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Outdoors: Gearing up for cold weather

Better protective gear can help anglers catch more fish

By John N. Felsher

Some anglers love fishing during the winter. Here Jimmy Mason, a bass pro from Rogersville, Ala., bundled up to catch smallmouth bass at Pickwick Lake near Florence, Ala.

Faced with stinging temperatures – intensified by swirling winds driving snow flurries – most anglers would probably wait for a better day, or month, to go fishing. But  proper protective gear can allow anglers to fish in relative comfort on days when most people would rather sit next to a roaring fire.

“I fished some really bad days, but one in particular stands out,” remembers Denny Brauer, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “During one tournament, the ramp got so slick that people were almost launching their trucks along with their boats. All my rod compartments froze shut. I had to borrow my wife’s hair dryer to thaw the locks. We made a run to the lower end of the lake and pulled into a creek. I told my partner, ‘We’re going to be here all day. I’m not making another run.’ I actually caught a really good bag that day because I kept my bait in the water and didn’t want to run anywhere else in the cold.”

In the old days, many anglers wore army-surplus field jackets, bulky “long johns” under jeans, jumpsuits or maybe sweatpants and anything else they could find to ward off the chill. They topped that ensemble with heavy woolen shirts and jackets. In extreme cold, some put on down parkas. Not designed for fishing, these heavy outfits offered protection, but didn’t allow much mobility or relief from rain. Fortunately, manufacturers have made significant progress in protective gear technology.

“Back then, we wore so much that we couldn’t move or fish,” recalls Bernie Schultz, a professional angler. “It was so heavy that it wore us out. Today, an angler can buy stuff right off the shelf that is so much better than what we had years ago. Now, we layer ourselves in garments made of high-tech materials designed specifically for fishing. The cut is better, giving anglers more mobility.”

As it progresses, hypothermia, or a lowering of the core body temperature, can cause disorientation, slurring of speech and hamper one’s ability to make decisions. Wetness or wind rapidly exacerbates the effects of hypothermia. A person immersed in 40-degree F waters can lose consciousness in 15 minutes and die in 90.

Today, anglers can buy lightweight, waterproof products designed specifically to keep them warm, dry and comfortable in weather extremes. For starters, protect the head. Many anglers wear insulated or knit wool coverings to protect their heads, faces and necks on extremely cold days. Some wear beanie-type caps and might add wide coverings similar to sweatbands over the ears. Put a sweatshirt hood over this covering, followed by the hood on the outer coat to keep warm and dry.

The old adage, “dress in layers” still applies, but with modern garments, layers don’t need to make a person resemble a tire company logo. Most people start with ultralight Gore-Tex thermal undergarments and add a thick shirt or sweatshirt over them. Some wear thin, insulated waterproof pants over jeans or trousers. Others prefer bibs, which resemble overalls on steroids. On the outside, many anglers don waterproof all-weather coats or parkas to fight biting cold, block the wind and repel rain or spray.

Nothing makes a person more miserable in cold weather than wet socks and icy feet. Some people wear waterproof thermal socks to keep their feet dry. Some people wear battery-operated electric socks. Over those, add waterproof shoes or boots.

“It’s miserable all day if you step into a puddle or walk down to the boat and barely slip into the water at the ramp, getting the socks wet in the morning,” says John Cox, a professional angler. “Wearing waterproof shoes makes a huge difference for the rest of the day as long as I don’t step in water over my ankle. I like a waterproof shoe that feels like a sneaker, but keeps my feet dry. If it’s really cold, I’ll wear insulated waterproof boots, but I can’t move around in boots that well.”

Thick gauntlet-style gloves protect hands while running the boat, but anglers can’t easily turn reel handles with them. Many companies now make thinner insulated gloves that keep hands warm, but still allow anglers to better use their fingers. Some gloves come with small pockets to insert chemical air-activated hand warmers for additional comfort.

Before heading out to face the elements, start with a good, hot breakfast. Anglers who don’t want to stop fishing to eat lunch can nibble high-energy bars throughout the day. Also drink sufficient warm, non-alcoholic liquids. Alcohol can lower a person’s core body temperature and cause dehydration.

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

Cooking contest winner continues tradition

From left, Alabama Living editor Lenore Vickrey; first-place winner Mary Lyons; second-place winner Tif Smith; third place winner Jamie Davis; and Creative Living Center director Ann Ball.

Story and photos by Allison Law

Many folks say that cooking ability is in the genes, passed down from one generation to the next. For this year’s winner of the Alabama Living “Crockin’ It” contest at the Alabama National Fair, not only is cooking in the genes – so is winning.

