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Don’t be misled by false Medicare or Social Security ads

Online and otherwise, there’s a lot of information out there, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what sources are credible. With millions of people relying on Social Security, scammers target audiences who are looking for program and benefit information.

The law that addresses misleading Social Security and Medicare advertising prohibits people or non-government businesses from using words or emblems that mislead others. Their advertising can’t lead people to believe that they represent, are somehow affiliated with, or endorsed or approved by Social Security or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Medicare).

People are often misled by advertisers who use the terms “Social Security” or “Medicare.” Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting:

  • A corrected Social Security card showing a person’s married name;
  • A Social Security card to replace a lost card;
  • A Social Security Statement; and
  • A Social Security number for a child.

If you receive misleading information about Social Security, send the complete ad, including the envelope, to:

Office of the Inspector General

Fraud Hotline

Social Security Administration

P.O. Box 17768

Baltimore, MD 21235

You can learn more about how we combat fraudulent advertisers by reading our publication What You Need to Know About Misleading Advertising at

You can also report Social Security fraud to the Office of the Inspector General at

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

How do you ‘cue?


We’ve all got our own preferences, so feel free to have your barbecue your way.

Pork, beef or chicken? Ribs or other cuts? If other cuts, pulled, sliced or chopped and then tucked between a bun or mounded on a plate? Dry rub or sauce? And on the sauce: thick or thin? Spicy, sweet or tangy? Yellow, red or Alabama white?

     Despite multiple differences, some substantial, some subtle, in the styles and schools of barbecue served across our region, as a general food category, it’s firmly rooted in the South’s culinary consciousness. But there are internal debates down here. Some purists insist if it isn’t cooked low and slow over hardwood coals, it isn’t authentic barbecue. Some folks believe if it isn’t pork, it can’t be called ‘cue. But most of us enjoy it — or at least its signature tastes — almost any way we can get it.

     Barbecue’s flavors have made their way far beyond traditional proteins to be found on shrimp and grilled fish. Heck, they’re no longer confined to meat. BBQ potato chips or nachos, anyone?

     And while truly GREAT barbecue can be a bit elusive, and no matter where your allegiances lie, it’s hard to find bad barbecue simply because there’s so much of it.

     In Alabama, we’ve got plenty of contenders when it comes to restaurant barbecue, from big-name chains to ramshackle shacks pumping out savory scented, siren-song smoke. And in the barbecue game, “amateurs” compete with the pro pitmasters, sometimes at events and often, just in spirit; plenty of home cooks swear (and their friends and neighbors stand by their stories) that their sauce reigns supreme and their ‘cue is championship-grade.

     Some of our own readers have shown themselves to be quite confident in their barbecue skills by sharing their prized recipes. Try one or two, and feel free to add your own takes or twists. The only real rule when it comes to barbecue? Cook and eat what you like.

Cook of the Month:

Glenda Weigel, Baldwin EMC

Glenda Weigel had her first introduction to barbecue shrimp on a trip to New Orleans more than 20 years ago and thought the flavor combo was spectacular. She’s been making her barbecue shrimp ever since. It’s become a fixture in her kitchen, thanks to its delectability and its versatility. “Everyone likes it; it’s so good,” she says. “And you can make it any time of year. It’s really season-less. It’s just as good in the summer as it is at a Christmas party, and it does make a great party food.” It’s also pretty simple to make. “It’s so easy, anyone can do it, even your husband!” she says.


Barbecued Shrimp

  • 24 large shrimp (shelled, deveined, tails left on)
  • 24 slices bacon
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • Remove shells and butterfly the shrimp. (Cut down the back and open up. Devein, but leave the tail on as a handle.) Place a piece of onion on the shrimp. Fold it up and wrap a piece of bacon around it, and secure it with a toothpick. Fix the rest of the shrimp in this way. Mix the remaining ingredients together to make a New Orleans-style BBQ sauce. Pour this over all the shrimp. Leave in this marinade for one hour. Turn shrimp a couple of times while in marinade. Barbecue over medium fire until the shrimp are cooked and the bacon is crispy.


