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Celebrating 75 years of Alabama state parks

By John N. Felsher

In March 1939, the Alabama Legislature passed the Department of Conservation Act, creating the Department of Conservation and abolishing the Commission of Forestry. Frank Dixon, then governor of Alabama, signed the act with the goal of setting aside special lands in the state for the enjoyment of the public. Thus, the Alabama State Park system officially began 75 years ago.

“The Alabama Tourism Department declared 2014 as the Year of the Parks to recognize the significance and importance of parks to our state,” says Greg M. Lein, the director of the Alabama State Parks Division. “That not only includes state parks, but municipal parks, historical parks, national parks and others.”

However, parks in Alabama go back even further than 1939. In 1927, the legislature passed the State Land Act, which provided for the administration of any lands owned by the state and created a Bureau of Parks and Recreation. Unfortunately, the state didn’t own any park lands at the time. The act did set aside 940 acres between Double Oak Mountain and Little Oak Ridge near Pelham as a park administered by the Forestry Commission. Over the years, Oak Mountain became a state park and grew to include about 9,940 acres. It remains the largest park within the Alabama state park system to this day.

In 1930, the state acquired Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama. From the Creek Indian word for “high point,” the peak tops out at 2,407 feet above sea level in Clay and Cleburne counties. In 1933, the new park opened to the public in conjunction with the National Park Service. In 1939, the park became Cheaha Mountain State Park, the first official state park in the system and the oldest continuously administrated park.

In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built or enhanced several state parks currently in the system including Cheaha. They built cabins, lodges, hiking trails and other projects for people to enjoy. Many remain in use. In the 1970s, the state conducted a major building and renovation program to modernize many parks and build new ones.

Today, the system encompasses 22 state parks totaling more than 48,000 acres. These parks preserve and maintain just about every habitat type found in Alabama as well as some historically and culturally significant areas. Habitat types include southern Appalachian mountaintops, forests, caves, river and lake shorelines, wetlands and Gulf Coast beaches.

“The mission of the Parks Division is to acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities, and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment,” Lein says. “From the mountains to the coast, we have a park system that captures a lot of ecological systems and unique wildlife habitats. Two primary cave parks, Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns, illustrate the geology of Alabama and the diverse cave formations in the state. Desoto State Park is on a wild, free-flowing river.”

These parks welcome between four and five million visitors annually. About half come from Alabama with the rest visiting from out of state. The visitors enjoy a wealth of recreational options. Lakepoint, Guntersville and Joe Wheeler parks sit on the shores of outstanding fishing lakes. Many major tournaments run out of the park marinas. Other parks offer fishing at small ponds, rivers or streams within their boundaries or close to them. Some parks rent boats. At Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, people can tempt redfish, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, cobia and other large fish off a 1,540-foot long pier that juts into the Gulf of Mexico.

Many parks exist in remote, wilderness locations where visitors can escape from modern life for a time. Almost all parks provide extensive hiking trails and wildlife or bird viewing opportunities for visitors. Many parks permit horseback or bike riding. Increasingly popular, some parks offer treasure hunting geocaching experiences in which visitors use a Global Positioning System, or GPS, to hide and seek containers. Two parks permit visitors to access some of the most spectacular cave formations in the southeastern United States.

Stay in a tent, cabin, your RV or cottage

At nearly every state park, visitors can enjoy an array of lodging options. Facilities range from primitive tent camping to spaces for recreational vehicles to rustic CCC cabins or modern cottages equipped with many conveniences. Many people from up north stay at Alabama state parks all winter long, particularly at Lakepoint on Lake Eufaula and Gulf State Park, to escape the cold in their home states.

“Gulf State Park is our most popular facility,” Lein says. “About 40 percent of our annual visitation takes place there. It gets a lot of out-of-state visitors. People visit the parks to relax and get back in touch with the great outdoors. We see a lot of family activity at parks. We might see three generations of a family enjoying a park. Some families have been coming back to the same parks for many years over several generations. Every year, they make new friends. We have a lot to offer folks and it gets better each year.”

Six parks operate deluxe lodges and hotel facilities. These resort parks offer visitors first-rate golf courses, conference centers, tennis courts, 5-star restaurants and other amenities one might find at any commercial resort, but for significantly less cost. These resort parks host many business conferences, family reunions, weddings and other special occasions each year.

“State parks are a very affordable way to enjoy a vacation or just a day trip,” Lein says. “Most of these resort facilities go back to the 1970s. Most of them were the first such facilities built in these rural areas. When these park systems were developed, they helped put those communities on the map.”