Mary Lyons of Tallassee won first place in the October contest for her dessert creation, Alabama-made Praline Crock-Pot Bread Pudding. Lyons has entered the contest for the last four years, and two years ago she won third place with her Crockpot Tropics Sipper.

Her adult son, Levi, followed in his mom’s footsteps. That same year, 2016, Levi Lyons won second place in the contest with his Crock-Pot Spinach Sausage and Ricotta Shells.

Levi Lyons didn’t enter this year, but his mom continued to make the family proud.

The inspiration for her sweet dish came from Pinterest, the free online platform that allows users to discover and save ideas – everything from recipes to renovation projects to clothing.

The recipe she found on Pinterest was for regular baking, not for a Crock-Pot. It also didn’t feature an Alabama-made ingredient, which is one of the requirements for the Alabama Living contest. She decided to use Luverne-made Sister Schubert’s rolls, baking them first in the oven and slicing and soaking them in the egg mixture. She also used Alaga syrup and found vanilla flavoring that’s made in Birmingham.

The third place winner, Jamie Davis, is Mary Lyons’ friend, and she’s the one who suggested that Lyons enter the praline dish. Obviously, it was good advice!

Alabama-made Praline Crock-Pot Bread Pudding

First place
Mary Lyons, Tallassee
  • 1 package Sister Schubert’s rolls
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups half and half
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans

Praline sauce:

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¼ cup Alaga cane flavor syrup
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup heavy cream

Whipped cream:

  • 1 small carton Borden’s whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Bake rolls as directed on package. While warm, cut into pieces. Arrange pieces in single layer on a flat surface; cool completely. In a large bowl, beat eggs; add half and half and sugar and mix well until blended. Add cut up rolls and mix well; let stand 15 minutes. Spread mixture evenly in slow cooker and press down slightly. Cook on high for two hours. Watch the sides for browning; take top off and allow top to brown for the last 30 minutes of cooking. Turn down to warm. Check center with a knife to make sure center is done; knife will come out clean. Sprinkle pecans over the bread pudding.

Sauce: melt butter in saucepan on medium heat. Add Alaga syrup and mix well. Add brown sugar and pecans and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and slowly stir in heavy cream and simmer 2-3 minutes more, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken. Let stand 10 minutes. Pour over warm bread pudding.

Whipped cream: With a mixer on medium, beat whipping cream and gradually add sugar and vanilla. Mix until it forms a peak. Serve this cream on top of the pudding and sauce.

Pineapple and Pulled Pork Crock-Pot Baked Bean Camp Stew

Second place
Tif Smith, Montgomery
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 pound Conecuh sausage
  • 1l arge white onion, chopped
  • 128-ounce can baked beans in tomato sauce
  • 116-ounce can baked beans
  • 115-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 115-ounce can yellow corn
  • 120-ounce can pineapple tidbits, drained
  • ½cup Alaga maple syrup
  • 115-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups pulled pork
  • 2 large bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon
  • mustard
  • 5 shakes Alaga hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce

Chop raw bacon and Conecuh sausage and fry over medium heat until crispy and done. Drain on paper towels. Drain grease, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Cook onion in grease until soft. Combine all ingredients in a large slow cooker and cook on high for four hours or on low for eight hours.

Crock-Pot Low Country Boil

Third place
Jamie Davis, Tallassee
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 bottle of Truck Stop Honey beer
  • ¼ cup Alaga hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Old Bay
  • seasoning
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1½ pounds red potatoes (about 10-15 small)
  • 10 small ears sweet corn (frozen or from the garden)
  • 1 pound Conecuh sausage, cut into two- to three-inch links
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, deveined
  • Optional condiments: cocktail sauce, additional lemon wedges, melted butter

In a six- to seven-quart slow cooker, combine water, beer, hot sauce, seafood seasoning, salt and cayenne pepper. Add potatoes, corn, sausage and lemon wedges. Cover and cook for 3 ½ hours on high. Add shrimp and stir until incorporated. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes or until shrimp are pink. Spoon mixture into a large rimmed dish and serve with optional condiments.

Protein Packed

It’s an essential nutrient, so putting protein high on your priority list is a resolution you should make (and keep) this year.

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Bake


Food/Photography BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Makers of many foods (and those in charge of promoting certain agriculture products) like to slap the title “good source of protein” on their items as a way to entice an increasingly health-conscious public to buy and ingest whatever it is they’re selling. But is “getting enough protein” really that important or is the popularity of protein a fad? Yes to the first question; kind of to the second.

Protein is a macronutrient that is essential to our bodies’ daily functions. It forms the building blocks of our cells and is used to make and repair muscles, bones, blood and other tissues. It plays many other crucial roles too, making it a key component of a balanced diet. It is found in meats but also in dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans.

