1 month ago

State parks foundation seeks to boost Alabama opportunities

During his career, Dan Hendricks has seen first-hand the impact charitable foundations can have on a wide range of organizations.

Retiring to picturesque Florence, Ala., after a long academic career with a final stop at the University of North Alabama, Hendricks channeled his love of the outdoors and nature toward one of our state’s greatest treasures – the Alabama State Parks System.

With an extensive background in foundation work, Hendricks led a coalition of like-minded individuals to form the Alabama State Parks Foundation, which was officially launched at Oak Mountain State Park this past spring.

“I noticed when I was planning for retirement that Alabama didn’t have a state parks foundation, and they had a beautiful state parks system,” Hendricks said. “My wife (Barb) and I love to be outside hiking. We love gardens and learning about nature. As I was planning retirement, I thought of how I was going to be of use to the community, because I was going to have a lot more time. I also noticed that there were very few states where the parks didn’t have a foundation.”

Shortly after his retirement became official, Hendricks traveled to nearby Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, Ala., and visited with Chad Davis, Northwest District and Wheeler park superintendent. That eventually led to meetings with State Parks North Region Supervisor Tim Haney and State Parks Director Greg Lein.

“I told Chad that state parks might need a foundation, and I shared my background in running foundations,” Hendricks said. “He showed interest, so I ended up meeting with Tim Haney and Greg Lein.”

Hendricks said in 2017 a design team was formed to determine the objectives of the foundation and work out requirements to reach those goals.

“One thing we wanted was a geographically disbursed state board so that all parts of the state would be represented,” Hendricks said. “We tried to identify strategic goals. One goal was to be able to mobilize park people and create a kind of park movement in the state. It was not necessarily that they would learn anything new, but they would realize something they already knew – that the state parks were a wonderful treasure for the state, and that other states had foundations that were important private-public partners with the state parks systems.”

Hendricks studied the Iowa State Parks Foundation and how it dealt with the continuing need for strong funding that makes parks sustainable, along with private-public partnerships that complement state funding.

“That is particularly important for Alabama, because the state parks system doesn’t receive much support from state revenue,” Hendricks said. “It is mostly a fee-based system, so parks are run almost like independent businesses. They rely on good business practices and fees for revenue.”

Hendricks said the Iowa Foundation developed a model to divide the state into regional cluster groups with one or more parks that highlight that particular region.

For example, among Alabama’s 21 state parks, Joe Wheeler, DeSoto and Monte Sano would represent north Alabama; Lurleen Wallace, the west; Rickwood Caverns and Oak Mountain, the Birmingham area; Cheaha, Guntersville and Cathedral Caverns, the east; and Lakepoint and Gulf State Park, the south.

“What we’re going to do is try to create working groups for each of these zones, focused on one or more of the parks in that zone,” Hendricks said. “Then we are going to invite municipalities, individuals, businesses and corporations that have the most interest in that particular park. Then we want to identify ways we can drastically improve the infrastructure of the parks to do two things – increase the number of people the parks are serving and create sustaining sources of revenue. One of the things that the research done by the Iowa foundation revealed is that cabin and primitive camping and recreational vehicle (RV) camping are services that can increase the number of people and, at the same time, generate additional income.”

Hendricks said Iowa is trying to mobilize businesses, individuals and municipalities to build cabins and amenities for their parks.

“To do that, they are emphasizing how important the parks are for quality of life, elevate the value of communities, provide recreational services for all Alabamians in our case, and they attract individuals,” he said. “If you have a great park in America, people are attracted to those recreational amenities.”

Lein, who has been State Parks Director since 2012, said the work of the Foundation will contribute to the ongoing success of the state’s treasured parks, which continue a current winning streak. Alabama State Parks earned a record 18 Certificate of Excellence Awards from TripAdvisor.com in 2019, and the Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park were deemed one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

“Dr. Hendricks has done a great job of researching the different foundation models that exist across the country and marrying that to how Alabama’s park system operates,” Lein said. “We are especially optimistic about the vision that he and other Board members share in pursuing financial support from other foundations and corporate entities who share our desire to make the parks better for the people. While we have made great strides in addressing the park’s maintenance backlog, we hope that financial support through the Foundation can lead to creating new programs, features and amenities within the parks. These are such positive times for the park system, and we are excited about having the Foundation as a new park partner.”