Smoked Fattie

  • 1 pound premium bulk pork breakfast sausage
  • 2 tablespoons BBQ rub of choice, divided
  • 1 1-gallon seal-top bag
  • 1 7.5-ounce cream cheese with chives, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons green or red bell pepper, minced
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Prepare grill for indirect cooking or smoker at 250 degrees. Remove sausage from wrapper and place in the seal-top bag. Using a rolling pin, begin flattening the sausage to completely fill the bag and return to the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to re-chill. Sauté onions and pepper in butter/oil until soft. Remove the sausage from the refrigerator, open the top, and with a sharp pair of scissors, cut down each side of the bag but leave it in one piece; this helps in rolling. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of BBQ rub evenly over the sausage. Spread cream cheese over the sausage to within about ½-inch of the edges. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese and vegetables over the cream cheese. Using the plastic bag, roll the sausage into a roll like a jelly roll. Be sure no plastic is left on the sausage. Sprinkle the remaining BBQ rub on the outside of the roll. Place sausage roll in the smoker/grill and cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Allow to rest, covered, for 20 minutes before slicing.

Elmer Vick

Baldwin EMC

Satisfying Succulent Southwestern Barbecued Pork Ribs

  • 3-4 pounds pork ribs, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1-2 onions, sliced
  • 1 cup green peppers, chopped
  • Hot chili peppers, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup root beer

Place ribs in a pan and season with salt and pepper. Brown in 450-degree oven. Cover with onions and peppers. Combine remaining ingredients; pour over meat. Cover tightly and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Baste occasionally. Uncover for the last 15 minutes to brown.

Lexi Turnipseed

Dixie EC

Spicy BBQ Pork Chops

  • 1/3 cup hickory barbecue sauce
  • 1/3 cup steak sauce
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 6 bone-in pork chops

Mix liquid ingredients and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Grill covered until temperature reaches 145 degrees, brushing with sauce frequently. Let stand 5 minutes and serve.

Debbie Headley

South Alabama EC

Alabama’s Own

In addition to some of the storied barbecue institutions that are home-based here, our state has another claim to barbecue fame: Alabama white sauce. This tangy, mayo-based liquid goes well with almost anything, but bathe some slow-smoke-roasted chicken with it, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. Sources trace its roots back to North Alabama, where Bob Gibson is said to have first concocted it in Decatur in 1925 when he opened Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q. Its popularity and use have grown and spread alongside the fame of the restaurant and that of current pitmaster and chef Chris Lilly, husband to Big Bob’s great granddaughter, and a member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame.

Aunt Masa’s Soul Sauce (Barbecue Sauce)

  • 1 10-ounce can Heinz ketchup (do not substitute)
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 pint Frank’s Hot Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and simmer until the desired consistency. Put into pint canning jars and either refrigerate or process in water bath canner for 20 minutes. This BBQ sauce is great on anything that you barbecue or would normally add BBQ sauce to.

Marsha S. Gardner

Baldwin EMC

Al’s BBQ Sauce

  • ¼ cup oil
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 8  or 10-ounce tomato sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4-6 shakes hot sauce
  • 20 ounces ketchup
  • 10 ounces Heinz 57
  • 4 ounces liquid smoke
  • ½ cup honey
  • Spices: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion flakes

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a slow boil. Simmer 15 minutes. Cool. For ¼ chicken, BBQ 45 minutes; ½ chicken, BBQ 90 minutes. Cook’s tip: For a dark sauce, substitute A1 Sauce for Heinz 57. For Texas chicken: Make a sop of 50 percent vinegar, 50 percent oil and a good shot of pepper. Sop chicken until 20 minutes before done. Then add BBQ sauce.

Sandra Largen

Central Alabama EC

White BBQ Sauce

  • 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Mix together and use for basting. Great on chicken. Cook in oven or open grill.

Betty Moore

Franklin EC

Coming up in October… BBQ!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

November: Nuts | Sept. 8

December: Party Foods | Oct 8

January: Protein Packed | Nov. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Small game animals are a great introduction to hunting

Steven Felsher, Brett Pratt and Chester Thompson look for squirrels in a grove of towering white oaks. Squirrels like hardwood trees that produce abundant nuts. Photo by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Many young sportsmen begin hunting by accompanying a father, grandfather, other relative or friend looking for small game. Young hunters usually see more game and fire their guns more often when hunting small game than when sitting still and quiet for long hours in a deer stand. Following behind an experienced hunter, youngsters also learn valuable woodsmanship and stalking skills.

“Small game hunting provides a great opportunity to engage new hunters in active pursuit hunting methods without being confined to a shooting house often associated with deer hunting,” says Steve Barnett, an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologist. “Roaming the woods for small game with a mentor hones woodsmanship skills and provides an outdoor classroom for plant and animal sign identification as a bonus.”