Protein is also the focus of several “trendy” diets (like Paleo, Keto and Whole 30), but just because they’re “trendy” doesn’t mean they don’t work. These protein-rich eating regimens  deliver impressive results for weight loss. Pounds are shed quickly, and thanks to protein’s ability to satisfy appetites, people on these diets usually don’t feel overly hungry or deprived. According to the Mayo Clinic, for most people, high-protein, low-carb diets are safe, at least when they’re practiced short term.

But if you’re loading up your plate with bacon and fatty beef, you could exchange unwanted fat for high cholesterol and other issues. Better protein-heavy choices are fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy and beans. In fact, this advice applies to everyone: Experts agree that many of us could be making better choices about the kinds of protein we’re eating.

If you’re considering one of the protein-packed diets or just need to add some additional protein to your menu (now that you know how vital to good health it is), you’re in luck. Check out these tasty and (mostly) healthy reader-submitted recipes.

Cook of the Month

Mike Rich, Sand Mountain EC


No-Bake Puffed Quinoa Peanut Butter Crunch Cups

1 1/2 cups puffed quinoa*

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons peanut butter

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut butter

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add the puffed quinoa to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the peanut butter, coconut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract to a medium saucepan. Heat over low and whisk continuously for 4-5 minutes or until completely melted and smooth. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the puffed quinoa and stir to coat. Place 16-18 muffin liners on a baking pan. Drop heaping tablespoons of the quinoa mixture into the muffin liners and gently smooth out with a spoon. Pop the pan into the freezer for one hour to set. Once the cups have set, you can transfer them to the refrigerator to store.

Cook’s note: You can purchase puffed quinoa, but if you prefer to make your own, this is what I typically do: Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Once the pot is hot, pour a small amount of pre-rinsed and dried quinoa over the bottom of the pan. Gently move the pan so that the quinoa swirls around as it pops (this helps prevent burning). Once all the quinoa has popped (a minute or two), pour it into a bowl and repeat until you have 1 1/2 cups. You’ll notice that the quinoa has a very quiet crackle rather than a popcorn-like “pop,” and its popped state is only the tiniest bit larger than its un-popped state.

Meathead Chili

2 ribeye steaks

1 package pork sausage

1 pound ground beef

1 onion, chopped

1 16-ounce can red kidney beans

1 16-ounce can black beans

1 16-ounce can pinto beans

1 16-ounce can petite-diced tomatoes

1 16-ounces tomato paste

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 14-ounce can beef broth

Splash of sriracha sauce

Sear the steaks in a skillet 10 minutes a side. Brown the ground beef and pork together in a large pot. Cut the steak and add to a pot along with the chopped onion. After the onions cook down, add spices, tomatoes, brown sugar, sriracha sauce and beans. Pour in the beef stock and cook at a simmer for 30 minutes. Let chili rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Healthy Peanut Butter Cup Puppy Chow

(Single serving)

3/4cup toasted wheat (or rice) cereal

2tablespoon PB2

(or any brand of peanut butter


1/4teaspoon Hershey Special Dark

Cocoa powder (or chocolate protein powder)

2packets Splenda or Stevia

Coconut oil cooking spray

Mix peanut butter powder, dark cocoa powder and Splenda or Stevia in a bowl. Place cereal in a quart sized Ziploc bag. Spray cereal with coconut oil cooking spray, tossing well. Use just enough to coat. Add the dry ingredients to the bag with the cereal and toss until they stick to all sides.

Kaci Cheeseman, Baldwin EMC

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Bake

2 pounds bulk sausage (I like to use one hot, one mild)

1 small onion, chopped

1 package diced red, yellow and green bell peppers

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup half and half or milk

8 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Brown the sausage with onion. Drain well on paper towels. Add the chopped bell peppers to the pan and sauté until tender. (You may or may not want to add a little oil or butter to the pan.) Add back in the sausage and onion mixture and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Spread the meat/pepper mixture in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish or two smaller dishes. Sprinkle cheese on top. Whisk eggs, half and half or milk, garlic powder, salt and pepper together, and pour over the whole pan. I like to chill it overnight, but that’s optional. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Allison Law, Alabama Living managing editor

Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

Themes and Deadlines

March: Instant Pot | Jan. 3

April: Strawberries | Feb. 4

May: Tex-Mex | March 4

3 ways to submit:


Mail:  Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Please send us your original recipes (developed  or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.

Snapshots: Snow Day

Adalyn Bellomy sledding at Aunt Patti’s house. SUBMITTED BY Patti Tidwell.

Clint Feemster enjoying a snow day with Ruff and Doc. SUBMITTED BY Anna Feemster, Fyffe.