The Alabama State Parks Foundation officially launched at Oak Mountain State Park for a specific reason.

“The launch was to invite people to become part of a great parks movement in Alabama,” Hendricks said. “Like I said, it was not necessarily to redo their experience, but to simply say let’s join together to not only to preserve this wonderful natural treasure, but let’s see if we can actually expand it and make it better. From the kickoff, we’ve been able to identify people who have become First Friends and founding members of the Foundation. I think we have between 350 and 370 individuals who said they would like to do that. I was encouraged by that. Almost half of that number also have made gifts.”

The Alabama State Parks Foundation board meets four times a year with the next meeting scheduled for July to develop a corporate partners program to recruit charitable investors to help improve and expand the infrastructure so state parks can serve more people.

Hendricks, who was the Vice President for University Enhancement at the University of North Alabama before he retired, has extensive foundation experience. He was vice president at the LSU Foundation, VP and executive officer at Western Illinois University, director and chief operations officer for The Campaign for the University of Kentucky, and director of planned giving for Hanover College.

He has also been active in the Audubon Society in Kentucky and Indiana as well as serving as president of the Baton Rouge Audubon Society.

Hendricks said the geographical diversity he’s experienced during his career has given him a perspective on how the various state parks he’s visited are operated and cherished by the communities.

“Running three foundations also has helped,” he said. “I understand how they work and hopefully ways to make them successful. But it’s always difficult to start something new. Something in the charitable world is even more difficult. A lot of people have to be convinced something is valuable enough. So, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to start that park movement and inviting people to be a part of it. Historically, the formation of the parks in Alabama is fascinating. A lot of the parks were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Depression. In my speech when we kicked off the Foundation, I said we are also creating this Foundation as a tribute to the young men who built it in the 1930s and who left this as a legacy for us and the six or seven generations who have used those parks since they were built. We want to continue to leave a legacy for our children and their children.”

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.

16 mins ago

Limestone County sheriff indicted, arrested on 13 financial theft, ethics charges

Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday announced that Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony Blakely has been indicted and arrested on several ethics charges.

Blakely, 68, surrendered to authorities and was later released on a $49,000 bond, according to the attorney general’s office.

The indictment includes 13 charges that cover a range of conduct over multiple years.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.”

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Specifically, the first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account that total $11,000.

Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from his illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Count 11 charges Blakely with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business.

Finally, counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case,” Marshall added. “Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at reportcorruption@ago.state.al.us.”

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division.

“While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities—their friends and neighbors—of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. commented.

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you,” he advised. “If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption.”

Blakely, as is the case with all indictments, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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

53 mins ago

NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace: Talladega Superspeedway renovations ‘a whole different level’ — Expect to see other facilities follow its lead

On Wednesday at the Talladega Superspeedway, former NASCAR great Rusty Wallace, the 1989 champion of the sanctioning body’s premier series, took part in a tour with members of the media that showcased the finishing touches being put in the facility’s “Transformation” renovations with its October fall race weekend fast approaching.

The $50 million “Transformation” project comes as Talladega Superspeedway celebrates its 50th anniversary. Among the improved amenities are the Talladega Garage Experience, which is made up of the Open Air Club. Also included are a new Race Operations tower high above the track’s tri-oval and the new Pit Road Club that offers race fans a close-up view of team pit stops.

On Wednesday, Wallace appeared on Huntsville radio’s WVNN to discuss the facility’s overhaul and other changes to NASCAR over the past few decades.

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“These guys have taken it to a whole different level,” Wallace said. “I got there today, and we’re talking about all brand-new garage areas and they made it so all the fans can come down in the garage and stand literally three-foot in front of the race cars, watch the race cars pull in, watch the drivers get out, watch them run their motors, watch all the behind the scenes stuff. And that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in our sport at all.”

