as is for now.”
  • Strong clarified that there are no plans to clean the monument currently, adding, “[It] would not be right to ask county employees to do it.”

5. Democrats don’t want a deal

  • As negotiations continue between Republicans and Democrats over another coronavirus relief bill, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has said, “Democrats might not want a deal, politically.”
  • There’s further evidence that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have minimal intention of reaching a deal. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has said that four offers have been made that include $600 per week unemployment benefits, but Pelosi and Schumer have rejected each offer and given no counteroffers.

4. Majority favor mask order

  • A new poll released by Hill-HarrisX shows that among registered voters, 82% would support a national mask mandate, with 61% strongly supporting and 21% somewhat supporting.
  • The age groups of 18-34 and 50-64 showed 81% support a mandate, and those in the 35-49 and 65 and over age range show 83% support a mandate, but even 66% of Republicans, 93% of Democrats and 85% of independents support a mandate.

3. Arrest warrant issued for Will Dismukes

  • State Representative Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) was ordered to report to authorities by 4:00 p.m. on Thursday per an arrest warrant issued for first-degree theft of property, which is a Class B felony. It is alleged that Dismukes stole well over $2,500 from his former employer Weiss Flooring.
  • The issue has been investigated since May 20, and the business owners were the ones who brought the allegation forward. The illegal activity is said to have happened “from 2016 to 2018,” according to Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey. Governor Kay Ivey commented on the arrest, saying, “If true, it is disappointing when a public official, elected with the confidence of the people, abuses that trust.”

2. Paycheck Protection Program saved a lot of jobs

  • It’s estimated that the Paycheck Protection Program managed to save 672,861 jobs throughout Alabama, according to a new analysis released by Business.org. Nationally, there were more than 50.9 million jobs saved.
  • There have been more than 700,000 Alabamians file for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic started, but last week has been the lowest for unemployment claims since March with 11,692.

1. Beds being prepared to isolate college students

  • College students are returning to campuses across the state, and everyone has to be tested before classes resume. The University of Alabama board of trustees has decided to spend $1.2 million to rent out 252 apartment beds so that they will have beds free on campus in the event that students test positive and need to be isolated.
  • Their plan will free up 450 beds on campus for isolation. Keeping coronavirus positive students on campus will make meal delivery and medical attention easier, according to vice president of the division of finance and operations Matthew M. Fajack. Currently, there are 8,281 students assigned to live on campus for the fall semester.

15 hours ago

Nick Saban named to board of National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches created by former Tide assistant

Former University of Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley on Thursday announced the creation of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches.

Locksley served as an offensive assistant for the Crimson Tide in 2016, followed by a year as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach the next season before becoming the full-time offensive coordinator in 2018. He is now the head coach at the University of Maryland.

Speaking to NFL.com, Locksley cited a lack of black head coaches in the National Football League as well as among the college Football Bowl Subdivision.

“I wanted to create an organization that would be able to help prepare, promote and produce the next group of coaches coming up through the ranks at every level,” he told the outlet.

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Locksley is not the only Bama connection to the new nonprofit group, which will reportedly “seek to not only identify and groom coaches of color (male and female) for upward mobility, but also create a candidates list that will be vetted by a board of directors that includes some of the most respected and powerful names in sport.”

Included on that venerable board of directors is Tide head coach Nick Saban, as well as Ozzie Newsome.

Newsome was named to the College Football Hall of Fame after a four-year playing career at the University of Alabama. He also enjoyed a successful playing career in the NFL and is a two-time Super Bowl winning executive with the Baltimore Ravens.

Speaking about the board of directors featuring the likes of Saban and Newsome, Locksley explained, “These are all people that have either hired head coaches or coordinators or filled upper-level positions throughout their careers. They all have been at the top of the mountain, per se, in their respective areas, whether winning Super Bowls or national championships or being pioneers…”

“We want to use their experiences to help us formulate and produce the list of qualified candidates, so when people say there aren’t enough minorities to fill the positions that have come open over the years, we’re going to produce a list of qualified people that shows there are qualified people. What’s needed is opportunities,” he added.

RELATED: Alabama ranked No. 3, Auburn No. 11 in preseason coaches poll

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

16 hours ago

UAH receives grant to research how drones can aid disaster response

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) announced Thursday that it has received $1.1 million in grant funding to study how unmanned aircraft can aid the response to both manmade and natural disasters.

The money comes from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who granted a total of $3.3 million to the 24 universities in that comprise an Alliance for System Safety that focuses on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

“These grants will help develop a greater array of innovative strategies to more effectively deploy drones during emergency response situations,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

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UAH says it aims “to provide insight into the safe integration of UAS into the disaster preparedness and response areas,” with the funding provided this week by the federal government.

A release from the university points to a FAA study that shows there are currently 1.65 million recreational and commercial drones in the United States.

Huntsville’s biggest university says that the FAA program from which the grant is derived enables the agency “to conduct research in airspace and airport planning and design, environment and aviation safety.”