Montana Kirkwood’s graduation December 2017. SUBMITTED BY Bettie Giles, Millry.

Our grandson, Beckham’s first snowman. SUBMITTED BY Jesse Pace, Wagarville.

Cleburne County December 2017. SUBMITTED BY Randy Stamps, Heflin.

Frank Mann on the tractor feeding Cherokee the horse. SUBMITTED BY Caroline Mann, Double Springs.

Submit Your Images! March Theme: “Safari Park Photos” Deadline for March: Jan. 31

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.

Alabama Living writer will be missed

Ben Norman, a freelance writer for Alabama Living and other outdoor publications, passed away Nov. 15, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. Norman, a resident of Highland Home, was a longtime member of the South Alabama Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees. 

Norman wrote several articles over the years for Alabama Living, says editor Lenore Vickrey. “It was always a pleasure to hear from Ben, who never failed to come up with interesting ideas for stories about the fascinating people and places of south Alabama,” she says. His most recent article, published in June 2018, was about a Brantley resident who made traps to catch catfish. Although his specialty was writing about the outdoors, he also wrote about local personalities, took many of his own photos, and in 2017, penned a feature on the popular Sister’s Restaurant in Troy, which helped draw many new patrons to the business.

Donations in Norman’s memory can be made to:

Sardis Cemetery Fund

c/o Donald White

15403 Montgomery Highway

Highland Home, AL 36041

Best of Alabama 2019: The votes are in!

By Allison Law

Alabama Gulf State Park and Lodge

We asked, you answered! For the sixth consecutive year, Alabama Living asked you, our readers, to tell us your favorite people, places and things about our great state as part of our annual Best of Alabama feature. 

Hundreds of you responded to the ballots we printed in the September and October issues, which asked you to vote for your favorites in ten different categories. We accepted your responses via the mail and online, and one lucky respondent was randomly drawn to win a $350 prize! (See story, Page 16.)

It gets harder each year to come up with different categories for the contest, but it’s not hard to find the things we like about Alabama. From venues for live music to shopping to museums to restaurants, Alabama has it all. Read on to find out more about the winners.

Best new tourist destination:

Alabama Gulf State Park and Lodge

Hurricane Ivan destroyed the old hotel at Gulf State Park in 2004, but the area will once again be a convention destination with the new Lodge at Gulf State Park, which officially opened in November to much fanfare. Gov. Kay Ivey called it a “world-class place to visit, and it will be the crown jewel of tourism.” The Hilton-branded hotel, new interpretive center, learning campus and state-of-the-art convention facilities will no doubt continue to boost state tourism.

Learn more at

Best museum dedicated to a famous Alabamian:

Ivy Green, birthplace of Helen Keller, Tuscumbia

Helen Keller (1880-1968) remains one of Alabama’s most admired native daughters. Keller became deaf and blind as an infant, but learned sign language from teacher Anne Sullivan at the water pump in the backyard of Ivy Green, her family’s home in Tuscumbia. She characterized Ivy Green and its garden as “the paradise of my childhood,” and the home and grounds today are dedicated to preserving her legacy of activism and literary accomplishment.

The home, at 300 North Commons St. West in Tuscumbia, is open to the public; learn more at

Best zoo/wildlife park:

Birmingham Zoo

From Trails of Africa to the Children’s Zoo and everything in between, the Birmingham Zoo features animals from all over the world. Signage throughout the park highlights their care, conservation initiatives, and species survival plans. With approximately 700 animals of 200 species from six continents, the 122-acre site is a great family destination any time of year.

The non-profit Zoo, at 2630 Cahaba Road in Birmingham, is open daily; learn more at

Best music venue:

Flora-Bama, Orange Beach

Considered by locals and visitors alike to be the most famous beach bar in the country, the Flora-Bama lounge features live music every day of the year. This longtime honky-tonk straddles the state line between Orange Beach, Ala., and Perdido Key, Fla., and features good times and good music in five different entertainment areas. From country to rock to dance to beach music, there’s something for everyone at the Flora-Bama.

Learn more and see the musical lineup at

The Wharf – Orange Beach, Alabama.
Courtland W. Richards – Photographer. Daphne, AL 36526, 251-379-8935
Best open-air amphitheater:

The Wharf, Orange Beach

Baldwin County boasts another winner in our poll this year. The Wharf Amphitheater opened in 2006 with a sold-out Hank Williams Jr. concert, and has continued to draw some of the biggest names in contemporary and classic music: Taylor Swift, Kid Rock, Jason Aldean, John Mayer, Eric Church and more have entertained audiences; this year, some of the big-name acts set to perform include Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney and Hootie and the Blowfish.