Shrimpfest and barbecues planned

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the park system, the state teamed with Bob Baumhower, a former All-American football player from the University of Alabama under Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and five-time All-Pro who played for the Miami Dolphins, to host a series of “low country shrimp boils and barbecues.” As a restaurateur, Baumhower will provide the food and plan the events in conjunction with parks officials. The first Baumhower’s ShrimpFest and Barbecue of 2014 will be March 29 at Gulf State Park. Others will follow throughout the year at Lakepoint, Joe Wheeler, Oak Mountain and Guntersville state parks. See sidebar or Alapark.com for more specific details.

“We’re lucky that we’ve got a partner like Bob Baumhower,” Lein says. “He’s done shrimp boils on his own for years, so we’ve got a partner who not only has great name recognition, but he also knows what he’s doing when it comes to throwing parties like these. It will be a lot of fun. These are family friendly events with food, music and entertainment. The events are free, but people just need to pay the park entrance fees. We’ll also have smaller events at various parks throughout the year.”

Not just looking back, the park system also plans many renovations, enhancements at various facilities in coming years in addition to acquiring future properties. Parks officials will also hold a series of open house events at various locations throughout the state this year to obtain feedback from customers and local communities surrounding the parks.

“We want to help people understand how the park system operates,” Lein says. “I appreciate the people who come out to the state parks. We want to listen to what the people say about what they want from their park system. When people visit a state park, we want them to have a positive experience and come back to visit again. They are partners in what we do. We would not exist without our customers.”

Contrary to what most people think, the state parks receive very little money from the general state treasury. The parks pay for themselves through fees they charge for lodging, equipment rental, food and other services. Sometimes, a park partners with a local business to provide a service, such as the zipline operation at Gulf State Park in which the business owner pays a percentage of the profits to that park for the privilege of operating on state grounds. Occasionally, a park will receive a grant for a specific program, to buy a piece of equipment or to perform maintenance.

“State parks pay their own way,” Lein says. “Parks are nearly self-sufficient. The day-to-day operation of the parks is paid for by the customers. The park system has been serving the public for quite some time. We plan to continue serving the public for many years to come. State parks are a great place to start for anyone looking for an Alabama adventure.”

For information on Alabama state parks, call 800-ALA-PARK (800-252-7275) or visit www.alapark.com.

Baumhower’s ShrimpFest and Barbecue 2014 Schedule

 March 29 – Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores

May 31 – Lake Point State Park, Eufaula

July 26 — Lake Guntersville State Park, Guntersville

August 9 – Joe Wheeler State Park, Rogersville

October 11 – Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham

Alabama Recipes

bacon_web

Bacon

I have to admit I was excited to see what kind of recipes I would get involving “bacon” and was pleasantly surprised at the diverse dishes submitted. Let’s just face it: Bacon makes everything taste good. My favorite is a good old-fashioned BLT: Fresh-sliced, juicy red tomato, fried thick cut bacon, crisp iceberg lettuce, mayonnaise (yes, only on one side, Dad), all between two slices of toasted bread. It doesn’t get much better than that. I never use my entire package of bacon the first go round, so I hope to try some of these great recipes sent by our readers to use my leftover bacon. I’m looking forward to springtime, warmer weather and BLT’s!

Mary Tyler Spivey

 

Cook of the Month

Sweet and Salty Bacon Fudge

baconfudge_web

Becky Terry, Joe Wheeler EMC

4 (4-ounce) semisweet chocolate baking bars, chopped
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 pound bacon, cooked until crisp
2 cups chopped toasted pecans

Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, combine chocolate, condensed milk, butter and cream. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Crumble bacon, and reserve 1/4 cup. Stir pecans and remaining bacon into chocolate mixture. Spoon mixture into prepared pan; smooth top with a spatula. Sprinkle reserved 1/4 cup crumbled bacon over chocolate mixture, pressing down gently. Cover and chill for 4 hours or until set. Cut into squares to serve. Makes about 32 pieces.

 

 

Potato Salad

Red skin, yellow flesh potatoes boiled
4 boiled eggs, separate the yolk and dice the whites
1 teaspoon dry mustard mixed with water according to directions
Sweet pickle relish
Bacon, cooked and crumbled, reserve the drippings
1 teaspoon bacon grease drippings
Mayonnaise
Mustard
Salt

Mix the yolks, mustards, bacon drippings, mayonnaise and salt together with a mixer. Pour over the hot potatoes and mix. Add egg whites, relish and bacon and mix. We like it served warm or cold.