“It adds some aspects to the new builds – the Daytona build, Phoenix, Ariz., Richmond, Va.,” he continued. “And those are fantastic. But Talladega is probably the best I’ve seen. I mean, you literally – you’re a fan. You can stand right in front of that car. It’s neat having that much access.”

When asked how it compared to another time in NASCAR when things were much more accessible, Wallace explained this offered an organization that that era did not provide.

“What it does is it organizes a lot better,” Wallace explained. “There’s places to watch. There are ways to watch. They’re even telling the pit crews where they can put their big toolboxes that they operate out of so it won’t obstruct the view of a fan that has come down there to see these cars.’

Wallace also touted the new 35,000-square foot Talladega Social Club with its 41-foot television and 71-foot wide bar, which was adjacent to the garage area.

The 1989 champion said he expected other NASCAR facilities around the country to follow Talladega’s lead.

“I think you’re going to see all these facilities around the country trying to keep up the facilities and make them the best you can,” he said. “If you ask Rusty Wallace, ‘Hey, do you want it hard or easy to sit inside of a race track,’ I’m going to tell them I want it easy. Do I want to go inside with the air conditioner when it is 100 degrees outside, I’m going to tell you yes. That’s the reason I like these new facilities they’ve got.”

Access to drivers and internet access also compliment the new facility, according to Wallace.

The track, along with its parent company, International Speedway Corporation, announced last year it’s “Transformation,” an approximate $50 million redevelopment that is part of ISC’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes.

Full completion of the modernized project is anticipated for October. For ticket information for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Sugarlands Shine 250 doubleheader NASCAR Playoffs weekend, October 11-13, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

1 hour ago

Alabama-made ULA rocket powers another GPS satellite into orbit

Alabama rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) conducted its 135th mission Thursday morning when it powered yet another Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite into its targeted orbit.

The GPS III Magellan, built by Lockheed Martin, will enable the U.S. Air Force to continue modernizing the nation’s worldwide navigation network with improved accuracy, better anti-jam resiliency and a new signal for civil users.

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GPS satellites are frequent payload into space. Today’s launch was the 73rd GPS payload powered by ULA.

Of the 81 Air Force satellites in orbit, 34 are GPS satellites.

This fact recently led former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to quip, “The blue dot on your phone is not provided by your cellphone company; it comes from the United States Air Force.”

She elaborated that the Air Force provides GPS coordinates for about 1 billion people every day and enables an $80 billion piece of our economy. With its satellites, the Air Force takes pictures, gathers intelligence, facilitates global communication, monitors weather and conducts the critical task of providing timing signals for the New York Stock Exchange and every ATM in America.

This was the final flight for ULA’s Delta IV Medium rocket. The powerful Delta IV Heavy, with its three common booster cores, will continue to fly U.S. government missions.

The Delta IV’s main engine, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, consumed nearly a ton of fuel per second as it pushed the rocket in flight.

ULA’s 1.6 million square-foot manufacturing facility in Decatur is the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

Watch the launch:

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer News

2 hours ago

16 female inmates baptized in Blount County, turn to Jesus Christ — ‘I was crying like a baby’

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office continues to offer voluntary baptisms to inmates as a way for them to help turn their lives around, this time with a group of female inmates baptized for the first time under their program.

Yellowhammer News in June reported on 24 male inmates being baptized at the Blount County Jail through a partnership with Redeemed Ministries, which is run by a former convict who found faith and turned away from a life of crime.

Sheriff Mark Moon at that time explained the thought process behind the program, “This is who I was before I met Jesus Christ, and now, I’m dead and I’m buried. My old self is gone, and I’m resurrected new. And I’m somebody totally different in Jesus.”

Now, Moon has confirmed to Yellowhammer News that 16 female inmates chose to be baptized at the county jail on Monday through this same program.