In Alabama, squirrel and rabbit seasons run concurrently. They open on Sept. 15 and run through March 3, 2019. People can bag up to eight rabbits and eight squirrels per day.

“Most regions of the state have good, stable numbers of rabbits and squirrels,” Barnett says. “Areas managed for mast producing hardwoods such as oaks provide some of the best habitat for squirrels. Open habitats such as fallow fields, new clear-cuts and brushy openings are havens for rabbits.”

When looking for squirrels, move slowly through forests. Take a few steps, then stop, look and listen. Watch trees for movement or anything unusual. Periodically, sit on a log or lean against a tree to listen for claws scratching on bark, objects dropping or branches shaking. Also listen for barking squirrels.

Many sportsmen hunt squirrels in teams, an excellent idea with accompanying youngsters. When teams detect a squirrel, but can’t quite locate it, one person can remain motionless while the other walks around the tree. Squirrels frequently try to keep tree trunks between themselves and danger. If the squirrel reacts to the person walking, it might present a shot to the other sportsman.

For fox squirrels, sportsmen might head to Oakmulgee or Blue Spring Wildlife Management Areas. One of the oldest and perhaps the most scenic WMA in the state, Oakmulgee covers 44,500 acres of Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties about 25 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa. Part of the 392,567-acre Talladega National Forest, the habitat consists mostly of hills covered in mature open longleaf pine forests with periodic upland hardwood forests and swampy drainages. People can also hunt the surrounding national forest.

Blue Spring WMA covers 24,783 acres of pine flatwoods periodically dotted by hardwood strands in the Conecuh National Forest near Andalusia. Other WMAs that offer good squirrel hunting include Black Warrior near Moulton, Barbour near Clayton, the Jackson County WMAs, James D. Martin-Skyline near Scottsboro, Upper Delta by Mobile and William R. Ireland, Sr.-Cahaba near West Blocton.

Since the seasons run concurrently, many people lump squirrel and rabbit hunting together. True, squirrel hunters occasionally kick up a cottontail while walking along the wooded edge of field or jump a big swamp rabbit in a hardwood thicket, but people hunt squirrels and rabbits in completely different ways.

Most people use trained beagles to flush rabbits from impenetrable thickets. When a rabbit bolts from cover, shooters must react fast. Difficult, but not impossible, some hunters bag rabbits without dogs by taking turns smashing through thickets, kicking grass clumps or fallen logs as others watch for anything that might run out. Chokepoints that limit where rabbits can run, such as openings in fences or narrow strips of high ground in a flooded wetland, also make good places to hunt rabbits.

Many WMAs across the state allow rabbit hunting. Some better ones include Choccolocco near Heflin, the Jackson County WMAs, Lowndes near White Hall, Sam R. Murphy near Guin and Skyline. For the best chances at bagging a swamp rabbit, visit the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

“There are ample hunting opportunities on all WMAs that have rabbit and squirrel seasons,” Barnett says. “Most areas are underutilized for small game.”

In addition, several Special Opportunity Areas will hold small game hunts. Fred T. Stimpson SOA in Clarke County will hold special youth squirrel hunts. Other rabbit and squirrel hunts will be held in Cedar Creek and Portland Landing SOAs in Dallas County and Uchee Creek SOA in Russell County. For details, see

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: Southern by the signs

You remember a couple of years ago when they busted TV’s Miss Cleo?

She was the Jamaican psychic whose “hotline” offered free “supernatural insight into love and money.”

Well, according to authorities, Miss Cleo (who was really Youree Dell Harris of Los Angeles) used the old “bait and switch” on folks who called in. She came on the line and told them to phone another number which, it turned out, charged them about $5 a minute.

Now I figure that many of Miss Cleo’s callers could have been Southerners.

Not only do we talk a lot (ask us the time of day and we tell you how to make a watch), we have a history of trying to hook up with the supernatural.

Many among us regularly consult the astrological section of an almanac and schedule everything from planting to procreating according to the alignment of heavenly bodies.   

Others consult folks like Henry Baysmore.

Back in the 1930s, the 75-year-old Baysmore was interviewed at his Montgomery home.  He told how he “started out to be a preacher once” and seemed on the road to success until he found that the Bible said that ministers should keep themselves “unspotted from the world.” He was OK with that until he found that the Good Book also said ministers should “visit the widows.”