Jamie Petterson, Tallapoosa River EC

 

 

bacon_dates_web

Blue Cheese, Date and Bacon Wraps

12 bacon strips
36 pitted dates
2⁄3  cup crumbled blue cheese

Cut each bacon strip into thirds. In a large skillet, cook bacon in batches over medium heat until partially cooked but not crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain: keep warm. Carefully cut a slit in the center of each date. Fill with blue cheese. Wrap a piece of bacon around each stuffed date. Secure with wood toothpicks. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until bacon is crisp. Yields 3 dozen.

 Cindy Kusnierz, Baldwin EMC

 

 

BLT-Dip_web

BLT Dip

2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
2 cups mayonnaise
2 pounds sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
6 plum tomatoes, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
Crumbled cooked bacon or thinly sliced green onions, optional
Assorted crackers or chips

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, bacon, tomatoes and onions. Refrigerate until serving. Garnish with bacon and green onions if desired. Serve with crackers or chips. Yield: 6 cups.

Mary Tyler Spivey, AREA

Crock Pot Sour Cream and Bacon Chicken

8 bacon slices
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 10-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded cheddar cheese

Wrap each chicken breast with two pieces of bacon, then place in the bottom of the crock pot. Mix together the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream and fl our. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Margaret Green, Covington EC

 

 

Alabama Gardens: Use spring’s energy to improve your home landscape

Although it can be high-maintenance, grass makes these paths very eye-appealing. Photo by L.A. Jackson
Although it can be high-maintenance, grass makes these paths very eye-appealing.
Photo by L.A. Jackson

By Katie Jackson

The spring awakening has begun and, as our plants wake up from their long winter naps, so does our gardening energy. Why not use some of that energy to make your landscape and food gardens even more appealing?

One exceptional way to apply your gardening energy is to focus your efforts on improving your curb appeal, that term realtors use to describe a front yard that draws in prospective buyers or simply makes your yard a jewel of the neighborhood.

Whether you’re putting a house on the market or simply want to improve the value and looks of your home, investing in your landscape is money well spent. According to real estate experts, an attractive landscape increases a home’s value by up to 15 percent, and money spent on landscaping is estimated to pay for itself five to 10 times over when a home sells. Plus, improving your home’s landscape can make it even more enjoyable for you and your family and also helps address functional issues, such as drainage or erosion problems.

An easy and inexpensive way to immediately increase your curb appeal is to adorn your front steps or porch with pretty plantfilled containers. Or use flowering perennials or annuals to fill window boxes, flowerbeds or line walkways.

Ornamental grasses and groundcovers can also be used to fill empty spots in flowerbeds or cover bare or eroded spots in the yard. And many of those ornamental grasses also make stunning accent plants in the yard or in containers.

A lush vining plant can be the perfect quick-fix option to camouflage a less-than-attractive mailbox, pump house, tool shed or other structure in the yard. Or, if you have a bare outside wall that needs some adornment, train a vine on a trellis or other standalone structure in front of the wall for an almost instant solution.

If you’re willing to dig a little deeper in your pocket and soil to add long-term beauty to your yard, trees and shrubs are the way to go. Trees reportedly offer the greatest return on investment with shrubs being a close second, and a single handsome tree or shrub can instantly fill a bare spot in the landscape, or plant several in strategic spots throughout the yard as accent plants.

Not sure how to get started upgrading your curb appeal? The Alabama Smart Yards publication (available through your local Cooperative Extension office or at www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1359/ANR-1359.pdf) that I oft en mention in this column has a chapter on landscape planning, and local realtors and appraisers often also have guidelines for improving curb appeal. Or just search the web for ideas.

One person’s weed is another’s super food

For example, “super” or “powerhouse” foods are all the rage and include okra, greens (the very hip kale and a new “Peppermint Stick” chard among them) as well as beets, which can be found in a lovely array of colors. But this category of foods also includes plants that may already be in our yards—dandelion greens, nettle and purslane among them. Apparently one person’s weed is another person’s super food.

If you want a “super” berry, consider planting goji berries (also known as wolfberries) or one of the new cultivars of blueberries that come in shades of lemonade pink and peach sorbet. For something especially unusual there is Haskap (also called honeyberry), a member of the honeysuckle family that has elongated blueberry-like fruits that reportedly taste like a cross between blueberries and raspberries.

Tomato lovers may want to try “Indigo” snack-sized tomatoes that come in purple (almost black), gold and indigo and are touted to have exceptional flavor. Or get two crops for the price of one with a pomato, which is a cherry tomato grafted onto a potato plant. And there are even “fruit salad trees,” which are grafted stone fruit, apple and citrus trees that bear up to six different fruits of the same family all on the same tree.