For more information, visit

Best lake to spend the weekend:


Lake Guntersville Resort State Park, located along the banks of the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama, features golf, a beach complex, an outdoor nature center, fishing in Alabama’s largest lake, hiking and biking trails and weekly guided hikes. But one of its main attractions soars above the others: Eagle awareness programs both entertain and educate visitors about our national symbol (see story, Page 18).

For more information, visit and click “find a park,” then “Lake Guntersville.”

Best Heisman Trophy winner from an Alabama school:

Bo Jackson, Auburn

Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson of Bessemer is widely considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. At Auburn, he won the 1985 Heisman Trophy, annually awarded to the best collegiate football player in the country. His popularity in his home state continues, helped in part by his Bo Bikes Bama cycling ride, which he created to support victims of the 2011 tornado outbreak. (Jackson also won in our 2017 contest for “best football player to play in Alabama.”)

Learn more at

The Tanger Outlet Mall for the GCCVB.
Courtland W. Richards – Photographer.
Daphne, AL 36526, 251-379-8935
Best shopping attraction:

Tanger Outlets, Foley

For many families, a visit to the Alabama beaches isn’t complete without a stop at the Tanger Outlets in Foley. These stores are owned and operated by brand-name manufacturers; the idea is that because you’re buying directly from the manufacturer, you’ll get big savings. The stores feature fashions and accessories for the whole family, jewelry, housewares, home décor, luggage, toys, food specialties and more.

Learn more at

Best hometown restaurant or diner:

The Bullpen, formerly Kilpatrick Family Restaurant

This family-owned restaurant, located in the rural Kilpatrick community in DeKalb County, changed in both ownership and name just in the last several months. But one thing hasn’t changed: The community’s support.

“I’m just amazed how people have taken to us, and wrapped their arms around us, and are so supportive of us,” says Lori Magoon, who bought the restaurant in 2018 with her husband, Jason. Both work there, as do several family members, including a teenage daughter.

That support is no doubt why it won this category in the Best of Alabama poll. The restaurant, which is a member of Marshall-DeKalb Electric Cooperative, posted the ballot on its Facebook page and asked its customers to vote for it – and they did!

The restaurant serves up three meals a day, six days a week, and Lori says they’re probably best known for the “Big Momma’s Cheeseburger,” a hefty 10-ounce burger that was a holdover from the previous owner. But the Bullpen has added homemade biscuits as well as ribeye steaks on Friday and Saturday nights; they also remodeled the interior, which Lori says made it feel more homey.

The lunch service is mostly a meat-and-three selection, though customers can order off the menu. They do homemade desserts everyday and have added hand-dipped ice cream.

The restaurant’s address is 18657 Highway 68, Crossville, AL 35962; find their page, “The Bullpen Restaurant,” on Facebook. The phone number is 256-561-2170.

Best small college town:


“The loveliest village on the Plains” is of course best known for its namesake university, which is central to its economy. But a low cost of living, low unemployment and a variety of cultural and culinary opportunities continue to fuel the growth of the Lee County city. It ranks No. 25 on Forbes magazine’s list of the Best Small Places for Business and Careers.

Coming in a close second in this category was the city of Troy, home of the Trojans.

The eagles have landed

Majestic national birds are flourishing again in Alabama

Courtesy of Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

By John N. Felsher

When America adopted the bald eagle as its national symbol in 1782, the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. Since that day, though, the American people haven’t always treated the national symbol with reverence.

Many people considered eagles nothing more than scavengers or predators to be exterminated. They almost succeeded. By 1963, fewer than 500 nesting pairs remained in the lower 48 contiguous states, none in Alabama.

“Historically, eagles were found everywhere in Alabama,” says Carrie Threadgill, the Nongame Wildlife Program coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “With the rise in some pesticide usage and other threats, the eagle population declined drastically in the early 20th century.”

Beginning with the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, followed by an amendment including golden eagles in 1962, a series of laws began to protect eagles and other raptors. Finally, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act of 1973, putting eagles on the Endangered Species List.

A year earlier, the nation banned DDT. The powerful agricultural pesticide washed into rivers and lakes where fish-eating birds like eagles and pelicans ingested it. The poison weakened eggshells so feathered parents could not incubate their eggs without crushing them. With federal protection and the DDT ban, eagle populations began to soar. To hasten this rebound, Alabama and other states began reintroduction programs.

“After the Nongame Wildlife Program was created in 1984, one of the first projects we did was the bald eagle reintroduction program,” Threadgill says. “In 1985, an eagle might occasionally migrate through the state, but there were no breeding pairs in Alabama at the time.”