That presented a problem for, he observed, if “you have ever been acquainted with any widows, you know a preacher can’t visit them and keep himself unspotted.”

So, he told his visitor, “I give up preachin’.”

What did he do then? He became Montgomery’s Miss Cleo.

Those were Depression years and people were uneasy. So Baysmore had plenty of visitors who “wanted to see into the future.” Such advice did not come cheap, $10 a session, but if they protested he simply told them, “If you can’t afford ten dollars for a little supernatural information” then they would suffer the consequences.

So they paid up.

Though Henry Baysmore gave up preaching to become a psychic, some time ago, riding through Wilcox County, I saw a sign announcing that “Dr. Black,” the “Holy Profet of God,” had discovered a way to combine the two.

Apparently ignoring the problem with widows, “Dr. Black” found scriptural foundation for his calling in First Samuel where Saul tries to figure out how to pay a seer for helping him recover some runaway asses. Figuring if Saul could, so could he, and Dr. Black opened the “House of Prayer and Faith,” where religion and folklore were bundled together for believers.

According to the sign, anyone who was “crossed up,” “troubled,” or suffering from what he called, with a fine feeling for words, “Lost Nature,” should take Dr. Black on as their “Spiritual Reader and Advisor.”

I bet business was brisk.

We all know that since forever, a sizable segment of the South’s population has believed that greater forces are at work in the world and that there are special people who can understand them. Sometimes the gifted are found in churches that focus on biblical prophecy and mystical communications like speaking in tongues. Other times these spiritual advisors are found outside any religious congregation, out on the fringes of society.

But remember, historically, it is on the fringes of society that so many Southerners have lived. And those Southerners, in trying to deal with troubling questions, have turned to the Bible, the Almanac, preachers, teachers, and people like Baysmore, and Black.

Some even called Miss Cleo – long distance.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living.  He can be reached at

From trial size to supersized: Solar surges in rural communities

By Tracy Warren

Five years ago, many people in the electric industry viewed solar energy as a kind of “boutique” resource––more an energy accessory than a real power supply option. But in the last half-decade, as the costs to install solar went down and electric utilities gained experience with this unique energy resource, there has been a dramatic transformation, and solar energy has made the jump to the big leagues.

At local electric cooperatives, consumer-members were asking questions about whether this new technology would be suitable either for their own home or for the cooperative.

Given the high cost to install solar, electric co-ops had questions about the economic feasibility of solar and its effect on the electric system. Even with federal tax incentives, the cost of solar was not competitive with other resources such as wind and natural gas.

Engineers also had questions. What happens to the system when the sun doesn’t shine? Or even more tricky: what happens on those days when multiple clouds sail by, making a strobe light out of the sun?

To answer these questions, co-ops started installing small arrays, analyzing costs and efficiency. Five years ago, compared to other resources, many concluded solar was still simply too expensive.

Solar Array

The cost of panels and equipment was not the only reason solar was expensive. There were also soft costs, like training, business processes and software. There was little standardization among solar projects––every project was unique. Engineers and resource planners, unfamiliar with this technology, needed training and technical assistance. Financial partners still needed convincing when it came to investing in large-scale solar projects.

As the solar industry started growing, thanks in part to tax credits and other policy incentives, the cost of solar panels and other equipment started declining; the economics started changing.

In 2014, 17 electric co-ops joined with their national trade organization, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), to collaborate on solar installations in 10 states whose combined solar capacity would be 23 megawatts. The goal of the project was to make solar more affordable for electric co-ops by driving down the soft costs.

The project, which received funding from the Department of Energy, aimed to create a network of experts within the cooperative community. By sharing information and expertise, co-op experts could make solar installations easier and less financially risky for other co-ops to follow suit.

Over the course of this project, the cost of solar fell dramatically. For example, one co-op that built a solar installation at the beginning of the project and another one two years later, found the cost was half what it had been two years earlier. In 2013, the cost was $4.50 per watt of installed solar, and in 2016, the cost was $1.74 per watt.

As more electric co-ops gained experience and shared information about what worked and what didn’t, the risks that come with innovation and change also went down. Solar became more doable for cooperatives large and small.