Looking for a small bite? Try “Petipikle,” a new petite pickling cucumber that can be used in the garden or as a container plant. Want an interesting new herb? ‘Zesty Fanfare’ is a Thai basil with long flower spikes that is said to be as beautiful as it is flavorful.

These are just a few of the many interesting fruit and vegetable options to try. Find more online or ask a local plant retailer for suggestions. A word of caution, though: Try these new options in limited numbers to make sure you really like them and they perform well before you forgo those tried-and-true favorites.

Whether you decide to focus your spring energy on food crops or on your landscape—or both—just go out and enjoy the weather!

 

March Tips

Transplant shrubs and trees early in March.

Remove winter mulch from garden beds gradually as the plants show signs of new growth.

Divide and transplant summer-blooming perennials and fertilize established ones as soon as new growth appears.

Add any amendments (composted or processed manure, peat moss, compost, etc.) into your garden soil.

Plant green peas, snow peas, asparagus, horseradish and artichokes early in the month.

Plant eggplant, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, leeks, onions, early potatoes and radish seeds.

Plant strawberries, blueberries, grapes and fruit trees.

Sow seeds for tomatoes, lettuce, carrots and other spring vegetables.

Prune or pinch back house plants that are getting leggy and begin fertilizing them with a diluted solution of plant food.

Begin weeding garden or flowerbeds as soon as weeds emerge.

Clean out birdhouses and feeders.

 

 

 

Bus Station transformed into Freedom Rides Museum

The museum opened in 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.
The museum opened in 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

By Miriam C. Davis

From the outside, the building looks much like it did when I was in college and stopped here on my trips from Mobile to Atlanta – a simple box-like, yellow brick structure. An old-fashioned Greyhound sign still hangs in front. Yet there is something special about this old Montgomery bus station, something I didn’t realize then. It was the site of one of the most dramatic episodes of the fight against Jim Crow.

Ellen Mertins of the Alabama Historical Commission welcomes me to the Freedom Rides Museum and explains, “In the 1990s, this building was deemed ‘historic,’ but it wasn’t until 2008 that the Alabama Historical Commission actually got access to it. The museum opened in 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.”

Outside the building, panels of photographs and text tell the story:  In 1961, Freedom Riders – people committed to non-violence, many of them college students – challenged de facto segregation on the South’s interstate bus transportation system by riding from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans in racially mixed groups. When 20 young Freedom Riders arrived in Montgomery on May 20, they were viciously attacked by an angry white mob. The following night, a mob besieged the church in which the black community had staged a rally to support the Freedom Riders. Local police did nothing to restore order until the threat of federal intervention convinced Alabama Gov. John Patterson to send the National Guard to disperse the crowd, allowing the Freedom Rides to continue.

Inside the building, museum visitors can see exactly what the students were protesting. The old “Colored” entrance is bricked over, but one can see that it wasn’t a proper door at all, just a gap in the wall. Diagrams and pictures convey the second-class experience of black passengers. While the main entrance brought whites into a spacious waiting room and dining counter, the opening in the wall for black customers brought them directly onto the bus platform. They had to walk past buses, through diesel fumes, to their smaller waiting room, dining counter and restroom facilities.

Artists have interpreted their feelings about the Freedom Rides through sculpture, quilts and other media.
Artists have interpreted their feelings about the Freedom Rides through sculpture, quilts and other media.

When the Alabama Historical Commission established the museum, it decided to focus on artistic interpretations of the Freedom Rides. Mertins says it was a way of drawing in people who might not connect with a traditional history museum. Fifteen local and national artists were featured at the museum’s opening, with exhibits ranging from a realistic bronze sculpture depicting “Liberté,” to abstract works such as “Detour,” a mixed media display of wood, metal, and cement.

Several artists chose ordinary objects to celebrate the extraordinary actions of the Freedom Riders. Cindy Buob’s painting “Objections,” is based on mugshots of four Civil Rights workers and conveys how proud they were to be arrested for their cause.  In “By Bus, By Train, By Plane – They Came!” Gwendolyn Magee used a simple quilt to commemorate the names of the 443 “foot soldiers” of the Freedom Rides. Stephen Hayes recycled street signs and an old tire to represent the road to equality in his abstract sculpture, “Detour.”