Photo by John Felsher

Bringing eagles back

In what is called a “hacking” program, Alabama biologists took young bald eagles from Florida and put them in “hacking towers,” or large enclosed artificial eagle nests. The state built six towers along major river systems in Alabama. Once old enough to fend for themselves, the birds were released into the wild.

“At that time, bald eagles were doing fairly well in Florida,” Threadgill recalls. “The goal was to raise the babies without human interaction. Once we released them, we hoped they would become imprinted to that area, stay and breed. The first confirmed successful eagle nesting since 1962 occurred in 1991.”

From 1985 to 1991, the state released 91 eagles. By 1992, the U.S. bald eagle population grew to more than 100,000 with about half of them in Alaska. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified bald eagles from “endangered” to “threatened” and removed the birds from the Endangered Species List entirely on June 28, 2007, but eagles remain protected.

“Eagles are doing great in Alabama now,” Threadgill says. “We get eagle sightings in every county throughout the year. We have confirmed records of eagles breeding in 49 counties, but we are fairly certain that they are nesting in every county in Alabama. We have more than 200 resident nesting pairs in the state, but during the winter, many more birds migrate down from other states.”

The highest bald eagle concentrations in Alabama occur along the Tennessee River and associated lakes like Pickwick, Wheeler and Guntersville in the northern part of the state. But you may see eagles on other lakes or rivers across Alabama. Several nesting pairs live in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Mobile.

Golden eagles in Alabama

Bird watchers might also see golden eagles in Alabama. Golden eagles traditionally live in the canyons and mountains of western states and Canada, but some winter in the Southeast, including Alabama. Slightly larger than bald eagles, golden eagles sport a light golden “cape” on their heads and upper backs rather than the distinctive white top of their cousins. Many people mistake goldens for immature bald eagles that haven’t developed their iconic white headgear.

“We have a wintering population of golden eagles, but not a breeding population,” Threadgill says. “Over the past 100 years or so, we’ve had a handful of records of goldens visiting the state, but we are seeing more of them now. Goldens actually have two populations in North America, an eastern and a western population. The eastern population is more migratory. They breed in Canada and winter in the South. Some may even winter farther south than Alabama.”

Since 2012, Alabama has joined 15 other eastern states in projects to monitor golden eagle movements. Researchers put up game cameras in several locations to spot the eagles and trapped 12 of them in Alabama. The researchers fitted the eagles with radio-tracking devices and released them.

“The golden eagle population in Alabama is a lot higher than we first expected,” Threadgill says. “With the transmitters, we’ve tracked golden eagles to the northern provinces of Canada around Hudson Bay.”

Money for eagle research and other projects conducted by the Alabama Nongame Wildlife Program comes primarily from the sale of hunting licenses and excise taxes on guns and ammunition purchased by sportsmen. The federal government reimburses states a portion of those excise taxes collected based upon the number of licenses sold.


Want to see eagles in the wild or up close?

Eagle Awareness Weekends at Lake Guntersville State Park ( offer people outstanding opportunities to spot raptors and other birds. The event runs over four straight weekends from Jan. 25 through Feb. 17. People may participate in many different activities and presentations or explore on their own.

“Winter is the prime time to see eagles in Alabama,” says Michael Ezell, the park naturalist. “We host some guided field trips. We also bring in experts to present programs on birds of prey, birds in general and other topics like reptiles and plants. Some experts bring in birds that have been injured and rehabilitated, but cannot be released into the wild so people can see them up close.”

All Eagle Awareness Weekends events are free and open to the public. The park offers a variety of lodging options from hotel-style rooms in the resort to camping.

“I can almost guarantee that people will see an eagle around Lake Guntersville at this time,” Ezell says. “We have two active nests in the park. During the 2018 Eagle Awareness Weekends, we had 66 eagle sightings in two days.”

For more on Eagle Awareness Weekends and a complete schedule, see or call Ezell at 256-762-3417.

Alabama People: Jay Lamar

Directing Alabama’s Bicentennial

Jay Lamar is the executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, which was set up in 2013 to plan and coordinate events and activities celebrating the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood. Appointed in early 2014, she previously worked at Auburn University in a variety of capacities. A native of Alabama, Lamar is also co-editor (with Jeanie Thompson) of The Remembered Gate: Memoirs by Alabama Writers. Of special interest to our readers is that Jay is the sister of Katie Lamar Jackson, our garden columnist. She is a very busy lady, but she managed to take some time to answer a few questions about this three-year long celebration of our state. — Lenore Vickrey 

How did you get involved with the Alabama 200 project?

By sheer luck and good fortune!

Why is Alabama’s bicentennial spread over three years?