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This latest round of baptisms was first reported by WBRC.

No public funds are given to Redeemed Ministries for the program, which is completely voluntary for inmates to participate in.

Speaking to Yellowhammer News on Thursday, Moon said ultimately he wants this to help end the “revolving door” of the same people cyclically coming in and out of the county jail.

“If we can help them change their motives by changing their heart, getting their life right, getting their families back together — if we can get families back together then we can really make a difference in communities,” the sheriff outlined. “And with the epidemic that’s going on in our country with opioid abuse, drug abuse, I believe that if you change people’s hearts, you change their motivations, you change their desires, then you can start seeing them get their families back together — and they can become positive contributors to society instead of just continually being in and out of jail.”

“I truly want people to make a difference and to make good choices,” he stressed. “I don’t want people in my jail.”

Also a pastor, Moon explained that helping inmates and others in need certainly has biblical roots.

“Jesus even said, ‘Because you fed me when I was hungry, because you clothed me when I was naked, because you visited with me when I was in sick in the hospital or in prison, then you’re blessed.’ If we can reach out to the ones that… our world sees as unlovable and unreachable, if we can reach them and change them — man, what a difference we can make,” he said.

Moon advised that he was was not able to attend the baptisms of the male inmates in June, since he was preaching in a revival that day. However, he got to witness Monday’s baptisms and was overwhelmed with what he experienced.

“It was so powerful… It was so powerful, the Holy Spirit was just really thick and I was crying like a baby, I’m not going to lie,” Moon told Yellowhammer News. “It was fantastic. I’m so thankful for what God’s doing.”

He added that there will be some people skeptical that all of the inmates are getting baptized for the “right” reasons. However, Moon emphasized that just one inmate truly accepting Jesus Christ and turning their life around makes it well worth it.

“We’ve got to get them the Word, we’ve got to get them the Gospel,” Moon concluded. “If they make true conversions, true changes … it’s a success in the eye of the Lord, and that’s what we want to do. We want to please God with what we do, not man.”

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

3 hours ago

Byrne on ‘disgusting’ NYT scandal: ‘Anti-Semitism is growing and being adopted by the radical left’

It was reported on Thursday that a New York Times political editor has a history of anti-Semitic comments on social media, with Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) reacting by saying this could explain the newspaper’s defense of Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

Breitbart detailed that Tom Wright-Piersanti, a senior staff editor at the NYT who oversees the paper’s political coverage, “has made a series of antisemitic and racist tweets over the year.”

Examples of these social media posts in question are included in Breitbart’s report, including one in which the NYT editor wrote, “I was going to say ‘Crappy Jew Year,’ but one of my resolutions is to be less anti-Semitic. So…. HAPPY Jew Year. You Jews.”

Byrne, a Republican running in Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, first reacted to the revelation in a tweet of his own on Thursday.

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“More anti-Semitism, NYT?” Byrne lamented.

He outlined that this came a day after the NYT “falsely labeled” President Donald Trump as “an anti-Semite.”

“Today, it’s revealed that one of their editors has a long history of anti-Semitic tweets,” Byrne continued. “Maybe this explains why they’re always defending Omar & Tlaib?”

“DISGUSTING,” the congressman concluded.

In a further statement to Yellowhammer News, Byrne added, “This kind of biased reporting is disgusting and the American people deserve better.”

“It’s clear that anti-Semitism is growing and being adopted by the radical left,” he concluded. “As a nation and as a people, we should always stand up against anti-Semitism.”

This latest episode involving the NYT comes just days after the executive editor of the newspaper was caught stating that they intend to target Trump on racial issues leading up to the 2020 election.

Read Breitbart’s full report for more on the charges of anti-Semitism against the NYT.

Byrne on Thursday also published a Facebook post saying “The Squad,” comprised of Omar, Tlaib and Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), are “allies” with groups committing terrorist attacks on Israel, including Hamas.

RELATED: Jones: Israel shouldn’t have barred Omar, Tlaib; Trump’s Tuesday comments ‘imbecilic’

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