The artists’ exhibits change every year, renewing the museum experience with fresh perspectives. On my recent visit, I was struck repeatedly by how everyday objects can be transformed to examine and celebrate the extraordinary. One permanent collection piece, Terry S. Hardy’s “Monument,” is constructed with a stack of old suitcases to represent the histories of those traveling on the road to equality. Artist Charlie Lucas used scrap metal to convey the story of the Freedom Riders in “We Ride Together,” a metal sculpture of a Greyhound bus.  Quilt artist Yvonne Wells tells the story of the young activists who persevered against angry mobs in “Let Freedom Ride II.”

My favorite exhibit is by photographer Eric Etheridge. He paired mug shots of the original Montgomery Freedom Riders with recent photographs of them. Life went on for the movement’s heroes, who became pastors, teachers, and business owners – people one might take for ordinary – but who faced very real violence with the gospels of non-violence and equality.

Ultimately, the Freedom Riders’ mission was a success. The violence at the Montgomery Greyhound station inspired more riders to continue the journey from Montgomery into Mississippi. The attention these activists brought to the injustice of segregation led the Interstate Commerce Commission to rule that all facilities in interstate travel must be integrated.

Today, visitors come from all over to learn the story of the Freedom Rides. Take a tour led by one of the museum’s staff. Wander into the “Share Your Story” kiosk and listen to the reminiscences of the Freedom Riders, or record your own reflections on what you’ve learned.

You’ll never look at this ordinary bus station the same way again.

Hundreds of cyclists expected for Gran Fondo race

The 102-mile Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo ride will take place the first week in April.
The 102-mile Cheaha Challenge
Gran Fondo ride will take place the first week in April.

By David Haynes

Each April hundreds of bicyclists from throughout the Southeast and beyond converge on the Calhoun County cities of Anniston and Piedmont to celebrate their sport with a weekend of bicycle-themed festivals, races and the 102-mile Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo ride.

The events are organized and coordinated by the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association (NEABA) and include the Noble Street Festival in Anniston on Saturday, professional bicycle racing in Anniston’s streets Saturday evening, then conclude on Sunday with the Foothills Road Race and the Cheaha Challenge, each of which begin and finish at the Piedmont Civic Center. This year’s events will be April 5 and 6.

Mike Poe, president of the NEABA, said that for most of its 21-year history the Sunday ride from Piedmont to the highest point in Alabama at Mount Cheaha and back was known simply as the “Cheaha Challenge.” Last year they adopted the “Gran Fondo” title. He explained that a Gran Fondo – which is a long bicycle ride with other enhancements like meals and t-shirts added – have been popular in Europe for years. “We realized that the Cheaha Challenge was already being run like a Gran Fondo, so we added the designation,” he says.

The 2013 events were among the best attended ever, Poe says, noting that Sunday morning nearly 900 riders from 26 states pedaled out of Piedmont as participants in either the 72-mile Foothills Road Race or the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo.

The 565 riders in the Cheaha Challenge ranged in skill level and experience from beginning bicyclists to seasoned experts and the format and course for the event was styled accordingly. Poe explained there are five turn-around points at staffed rest stops along the course so cyclists could tailor the ride to their skill and endurance level. Turning around at the first stop made it a 26-mile ride.

Other turn-around points were for total ride lengths of 47, 66, 88 and 102 miles.

Beginning at Piedmont, which is about 700 feet above sea level, the course follows Alabama Highway 9 south to U.S. Highway 78, then to the Skyway Motorway for the long climb to the highest point in Alabama at Mount Cheaha State Park at over 2,400 feet. Those turning around there make a total ride of 88 miles.

For those riding the entire 102-mile course from Piedmont, past Cheaha State Park, to Adams Gap and back, the challenging course had climbs totaling 7,600 feet!

For more details or to register for the Gran Fondo race, visit neabc.org.

Teach your children history by visiting Alabama’s past

Schoolchildren learn about the state’s early days at the new “Alabama Voices” exhibit at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Schoolchildren learn about the state’s early days at the new “Alabama Voices” exhibit at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

By Marilyn Jones

I stand at the top of the Alabama State Capitol steps in Montgomery. Just around the corner to my right is a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Directly on the other side of the building are the flags of every state in the Union. Down the block is Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where a young Martin Luther King served as pastor. And the street straight in front of me is where Selma to Montgomery marchers approached the Capitol seeking voter’s rights in 1965.

Alabama is like this; everywhere there are landmarks pointing to its history dating back to Native Americans, the first European explorers and settlers, the Civil War and civil rights.

Like a great novel, there are many plot twists, characters, places and events. But unlike a good book, we can visit history. It’s all around us; as close as a museum or historic site. As close as the State Capitol where so many significant events took place.

By introducing children to the past, we’re providing them a chance to time-travel; fueling their curiosity and helping them better understand Alabama and American history.