With the decline in costs and the increase in knowledge and understanding, solar has taken off in rural communities. The proof is in the numbers. Today, America’s electric co-ops own or purchase more than nine times as much photovoltaic solar power as they did in 2013. And by the end of 2019, the combined solar capacity of America’s electric cooperatives is expected to surpass a gigawatt.

Tracy Warren writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Alabama National Guard welcomes first black female pilot

When 2nd Lt. Kayla Freeman wore her wings for the first time on the stage of Fort Rucker’s Army Aviation school, she didn’t consider how historically impactful the moment was.

Freeman, whose June 21 graduation made her the first black female pilot in the Alabama National Guard, graduated from Tuskegee University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace science engineering.

“I didn’t think about making history when I started this journey. I just wanted to do the best that I could do and hopefully inspire a few people along the way,” she says.

That’s a goal she has also accomplished, with Freeman being inundated with congratulations, well-wishes, and messages of appreciation in the few weeks after her achievement.

Freeman said she was honored to have her wings pinned by a longtime hero and fellow history-maker, retired Col. Christine “Nickey” Knighton.

Knighton was the second black woman in the Department of Defense to earn her aviator wings, the first from Georgia, and also the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion.

“Col. Knighton has been an inspiration to me since college,” Freeman says. “I felt that it was only right to have her pin me.”

Freeman also lists Knighton as one of her main role models, along with her own grandfather, and the pioneering female Tuskegee Airmen like Mildred Carter.

Like Knighton before her, Freeman’s inspirations led her to attend Tuskegee University and enroll in the historic institute’s ROTC program. She said she knew since she was a child that she wanted to fly, and said it was discipline, perseverance, and faith that helped her achieve that goal.

“You can’t let mistakes and setbacks keep you down,” she says. “Learn from them and continue moving forward. Most importantly keep God first and He will direct your path.”

Maj. Gen. Sheryl Gordon applauded Freeman’s historic accomplishment. Gordon is the first female general officer in the Alabama National Guard and is now the first female to serve as its adjutant general.

“We take the ideals of equal opportunity very seriously,” Gordon says, “and we’re extremely proud of 2nd Lt. Freeman’s achievements. She is further proof that we don’t see race or gender in the Alabama Guard – we see soldiers and airmen and their potential.

“She has worked very hard to earn those wings, and that’s a great example for all of us.”

Currently at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to the Middle East as a platoon leader in the Alabama National Guard’s 1-169th Aviation Battalion, Freeman’s mind is on the mission. After that, she said, her plans are simple: keep going.

“I just plan to continue to develop my skills as an officer and aviator, as well as mentoring others.”

In her civilian career, Freeman is an aerospace engineer at U.S. Army Aviation Development Test Activity at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

Snapshots: County Fairs

Lilly and her best friend Terryn, both 10 years old, riding the carousel at the National Peanut Festival. SUBMITTED BY Lindsey Winburn, New Brockton.

Sunset at the 2014 Cullman County Fair.SUBMITTED BY Cindy Wilson, Cullman.

Miranda, Eliott and Ellyott Stanton at the Baldwin County Fair. SUBMITTED BY Miranda Stanton, Loxley.

Kamikaze ride at the 2017 Cullman County Fair. SUBMITTED BY Chris Sears, Cullman.

Little Miss Cullman County Fair – Isabella Grace Jones, September 2017. Winning prizes and a crown at our county fair! SUBMITTED BY Tina Jones, Vinemont.

Montana Rain Mathewson’s first Poultry Show at the Dekalb County Fair. SUBMITTED BY Rosa Lee Weaver, Henagar.

Submit Your Images! November Theme: “Veterans” Deadline for Nov: Sept. 29. Submit photos online: or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.


Inventing a new solution for greenhouse gas

Co-ops and scientists team up on an innovative approach to energy and the environment.

Later this year, five teams of scientists and engineers from around the world will start packing up and relocating their laboratories to a patchwork of gravel lots next to a coal-fired power plant in northeast Wyoming. Their mission: nothing less than finding beneficial ways to reuse greenhouse gas that’s released into the Earth’s atmosphere.

They aim to grab the carbon dioxide gas from the burning coal before it can contribute to climate change, and turn it into something that might be part of everyday life, like concrete, plastic or liquid fuel.

Dan Walsh sees value in the Wyoming research even beyond reducing the environmental effects of coal plants. Walsh is the senior power supply and generation director for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). He says it would be great if we stopped thinking of the carbon in carbon dioxide as nothing more than waste.

