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State parks, Scouts make geocaching popular in Alabama

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The geocaching community is growing in Alabama as the state parks and other entities get involved in the family-friendly activity.  The Boy Scouts of America even offer a geocaching merit badge.

Alabama’s state parks have set up geocaching sites at all 22 parks. In celebration of their 75th anniversary, a cache has been hidden in eight parks. Searchers must visit each and combine the clues from their finds to determine where the final geocache is located. A special 75th anniversary commemorative coin will be awarded to the first 75 contestants to complete the challenge. Currently, more than 50 anniversary coins have been distributed.

Roger Reetz, a schoolteacher at Gulf Shores Middle School and part-time ranger at Gulf State Park, learned about geocaching while leading his son’s Cub Scout troop.

“I was the only one to truly get addicted to the game in my family, but I’ve stuck with it ever since, adding about 150 caches to Gulf State Park and finding over 1,200, says Reetz. “Through this effort, Gulf State Park has become a very popular geocaching destination and we have caches to go along with whatever your level of adventure is.”

According to Reetz, the park has close to 10 kayak/canoe-based caches in Gulf State Park, one of which requires searchers to go to the middle of Lake Shelby and swim to locate the geocache. Reetz says he and another geocacher are “discussing working with our local dive charters to add SCUBA-based caches on many of our local dive sites. We hope to start getting those online in early summer.”

O’dell Banks, a park manager at Chewacla State Park, says the most difficult to find geocache is located at Chewacla. Banks says you will see all age groups taking part in the outdoors activity.

Ed Manley of Irondale, who publishes “The Online Geocacher” and runs a web forum dedicated to geocaching in Alabama (dixiecachers.com), has been finding geocaches since 2003. Manley has located more than 2,675 caches in 28 states, and even credits the activity with saving his life in the book, The Joy of Geocaching, after dealing with multiple surgeries and severe chronic pain.

“After a decade in the Navy I had been a successful businessman for 28 years, raised a fine family and accomplished many things,” Manley says. He called his first cache find, which required hiking uphill, “one of my greatest accomplishments. There were many days when I didn’t think I could ever walk up that hill. Finding that cache proved that I could take my life back.”

 

Getting started

◦   Set up a free account on www.geocaching.com

◦   Choose a cache to find and enter the latitude and longitude coordinates into your GPS receiver

◦   Find the cache

◦   Sign the logbook

Then, report your find online.

For more information on geocaching at Alabama State Parks, visit alapark.com/geocaching. For a list of geocaching trails in the state, visit the Trail Link website at www.traillink.com/stateactivity/al-geocaching-trails.aspx.

Celebrity chef dinners highlight Alabama seafood

The Southern Grace Celebrity Chef Dinners hosted by Fisher's will include a different New Orleans chef for the six dining events scheduled this summer.
The Southern Grace Celebrity Chef Dinners hosted by Fisher’s will include a different New Orleans chef for each of the six dining events scheduled this summer.

By Jennifer Kornegay

Down here in the South, we love our food, and the chefs who prepare and serve it best are rewarded by being elevated to rock-star status. Some of the biggest names hail from New Orleans, as evidenced by the recent NOLA-heavy winners list at the recent James Beard Foundation awards (like the Oscars for food).

If you’ve ever wanted to mix and mingle with one of these culinary kings and can’t make it to New Orleans any time soon (and even if you did, the chances are slim to none you’d make it back in the kitchen to thank the chef for your meal), you’re in luck. All you need do is get down to Orange Beach this summer and snag a ticket for one of the Southern Grace Celebrity Chef Dinners hosted by Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina.

Two of the six events have already happened, but four more are left, and each features a noteworthy Big Easy chef. And they’re all incorporating fresh Alabama seafood and other locally sourced products into their menus.

Fisher’s itself is a must-do when on the Alabama coast. Located adjacent to the Orange Beach Marina, the restaurant opened last summer and has two distinct personalities: a “flip-flops and cover-ups welcome” vibe invites you to relax and enjoy a meal in the open-air downstairs section that’s dockside. Upstairs, a gleaming wooden bar and contemporary décor washed in soft sea colors creates a more sophisticated atmosphere, but one that’s still laid back. Both menus are full of innovative and classic takes on coastal flavors and ingredients including selections like blackened fish tacos with citrus slaw; flounder stuffed with cornbread and shrimp, drizzled with a lemon beurre blanc; and perhaps the perfect starter, ham and green onion hush puppies.

Two of the six Southern Grace events have already happened, but four more are left this summer.
Two of the six Southern Grace events have already happened, but four more are left this summer.

Owner Johnny Fisher decided to bring some of his famous friends to his home to show off the area and the amazing seafood consistently pulled from its waters, but he also wanted to give guests the unique opportunity to discover and hang out with some true titans of taste. Each event begins with a cocktail reception attended by the evening’s chef. When dinner is served, it comes to the communal tables family style, fostering conversation among the guests.

“With these dinners, we’re creating a very special and memorable experience, for the chefs, our team and our guests,” Fisher says.

The April 17 dinner had Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery at the helm, and on May 7, Chef Donald Link joined Fisher’s Executive Chef Bill Briand in the kitchen. Link has several restaurants: Herbsaint, a contemporary take on the French-American “bistro” was his first. Others include Cochon and Pêche Seafood Grill, which earned the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant” award this year.

Fisher’s Chef Briand worked under Link for years and their collaboration produced a menu for Southern Grace that was everything you’d expect from such a lauded talent and his protégé. Airy blue crab beignets stuffed with sweetmeat and paired with white remoulade for dipping, ceviche with the bite of raw red onion and particular punch of cilantro, giant grilled royal reds and braised lamb in a briny olive sauce were a few highlights.

The evening finished on a high note with an only-slightly sugary lemon tart studded with plump blackberries and dense, eggless chocolate chip cookies bursting at their brown-crisp edges with chocolate chunks. Link didn’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due, noting how fortunate Alabama diners are to have Chef Briand.

“This guy is amazing. I hope you all know how lucky you are to have him here,” he says.

The rest of the Southern Grace events promise to be just as delicious, with the remaining chefs boasting numerous accolades and awards between them: John Besh (Restaurant August, Borgne, La Provence, Luke, Luke San Antonio Riverwalk, American Sector, Soda Shop, BeshSteak, and Domenica), Tory McPhail (Commander’s Palace, SoBou) and Sue Zemanick (Gautreau’s, Ivy). John Currence, who headlines the final Southern Grace dinner in August, is the only chef not actually in New Orleans, but he often credits his NOLA roots and the area’s unique food culture with inspiring his love of food and cooking. His multiple Oxford, Miss.,  eateries — City Grocery, Bouré, Snackbar, Big Bad Breakfast and Lamar Lounge — put that tiny town on the region’s culinary map.

But Southern Grace is not just about good fellowship and good food. It’s also doing a good deed; a portion of the proceeds from each dinner goes to support the SouthernFoodways Alliance (SFA), a non-profit organization based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture that documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The SFA has commissioned a short film celebrating the Alabama Gulf Coast foodways with a focus on two coastal cuisine staples that originated in Alabama, West Indies Salad and fried crab claws. The finished film is being screened at each dinner.

 

Eat the Big Easy in Alabama

Southern Grace Schedule

Tory McPhail – June 14

Sue Zemanick – July 17

John Besh – July 31

John Currence August 14

Get your tickets and find more details at www.FishersOBM.com.