The First Alabamians

The Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center in Fort Mitchell chronicles the Creek Native Americans, who, for centuries, lived here until they faced the assault of Spanish, English and French explorers and settlers.

The Creek War of 1813-1824 and the Creek War of 1836 crippled the Creek Nation resulting in their forced journey west on the Trail of Tears. Thousands of men, women and children died along the way.

The heritage center remembers this tragic time in history as well as celebrates the culture of the Native Americans who inhabited Chattahoochee Valley.

The Old Alabama Gazette and Print Shop is just one of the historic buildings open for touring.
The Old Alabama Gazette and Print Shop is
just one of the historic buildings open for touring.

European occupation

In 1540 Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, accompanied by an army of 600 men, first set foot in what is now Alabama. This was the beginning of European occupation, which lasted until Alabama became a territory in 1817 and then the 22nd state on Dec. 14, 1819.

According to the most recent historic information, the Spaniards entered Alabama along the Coosa River and followed it to what is today Childersburg. DeSoto’s expedition spent a little more than five weeks in the Coosa Indian capital.

The mission had two major objectives, to find gold and to establish the first Spanish colony in the New World. The head of the Coosa Nation welcomed DeSoto during a ceremony that took place near the entrance of DeSoto Caverns.

It ended badly for the Micco, or chief, who offered DeSoto territory to establish a colony. DeSoto, in turn, refused. He had come for gold and took the Micco hostage, enslaved some of the Coosa people and raided their supplies.

The French and English followed the Spanish into Alabama, pushing out Native Americans and establishing forts and communities.

There is a lot to learn about the Childersburg area. A fun place to start is DeSoto Caverns Park. In addition to DeSoto’s journey, cave guides explain how saltpeter was mined in the cave and used to make gunpowder for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and that the cave was later used as a speakeasy during prohibition.

Civil War and civil rights

From the Montgomery inauguration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1861 to Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines protecting Mobile Bay, Alabama has numerous Civil War sites to ignite any child’s curiosity about the war, the politics behind the state’s secession from the Union and slavery.

To further enlighten young minds about slavery, there are several plantations open for tours, each further examining the institution of slavery which factored into Alabama’s decision to secede from the Union in 1861. The Montgomery-Janes-Whittaker House, best known today as Buena Vista, is located south of Prattville and operates as a house museum.

Confederate Army reenactors fire a cannon at Fort Gaines.
Confederate Army reenactors fire a cannon at
Fort Gaines.

A century after the Civil War, Alabama made history as the center of many civil rights events that would bring about positive change in this nation. One of the best sites to visit to better understand the civil rights movement — past and present — is the Civil Rights Memorial & Center in Montgomery.

A feature of the center is the Civil Rights Memorial which honors the achievements and memory of those who died during the civil rights movement between the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.

Tying it all together

One destination that puts the state’s history over the past 300 years into clear focus is the Museum of Alabama at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.

A new gallery, “Alabama Voices,” chronicles the past 300 years of state history beginning with Native American Creeks and newly arriving Europeans. The visual narrative continues through the early years of statehood up until the Civil War: the logistics and economics; the emotions, anxiety and fear.

“Mine, Mills and Mules” follows the years of reconstruction – the growth of railroads, textile and lumber industries, iron production and farm families all leading up to the disastrous economic failure of the 1930s during the Great Depression followed by the New Deal and WW II.

The civil rights movement culminates the new state-of-the-art museum that uses everything at its disposal from priceless artifacts and maps to touch-screen computers and video monitors to tell the state’s story.

Old Alabama Town in Montgomery is another excellent attraction to help children visualize the past. Covering six blocks, the 19th century village features houses original to the neighborhood and others moved here from other locations throughout the state. Costumed docents add to the village’s charm.

Bringing in the butterflies

A wide hydrangea bloom makes dining on nectar easy for this Black Swallowtail. Photo by L.A. Jackson
A wide hydrangea bloom makes dining on nectar easy for this
Black Swallowtail. Photos by L.A. Jackson

By L. A. Jackson 

Spring is an ideal time for gardeners who love ornamental plants to plan for not only a bountiful show of blooms but also butterflies. That’s right–butterflies.

These bright flits of kinetic color are enough to make even the most distracted backyard grower take notice. Of course, stray butterflies will fly into the garden just about any time during the spring and summer months, but when it comes to finding these beautiful winged insects in the landscape, the more the merrier! And the best way to bring in more butterflies is to simply offer them something to eat.