“We see a need to take carbon dioxide and turn it into a useful product,” says Walsh. That won’t only reduce waste at coal power plants, he says, but also for users of other carbon-based fuels like natural gas and gasoline.

“The electric power industry is no longer the largest generator of carbon. The transportation industry now owns that title,” says Walsh. “We have to do something, not just for power, but for the planet to come up with a way to utilize carbon dioxide in a beneficial way.”

A breakthrough for humanity

The Wyoming launching pad for that high-flying goal brings together far-flung partners—from the state’s governor, to electric co-ops, to a group that awards multi-million dollar prizes “to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”

Two years ago, the XPRIZE, a private innovation group based in California, announced $20 million in prizes “for transformational approaches to converting (carbon dioxide) emissions into valuable products.” The final prizes will be awarded in 2020.

In May of this year, XPRIZE narrowed the applicants to 10. Five of those will be setting up shop later this year on the Wyoming test site. The other five will be operating out of Alberta, Canada.

Electric co-ops have a special stake in the Wyoming test site: the power plant is owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which is based in North Dakota; and financial support has come from another co-op, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association based in Colorado, as well as the NRECA.

The XPRIZE finalists that will be building their labs at the Wyoming site are:

BREATHE—from India, working to produce methanol, which can be used as a liquid fuel.

C4X—from China, developing new ways to produce plastics.

Carbon Capture Machine—from Scotland, producing building materials.

CarbonCure—from Canada, specializing in cement and concrete processes and products.

Carbon Upcycling UCLA—from California, making a substitute for concrete.

During the next six months, those teams will be setting up “mini-factories” at the Wyoming test site, says Jason Begger, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, which oversees the site, whose formal name is the Wyoming Integrated Test Center.

Begger says the teams will be setting up to access the ductwork and piping providing flue gas from the power plant, which contains about 12 percent carbon dioxide. They’ll be developing the technology to separate and convert the carbon dioxide from the flue gas and show that their projects can turn waste carbon into useful products.

The test center project started with a state government initiative to plan for the future of the region’s coal resources, and has been quickly connecting to the larger worldwide effort to capture and use carbon dioxide. In June, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority formally partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Carbon Capture Center, a testing site in Alabama established about nine years ago. That agreement will mean closer cooperation with the Carbon Capture Center’s experience and its network of experts.

Connecting with other researchers

The Department of Energy’s Carbon Capture Program Manager John Litynski explains how the agreement benefits the Carbon Capture Center as well: “We can only test up to 1.5 megawatts, which we call small pilot scale. The Wyoming test center has the capability to test up to 18 megawatts … which we would call large pilot.”

For years, the Department of Energy has been exploring ways to remove the carbon dioxide from power plant emissions. The basic problem they’ve been trying to solve is that the process is expensive and uses up a huge share of the electricity produced by the power plant in the first place. One of the longstanding ideas for managing greenhouse gases has been to remove the carbon dioxide from the power plant emissions, then inject into underground rock formations, an idea called carbon capture and storage.

But the XPRIZE and the Wyoming test center take the different approach of finding something more useful to do with the carbon dioxide than storing it permanently underground.

The Department of Energy has recently been adding the quest for new uses of carbon dioxide to its research. The main focus of the DOE effort is to search for better ways to remove the carbon dioxide from power plant emissions. The DOE’s Litynski says that this year the department is spending $90 million to research carbon capture. It’s spending about $12 million on carbon utilization, up from about $1 million three years ago. This summer, DOE issued a $13 million request for research projects on “Novel methods for making products from carbon dioxide or coal.”

While headlines about coal and climate change have been generating controversy around the globe, the Wyoming test center is heading in a different direction. NRECA’s Dan Walsh credits the center’s international collaboration of government, private groups and electric co-ops with “a great vision” for rethinking one of the world’s biggest energy dilemmas.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Protect man’s best friend with adequate shelter

Many of our outdoor dogs could use extra bit of TLC. The primary concern is safety. They need to be in a confined space. Four dogs were shot and killed in our tiny neighborhood in the last 3 years for trespassing. A few months ago, as I was coming home from work, I watched a young German shepherd proudly trotting back from a chicken house with a chicken in its mouth. Next time, he may not be so lucky and will run a risk of getting shot.