The Alabama Bicentennial Commission leadership took its cue from Dr. Ed Bridges, director emeritus of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. He pointed out that the state’s territorial period was relatively brief, beginning in 1817 and concluding with statehood in 1819. A three-year window for creating and making significant projects happen was just irresistible. One example of why this was a genius idea: Almost a thousand teachers and administrators in Alabama’s public, private, and home schools have been able to benefit from new curriculum, primary source materials, and high-level professional development to prepare them for making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime “teaching moment.”

It must take a lot of people to pull off a three-year celebration. How many folks are involved and how did it all come together?

The sheer number of agencies and organizations involved is astounding! The Alabama Department of Archives & History, the Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Historical Commission, Alabama Public Television, Alabama Humanities Foundation…these are agencies that are deeply involved and have been from the beginning. The bicentennial really happens because of the staff and resources committed from them and other partners.

Why is celebrating the state’s bicentennial important to the average Alabamian?

Celebrating this anniversary is important for our state because it is a chance to learn about our history and the places and people and events that shaped it. We have so much to be proud of and so much to build on and I believe that at the end of the day the bicentennial is really about our future. The bicentennial will be enriching and inspiring—and FUN!

What are some of the big events planned for 2019?

All of our events are on our website at They include events all over the state, from the State Camellia Show in Mobile Feb. 15-19, to the opening of the restored Alabama Constitution Village in Huntsville March 2, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing July 15-20 in Huntsville, and the Poarch Creek Annual Thanksgiving Pow Wow Nov. 28-Dec. 1. There are events literally every week of this year!

WTD: Main Street Cafe

Main Street Cafe offers a glimpse into Madison’s past

Main Street Café is known for its homemade desserts including peanut butter pie, lemon icebox pie and strawberry pretzel salad.

Story and photos by Aaron Tanner

It’s not every day you get to dine inside a jail cell.

Main Street Café is a favorite gathering place for lunch on Main Street in historic downtown Madison

But that’s exactly what you can do at the Main Street Café, which occupies the space that once housed the town’s city hall and jail in historic downtown Madison. First-time visitors are often surprised about the opportunity to have a meal inside a jail cell that is now a private dining room. “They walk in and say ‘we hear you have jail cells; can we see them?’” says Cindy Sensenberger, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Tony.

On the flip side, Sensenberger has had customers tell them about spending time in the same jail cells that are now the café’s centerpiece. “I’ve had some come in and say they have been in the jail before, and after hearing they were coming I decided to paint over their initials,” Sensenberger says.

Although Madison’s population has grown significantly over the past few decades, Main Street Cafe retains its small-town atmosphere where customers dine on Southern comfort food in a more relaxed atmosphere. “It’s not stuffy,” Sensenberger says. “It’s like your neighborhood restaurant.”

Main Street Café co-owner Cindy Sensenberger.

Many of the entrees are from old recipes, including Poulet de Normandie (chicken and dressing topped with melted cheese and mushroom sauce); Cheesy Meatloaf with

Marinara Sauce; and a chicken salad plate complemented by an English pea salad and a slice of pumpkin bread.

There are also daily specials that change based on the seasonal recipes hand-selected by the chef.

Even though Sensenberger’s goal is to rotate the specials, she loves her customers enough to make exceptions. If a prior special is not on the menu, the restaurant will personally make the special order. “Sometimes we have to have the same special for the whole week because someone will not be able to come the day we make it,” Sensenberger says with a smile.

Desserts are another staple of Main Street Cafe. Although the delights include Peanut Butter Pie, Coca-Cola Cake and Hummingbird Cake (spice cake mixed with bananas, pecans, and pineapple with a pecan and cream cheese frosting), it is their Strawberry Pretzel Salad made with a pretzel base and topped with cream cheese, Cool Whip and strawberry gelatin that customers often choose for their after-dinner course. “It is the most popular dessert we have,” Sensenberger says. “It has a sweet and salty taste.”

Preserving a piece of Madison history

Sensenberger was born and raised in nearby Huntsville. In 1981, she was vacationing in Canada where she met her husband. After a long-distance relationship that lasted a year and a half, the two got married and she moved to Canada and opened her first restaurant. When her mother fell ill in 1991, the couple moved back to Alabama, and Sensenberger opened her second restaurant in an old renovated Victorian home in Decatur.

After her mother died, she decided to move closer to Huntsville. The couple landed in Madison, which was experiencing tremendous growth during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The old jail cells inside Main Street Café now function as decorated private dining rooms.

While she and her husband were renovating several old homes and buildings in downtown Madison, Sensenberger heard that the old city hall and jail were to be torn down. “(The building) was an eyesore for the city,” Sensenberger says. She was eager to open another restaurant, and a contractor suggested using the old building as a cafe. “I had a gentleman come in and do a layout for me and said it would be perfect for a small, homestyle restaurant,” she says.