This can be done by serving up plants off of butterflies’ Most Preferred List, which is actually two lists because mature butterflies go for flowering, nectar-producing plants, while their young–caterpillars–prefer to munch on plant foliage. Some butterflies are pretty finicky eaters, but in general, there are plenty of plants around that will attract a large assortment of these beauties.

Nectar-loving adults are, of course, drawn to blooming plants. They seem to favor plants with red flowers first, followed then by yellows, pinks, whites and purples. Also, they like blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered to allow them to land so they can feed while in park. Call it a fly-in diner, if you will.

And what specific kinds of flowers can be classified as butterfly magnets? Spring bloomers such as primrose, money plant, lilac, sweet William, rock cress and candytuft are great for attracting an assorted variety of adult butterflies at the beginning of the growing season.

In the summer, butterfly weed, bee balm, purple coneflower, butterfly bush, cosmos, daylilies, lantana, periwinkle, scabiosa, lavender, hydrangeas, yarrow, zinnias, phlox and verbena are some good choices to take over from the spring flowers and continue bringing butterflies into your garden.

Butterflies will flock to fall flowers as well. Sedums, asters, salvias and swamp sunflower are a few of the better late-blooming butterfly baits.

The blossoms of many native trees also double as desirable food for adult butterflies. Examples include tulip poplar, wild cherry, sassafras, persimmon, hackberry, redbud and pawpaw.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail exploring a butterfly bush blossom.
An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail exploring a
butterfly bush blossom.

Even weeds will draw these winged beauties into your yard. Clover, henbit, morning glory and dandelion are all native “volunteer” plants that pop up in the landscape and serve as sources for nectar.

The difference between a “weed” and a “native plant” often lies in its desirability in the garden. Many native plants are simply too pretty to not be included in cultivated gardens, and as a bonus, their nectar also attracts adult butterflies. Such indigenous lovelies include liatris, black-eyed Susan, cardinal flower, coreopsis, Indian blanket, ironweed, goldenrod and Joe-pye weed.

Butterfly larvae also like weeds. And since they munch on the foliage of these plants that many gardeners find undesirable, the caterpillars are actually helping with landscape maintenance. Some caterpillars chew on certain tree leaves as well. Elm, river birch, poplar, willow, dogwood and cherry trees seem to be tops on many of their dining lists. But as long as these leaf-eaters keep damage to a minimum, it is easy to live with their presence.

Interestingly, some butterfly caterpillars tend to be plant-specific–in other words, very picky about what kind of greenery they eat. A good example is butterfly weed. While this native perennial’s nectar is a big favorite for many different adult butterflies, its foliage is especially sought out by Monarch larvae. This is also true for many of the other related plants in the Milkweed family.

As a similar example, Black Swallowtail caterpillars have a preference to feed on the native golden Alexander as well as related plants–and this sometimes gets them in trouble. Golden Alexander is from Parsley family, which also includes three other plants young Black Swallowtails prefer: the popular garden herbs parsley, fennel and dill. However, many concerned herbalists coexist with these larvae by either picking them off the plants and moving them to other greenery, or planting more parsley, fennel and dill than man or beast will ever consume in a summer.

And the Spicebush Swallowtail actually gets its name from the source of its larvae’s preferred food: the spicebush, which is a small native shrub often found on flood plains and along ditch banks.

A good way to attract more adult butterflies into a garden is to concentrate the right plants in large enough numbers so these fliers can easily see what you have to offer when they are flitting through the neighborhood. A clump or two of purple coneflowers won’t effectively do the job, but a massed bed or border filled with these plants in full bloom will be a big neon sign that, to butterflies, spells “F-O-O-D!”

Another trick for bringing in butterflies is to add shallow dishes of water, wet sand or mud in the garden. You will be surprised how many of these winged beauties will congregate around such watering holes! Since butterflies also like sweets, sugar, honey or pieces of fruit can be added to enhance this butterfly bar, but be forewarned that such treats will also catch the attention of ants, wasps and bees.

One more amenity that can appeal to these wonderful winged insects is large, flat rocks placed in an area that receives the morning sun. Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures and will seek out such toasty spots to warm themselves up at the start of a new day.

Of course, if you are committed to bringing in more butterflies to your garden this growing season, one other item you might think about picking up is a good book that identifies the different types of butterflies in your region. It can become a fascinating hobby, and, after all, you wouldn’t want to mistake an American Painted Lady for a Great Spangled Fritillary, would you?

 

Butterflies and Insecticides

Being insects, butterflies will not fare well in a garden that is heavily dependent on insecticides to keep bad bugs at bay. In particular, broad spectrum insecticides–commercial concoctions that usually list on their labels dozens and dozens of different bugs they kill–are especially dangerous for butterflies. Probably less known is the fact that systemic insecticides can be equally hazardous because they make all parts of the plants poisonous to insects, meaning they put both leaf-munching butterfly caterpillars and nectar-sipping adults at risk.