An ideal boundary is a physical boundary, like a good quality fence, 4 to 6 feet tall. These fences are not hard to build. In deciding on the height of your fence, take into consideration your dog’s jumping or climbing abilities.

Half to one acre of fenced area will be sufficient in most cases. The cost is not exorbitant. One can plant evergreen trees along the fence to make their house an island of tranquility and increase their property value.

The perimeter can also be established with an “invisible fence.” For some highly impulsive dogs, the wireless fences may not work. When they are chasing something, they simply ignore the electronic signal but when things settle and it is time to come home, they don’t want to risk coming back though the radio field again. Please talk to a professional.

Placing a dog on a restraint, such as a chain or tether, can be OK if done for a short period, or while supervised, and if the tether is secured in such a way that it can’t become entangled with other objects. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained or intensively confined in any way, can become neurotic, unhappy, anxious and often aggressive. Also, collars should be comfortable and fitted properly.

After the perimeter comes the concern of shelter. Our summers are brutal and our winters can be challenging. A good rule of thumb: if it isn’t tolerable for you, it probably isn’t tolerable for them. A simple hut with raised flooring can be easily built over a weekend. It is wise to block north, south and west sides of the shelter. If constructing a building is not in your plan, buy the biggest enclosure you can afford. Place the enclosure about 6 to 8 inches above ground on a small deck. If you don’t have a garage full of power tools, this a valid excuse to buy some.

Be careful about providing heat for the winter months in the shelter. A friend’s mobile home caught fire from the heating lamp in the dog shelter. Have a qualified electrician handle any electrical work.

Dogs are social animals! Even outdoor dogs need regular human interaction. If possible, bring the dogs inside after dark. In the end, let’s not forget them outside!

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.

Take to the trails

Varied terrain makes Alabama a mountain biking destination

By John N. Felsher | Photos by Billy Pope, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Chewacla State Park has become a prime destination for mountain bikers. The Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP) group has constructed many miles of biking trails and structures such as this ramp at the park.

Many Americans grew up riding bicycles as their primary form of independent transportation until they learned how to drive automobiles. In recent years, cycling enthusiasts have taken their sport to higher levels, literally and figuratively. Today, Alabama offers riders abundant trails running through terrain as varied as sandy beaches and mountaintops.

“When it comes to mountain biking, Alabama is a hidden gem,” says Philip Darden, manager of James Bros Bikes in Opelika and the Alabama representative on the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) executive board. “The state really has a lot to offer bikers from beginner to expert levels. The quality of rides is exceptional. I’ve ridden many different trails and some of my favorites are right here in Alabama.”

In 1989, SORBA ( formed to promote mountain biking and added regional chapters for cycling aficionados. Many association members periodically volunteer to build and maintain biking trails on public properties.

“I really encourage anyone who wants to try mountain biking to contact one of the riding associations,” suggests Mary Anne Swanstrom, president of SORBA-Huntsville ( “Mountain biking is not about speed. It’s about the experience and the camaraderie of riding with other people. I’ve seen children as young as three years old ride bikes that don’t even have pedals. The children push their way along.”

Chewacla State Park has a partnership with Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP) that offers a great trail system to the public.

Learning to ride

People who want to try mountain biking shouldn’t buy the first cycle they see in a department store. People riding rugged mountain trails need strong equipment that can take abuse.

“There’s a big difference between riding a bicycle around the neighborhood and going on a mountain trail,” says Marcus Tillman, trail director for the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association ( and the Anniston recreation trails manager. “Quality mountain bicycles start at about $400 to $600. More advanced bikes might cost $1,000. I’ve even known people to pay $15,000 for a custom state-of-the-art bike.”

Writing a big check doesn’t necessarily put a rider on the correct seat. Like riders, bikes also come in varied sizes. Darden recommends visiting a bike shop to get the proper equipment specifically suited to one person.

“In the last few years, mountain biking equipment has really gotten much better,” Darden says. “A prospective mountain biker needs a bike that fits that person’s size. People at a bike shop know how to put a bike together for a specific person. A correctly sized bike is more enjoyable to ride.”

Besides the bike, a rider needs a good helmet, which might cost $40 to $60. Many experienced riders also recommend wearing full-fingered gloves with padded palms and comfortable biking shorts with chamois pads. A new cyclist might also buy a small backpack to hold valuables, snacks, cell phone, maps and other items while riding.