The chicken salad plate is one of the many favorite entrees on the menu

The Sensenbergers leased the property from the city of Madison and went to work to give the facility a second life. Extensive renovations were done on the inside of the building, including adding a walk-in cooler and freezer, kitchen, dining space and a bar while keeping the layout simple and convenient for future customers and staff. “There is not a lot of wasted space,” Sensenberger says.

After a year of renovations, Main Street Cafe opened to the public in December 2000.

Since opening, the community’s support for Main Street Cafe has grown, thanks to the revitalization of downtown Madison. During the Madison Street Festival, held the first Saturday in October, the restaurant serves as many as 400 to 500 customers. People can also rent out the entire building for private parties while the adjacent patio is perfect for watching trains pass behind the cafe.

Sensenberger enjoys talking with her customers, and those who visit for the first time eventually become regular patrons. Her goal is for those who walk into the door of her restaurant to feel at home no matter their status in life. “I treat everyone like one big happy family,” Sensenberger says.

Main Street Café

101 Main St.

Madison, AL 35758


Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Growing history:

Celebrating 200-plus years of gardening

This photo, circa 1900-1909 and used with permission from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, shows students working in the garden behind the Fifth District Agricultural School in Wetumpka, which later became Wetumpka High School.

For thousands of years, gardens have been essential parts of our state’s life and culture. As Alabama commemorates its 200th anniversary of statehood this year, here’s a quick snapshot of our gardening history and the plants that have become part of our landscapes and lives through the centuries.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, southeastern Native Americans — Alabama’s first gardeners — began growing crops of local plants (lambsquarters, sunflowers, other seedbearing plants and possibly squash) some 3,500 or more years ago to supplement their wild food sources.

During the Mississippian Era (1000 to 1500 AD), indigenous Alabama tribes started gardening and farming in earnest, a practice that may well explain our state’s name. Though historians debate the exact origin of the name “Alabama,” many credit it to the Choctaw words alba amo, which translate into “those who clear the land.” Clear the land these early Alabamians did, replacing forests with fields where they grew a variety of crops including monocultures and companion plantings of the “Three Sisters” — beans, squash and corn.

When the first European settlers arrived in Alabama in the 1500 and 1600s, they seized Native American cropland, and seized upon their cropping practices and plants. But they also brought with them an array of plants from the Old World. According to the late Montgomery County Cooperative Extension agent and Alabama garden historian George R. Stritikus, those introduced plants included oranges, oleanders, figs, peaches and possibly wisteria and canna lilies.

During the early 1700s, gardens became status symbols of wealthy Alabama plantation owners and businessmen who created the state’s first “fine” or “pleasure” gardens. These plantings typically contained both food and ornamental plants, many of which mirrored those of their homelands.

By the early 1800s — one of our state’s most tragic historical eras — the importation of slaves from Africa was under way. Along with the slaves came plants of their homelands including okra, kidney and lima beans, black-eyed peas, yams and watermelon.

About this time, those affluent landowners were also importing huge numbers of ornamental plants primarily from France and England, but they soon realized that many of these plants could not survive in the South’s climate. According to Stritikus, the need for new varieties suited for southeastern growing conditions kick-started Alabama’s still-thriving nursery industry.

The science of gardening and farming took a leap forward in the mid 1800s as Alabama developed its land-grant education and research system (Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station systems), which helped identify the best plants and planting practices for home gardeners and horticultural professionals alike.

During this era, horticultural and garden societies were also forming. Among the first of these in the South and in the nation was the Chunnenuggee Ridge Horticultural Society, founded in 1847 near Union Springs in Bullock County. By the early 1930s, the Federated Garden Clubs of Alabama was also organized to conserve and expand the state’s woodland environment and increase awareness of landscape beauty.

Through history, our gardening practices and trends have changed — and continue to change — with each new generation of gardeners. As we begin our third century as a state, consider recording your own gardening history with a journal to chronicle your gardening successes and failures, and perhaps someday help add your own story to Alabama’s gardening history.

Garden history resources:

To learn more about the history of gardening, spend some time researching it on your own, or look to the list provided below.

  • The Southern Garden History Society ( is an exceptional resource for information on historic gardens, cultural landscapes and horticultural history.
  • The Alabama Department of Archives and History ( and other state archival resources offer gardening history records and also educational programs and exhibits on gardening history.
  • Many public gardens (a list can be found at offer educational programs and resources on gardening history and practices.
  • A number of historical societies offer gardening histories and also tend historic gardens that are open to the public.  Check with your local historical society to find out what’s available in your area.


Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at