An easy way to deal with damaging bugs in a dedicated butterfly garden is to lessen the need for insect poisons by picking more plants that are insect-resistant. There are plenty of modern cultivars that have been developed to be less appealing to destructive insects, but for time-tested toughness, also consider native plants. By their evolved nature, most indigenous plants have survived and thrived in the wild against bad bugs, so including some of them in your landscape is another kinder, gentler step towards creating a butterfly-friendly garden.

 

L.A. Jackson has been a garden editor, lecturer and writer for over 20 years and has led many tours overseas through the great gardens of Europe. He lives in North Carolina.

Worth the Drive: Chicken wings are over. Long live Big Daddy’s hog wings!

The delicious "hog wing" is just the start of a delectable dining experience at Fairhope's Big Daddy's Grill.
The delicious “hog wing” is just the start of a delectable dining experience at Fairhope’s Big Daddy’s Grill.

By Jennifer Kornegay

I am anticipating a few emails about this, as I know there are folks out there who really, really like buffalo chicken wings, but I cannot tell a lie and must, as a journalist, present the facts I find. So here goes: The chicken wing is over. Finished. Done. As over-cooked as, well, a dried-out chicken wing.

I came to this conclusion by accident; I wasn’t looking to kill off a casual-dining icon. While having lunch at Big Daddy’s Grill in Fairhope, “Hog Wings” on the appetizer menu caught my attention, so I ordered one. (If you’re a regular reader of this column, you may think it odd that I asked for only one of anything, but when my waitress illustrated the size of a hog wing with her hands, I decided to play it safe. Plus, I still had an entrée coming.)

Minutes later, my red plastic basket arrived with my one hog wing, (and since it was not quite as big as the waitress had intimated—wonder how she is at judging fish size—I was already wishing I’d ordered at least two).

It was glistening with a thin layer of ruddy red sauce clinging to its meat, which, if you hadn’t fi gured it out by now, is pork. Of course, pigs don’t fl y, unless hell freezes over and the sun rises in the west first, so a hog “wing” is actually a pork shank.

The expansive deck at Big Daddy's overlooks the Fish River.
The expansive deck at Big Daddy’s overlooks the Fish River.

The exposed leg bone makes a handy handle, but I decided I’d use my manners and therefore, used my fork. Tender bite-sized pieces easily slid off the bone, and the flavorful tomato-based sauce was spicy without any real burn. Simply put, it was delicious and better than a chicken wing in several definitive ways. 1) The ratio of meat to bone is easily 4 to 1, instead of a chicken wing’s 2 to 1, on a good day. 2) Th is much more meat takes so much less work to get into. 3) There are no gooey, fatty parts or hard, chewy parts and, this is important, no tendons!

If any of this appeals to you, I urge you make your way to Big Daddy’s because hog wings are really just the beginning. Situated so near the coast, Big Daddy’s is mostly known for its fresh Gulf seafood, much of it served up fried, grilled or blackened on a bed of shredded lettuce in a po-boy or in a basket.

Big, plump shrimp with a dusting of seasonings and a buttery sheen filled over half of my blackened basket, with the other space occupied by coleslaw, hushpuppies and sweet potato fries. As an imperative on the menu instructed, I asked for a cup of Mo-Dat sauce, which, as the menu insisted, really does make everything taste better. The peachy-pink condiment is a cross between the dipping sauce at popular chicken-finger restaurants and a basic Alabama barbecue sauce, thinner and sweeter than the former and creamier that the latter. It’s good on shrimp, fries, hushpuppies and even the coleslaw.

You can eat it all on Big Daddy’s deck overlooking the lazy Fish River. A wooden counter and simple picnic tables topped with tear-off brown paper towels and tin buckets covered in beer logos full of cocktail sauce and ketchup are lined up so each has a nice view of the South Alabama scenery, and an outdoor bar ensures the easy and timely delivery of adult libations.

While Big Daddy’s waterfront spot probably has a lot to do with its popularity, it was pretty packed on a Sunday in January at 2 p.m., when it was far too chilly to enjoy the outdoor space. I’d wager that Big Daddy’s got so big, thanks not to location, location, location but to its tasty combo of location, fresh seafood and hog wings.

 

Visit Yo Daddy

Big Daddy’s Grill
16542 Ferry Road
Fairhope, AL
251-990-8555
www.bigdaddysgrill.net