Even with the best equipment, someone who hasn’t ridden a bicycle in years should not immediately hit the toughest mountain trails. Start pedaling around the neighborhood to build up leg muscles and endurance while becoming familiar with the equipment. Then, ride an easy trail, perhaps one with a few small hills, and progress from there.

“Someone getting back into biking should ease into it and learn how to use the equipment properly,” Tillman says. “Riders need to become comfortable with when and how to shift gears properly. People also need to practice braking. Grabbing just the front brake is usually not a good idea. People need to learn how to use the rear brakes and feather the front brakes.”

All kinds of terrain

Fortunately, riders ranging in skill levels from beginner to expert can find many trails coursing through diverse habitat all across Alabama. Many city, county and state parks offer trails of varied lengths and degrees of difficulty. In addition, cyclists can ride trails through many national forest or Forever Wild properties.

The largest state park in Alabama, Oak Mountain sprawls across 9,940 acres just south of Birmingham. Cyclists at all skill levels can ride several trails. Experienced riders like the Double Oak Trail, also called the Red Trail, which runs approximately 22 miles through mountainous terrain. In 2010, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) placed Oak Mountain on its list of Epic Rides, making it one of the “must ride” trails in the world.

Chewacla State Park south of Auburn offers riders more than 30 trail miles. Named for the Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers ( who helped build and maintain it, the CAMP Trail runs about a mile through relatively flat terrain around the campground. Other trails, like the eight-mile long For Pete’s Sake Trail, wander through rugged rocky terrain.

“As a former president of CAMP, I’m most familiar with Chewacla,” Darden says. “We want to build trails that are easily accessible so people can jump into the sport without any previous experience and feel comfortable riding. We also want riders to have opportunities to progress in their skill levels so they continue to grow as mountain bikers.”

CAMP and other volunteers worked to construct a dual slalom trail, the first of its kind in the state and unique to most of the Southeast. The Chewacla trail will host the Southeastern Collegiate Cycling Conference’s 2018 Mountain Bike Championship in early October.

The Coldwater Mountain Doug Ghee Nature Preserve and Recreation Area ( covers 4,183 acres of Forever Wild property in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains by Anniston. Because of its status with the IMBA, people from surrounding states and even foreign countries frequently visit Coldwater Mountain, giving the Anniston area a tourism boost.

“The greater Anniston area has more than a hundred miles of trails,” Tillman confirms. “In terms of habitat, Alabama is one of the most varied states in the union, but the crown jewel is Coldwater Mountain. It has 37 miles of trails right now, but when we finish, it will have 70.”

The new Duck River Reservoir in Cullman just opened a 20-mile hiking and mountain biking trail that circles the entire lake. Susan Eller with the Cullman Economic Development Agency says it’s already attracted cyclists from across northern Alabama, and they intend to market it to local residents but also to create tourism dollars.

South of Anniston, Cheaha State Park offers incredible riding opportunities. Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama, reaches 2,413 feet. People can also bike through parts of the Talladega National Forest, including Coleman Lake Recreation Area north of Heflin.

In northern Alabama, many people ride the trails at Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville. In the fall, park visitors enjoy spectacular views of mountains emblazoned with colorful foliage. Riders can choose among 14 miles of trail that range from very easy to extremely difficult. The adjacent Monte Sano Land Trust Preserve offers another 20 trail miles.

“Northern Alabama has some wonderful bike trails,” Swanstrom says. “On Monte Sano, the terrain is rocky so people need to have some ability to ride the trails. Mountain biking is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and the mountain scenery while getting good exercise. It’s a very social sport, whether people just get out with a few friends to ride or they join hundreds of other people participating in an organized ride.”

Although lacking mountains, cyclists can still find ample cycling opportunities in southern Alabama. In Mobile County, Chickasabogue Park provides 17 miles of trails wandering through hardwood forests, sandy pine flats and over bridges crossing lowlands. In southeastern Alabama, Dothan coordinated with the Alabama State Lands Division to build a 319-acre park that features 10 miles of trails.

“The Dothan Forever Wild trails are multi-use, but their primary purpose is for mountain biking,” says Evan Lawrence with Alabama State Lands. “The terrain is somewhat flat, but the city added some features. The trails go through mixed hardwood and pine forests and cross Beaver Creek, which is very swampy.”

All over Alabama, cyclists can usually find a place to ride close to home with a quick internet search. For Alabama state park information, see

Mountain biking in Alabama’s state parks is for every age.