“These important grants fund the research which allows us to learn and implement the safety measures associated with UAS operations in the airspace,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

17 hours ago

Warrant issued for State Rep. Will Dismukes

MONTGOMERY — A felony arrest warrant has been issued for State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville), Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey announced in a Thursday press conference.

The warrant is for first-degree theft of property, a Class B felony. The freshman state legislator allegedly stole more than $2,500 from a former employer, Weiss Flooring in Alabama’s capital city.

Bailey said Dismukes has not yet been arrested and has until Thursday at 4:00 p.m. CT to turn himself in.

The district attorney reminded the public that a warrant represents “a mere allegation” and that Dismukes remains presumed innocent “until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.”

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Bailey advised “the alleged amount is a lot more than” $2,500 stolen. He added that he was limited on providing specifics on the case and the allegations at this time.

The DA advised that the business owners brought the allegation to authorities. The time period of the alleged offense was “from 2016 to 2018,” per Bailey.

Dismukes reportedly told WSFA that he is innocent.

The state representative from Autauga County has come under fire recently for his participation in a celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Weiss Flooring made the complaint on May 20, which would have been before Dismukes initially made headlines for Confederate-related issues. Authorities have since that date been investigating, leading to a warrant being signed on Thursday.

While Dismukes has rejected bipartisan calls for him to resign over his recent controversies, a felony conviction would automatically remove him from office.

UPDATE 3:00 p.m.

In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) reacted to the news.

“If true, it is disappointing when a public official, elected with the confidence of the people, abuses that trust. I support the letter of the law, and no one is above it – especially those in public office,” the governor stated.

UPDATE 4:00 p.m.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan released a statement on Dismukes.

“We expect our elected officials, regardless of Party, to follow the laws of our state and nation,” she commented. “No one is immune to these standards. It is very disappointing to hear of these allegations. This is now a legal matter and it must run its course.”

This is breaking news and will be updated.

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

18 hours ago

Shelby cautions on COVID-19 relief: ‘The Democrats might not want a deal, politically’

As the White House continues to lead negotiations with congressional Democrats over the latest COVID-19 relief package, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is sounding the alarm over election year politics possibly being put ahead of the welfare of the American people.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has been at the forefront of negotiations on the Republican side of the aisle. He has said that Democrats, led by the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have rejected four different offers to extend the $600 per week federal unemployment supplemental that expired this past Friday.

“Those four different offers have been actually rejected — but more importantly than that, they’ve not even been countered,” Meadows said last week.

Democrats have said they want a broader deal that lasts through the first quarter of 2021, however Republicans have admonished items seemingly unrelated to the pandemic that their counterparts on the left have tried to force through in negotiations. This includes Pelosi’s defense of funding for marijuana businesses in the latest Democratic relief proposal.

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The Democrats’ proposal also “omitted language restricting abortion funding [with federal monies] and added protections against deportation of illegal immigrants,” as reported by the New York Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the Pelosi-led proposal “reads like the speaker of the House pasted together random ideas from her most liberal members and slapped the word ‘coronavirus’ on top of it.”

Despite this Democrat proposal being dead on arrival in the Senate, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has for weeks been calling on McConnell to take up the legislation. However, even though the Pelosi bill got just one Republican vote in the House, Jones has blamed Republicans for making “this into a partisan issue.” Alabama’s junior senator, while decrying the partisan nature of the negotiations, has also campaigned on the issue, seemingly adding to the politicization of coronavirus relief efforts.

“This election, more than any other I can remember, shows us the stark choice we can make as a country. We can stand together, listen to the experts about how to beat COVID-19, work together to make real change and end racial injustice and protect our health care – or we can let the extremists drive us apart and block any hope for real change,” Jones wrote in a July 31 campaign email.

However, Alabama’s senior senator — considered one of the most bipartisan elected officials in Washington, D.C., and a true statesman — on Thursday seemed to rebut Jones’ claims that it was Republicans playing politics with COVID-19 relief.

While some on Capitol Hill have expressed relative optimism at reaching a deal in the coming days, Senator Shelby explained why a final compromise might never come to fruition, no matter how much Republicans give ground.

Per Politico, the Senate Appropriations chairman told reporters in the Capitol, “We might not get a deal. … I think there’s a lot of pessimism here — ‘will we get an agreement? Are we too far apart?'”

“We’re at an impasse right now,” Shelby advised. “I would hope over the next few days we can get together and do something that will help a lot of working people in America. Republicans and Democrats, get together. At the moment, it doesn’t look promising.”

Per Hill pool reports, Shelby further explained, “The Democrats might not want a deal, politically. Think about it.”

McConnell, an Alabama native himself, in a Thursday afternoon tweet seemed to back Shelby’s idea.

Both Republicans and Democrats have publicly voiced their support of another round of stimulus checks for Americans, likely up to $1,200 each to match the first round of checks that went out earlier this year. It remains to be seen if agreement can be reached on the many other items on the table.

If a deal cannot be reached soon, President Donald Trump has now said that he will take executive action to provide relief to the American people. Issues Trump is considering acting on himself include “Payroll Tax Cut, Eviction Protections, Unemployment Extensions, and Student Loan Repayment Options,” per a Thursday tweet by the president.

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