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Alabama Recipes – Wild Game


One question is heard many times in Alabama kitchens: What are we going to do with all this deer meat? Thanks to our readers, we have some good recipes to share which will help answer that question!

We hope to visit with you at the Alabama National Fair this month, especially during our cooking contest at the Creative Living Center, “Crockin It with Alabama Living.” If you haven’t already registered, go to and your recipe could win $500!
I want to thank you for submitting your recipes. It’s so fun to see the submissions each month. Keep sharing your recipes!



Mary Tyler Spivey is a graduate of Huntingdon College
where she studied history and French but she also has a
passion for great food.
Contact her at



Cook of the month: Nick Batchelor, Covington EC 

Venison Chili

3 cups venison meat, cubed
2 large onions, cubed
1 14-ounce bottle catsup
1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans
2 cups water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons butter

Sauté onions, garlic, paprika and chili powder in butter. Add venison cubes. Stir until meat is well-coated. Pour in catsup, add tomatoes. Stir until well blended. Bring to a boil. Add water and cook for 20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and brown sugar. Add beans. Simmer for 11⁄2 hours.

Slow Cooker Deer Stroganoff

2 pounds of venison (cubed)
1 cup chopped onion
1 can (10 3⁄4 ounces) condensed cream of golden mushroom soup
1 can (10 3⁄4 ounces) condensed cream of onion soup
1 jar (6 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, cubed
1 container (8 ounces) sour cream
4-6 cups hot cooked noodles or rice

In a 3 1⁄2 to 4 1⁄2 quart slow cooker, mix venison, onion, soups, mushrooms and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 10 hours or until venison is very tender. Stir cream cheese into venison mixture until melted. Stir sour cream into venison mixture. Serve over noodles or rice.

Kathy Reynolds, Tombigbee EC

Venison Bacon Wraps

2 pieces sliced venison tenderloin
12 bacon strips, halved
Dale’s steak seasoning
24 toothpicks
Non-stick cooking spray

Soak venison in Dale’s steak seasoning for 10 minutes. Lay out one piece of bacon and put one piece of venison on top of bacon. Roll up like a jellyroll. Secure with a toothpick. Place in baking pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (Cook uses a cast iron skillet). Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until bacon is crisp.

Cloressia Mattox, Cullman EC

Deer Salad

Pickle Relish
Onions, chopped
Eggs, hardboiled
Apples, chopped (optional)

Boil venison until tender. Remove any bone and put venison through food processor. Mix according to your taste: meat, pickle relish, chopped onions, chopped hardboiled eggs, pepper, salt and mayonnaise. Add chopped apples if desired. Mix well and chill for a couple of hours. Serve with cracker, on toast or as a sandwich filling.

Elaine McIntyre, Clarke-Washington EMC

Venison Roast

1 pound venison roast, cut to fit in crock pot
1 small onion, sliced
1 small bell pepper, sliced
1⁄2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup freshly brewed black coffee

Rub seasoned salt and pepper on roast. Place in crockpot. Cover with onion and pepper rings, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, coffee and enough water to completely cover roast. Cook on low heat 6-8 hrs. or overnight. It will be fork tender. Serve as beef. Tender enough for barbecued sandwiches.

Becky Chappelle, Cullman EC

Venison Casserole

2 pounds venison meat, cubed
1 can mushroom soup
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 cup canned tomatoes

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place meat in casserole and add mushroom soup, dry onion soup mix and tomatoes. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.

Edwina Bell, Clarke-Washington EMC

‘So good to see you again’


Family reunions. The South may not have invented them, but down here we have our share – and more.

Like so much in Dixie, history has a lot to do with how and why families hold reunions. The Old South was culture of extended and elaborated families, scattered not too far but far enough so that seeing each other was not a casual affair. Folks who study this sort of thing have a hard time figuring out just when Southern families began holding reunions, but logic leads to the conclusion that as Southern families spread out across the land and as transportation improved, families began finding ways to assemble on a regular basis.
So families had reunions, get-togethers planned well in advance, held at a place that has meaning for those who attend, publicized so that it draws folks from far away who want to re-knot the tie that binds.

Such gatherings were celebrations of the links that ensnared each member –the bloodlines. Once it was the duty of the matriarch, the Grandmother or the Aunt (even better the Maiden Aunt) to preserve the connections and spell them out for those there.

Or put the links on a chart that reminded author Florence King’s non-Southern father of “kennel papers,” “the stud register,” or “the Book of the Dead.”

There it was, hung on the wall so everyone could see where they came from and, maybe, realize why they are what they are.

“He’s just as bossy as his grandfather was.”

Among the things on display at a reunion – the photographs, the scrapbooks, the family Bible, and such – the most proudly presented and thoroughly enjoyed is the food. Although the distance some folks travel to get there and the location selected for the gathering often requires organizers so have a reunion catered, somehow it just isn’t the same unless someone brings “Aunt Jessie’s yeast rolls” or “Meme’s red velvet cake.”

Of all the senses that stir memory, taste is up there at the top, and since reunions are all about memory, it is understandable that food ranks among the expectations and, often, the disappointments – “it’s good, but not like Mama made.”

The table spread becomes symbolic of what the family was, and what it has become – a big mound of “Uncle Claude’s barbeque” just like he would have fixed it if he was here, up next to a pile of Kentucky Fried Chicken, taken out of the box and put on a platter to fool folks who can’t be fooled. The old and the new, the sacred and the profane, side by side.

So the family gathers, greets, hugs, talks, eats, shares, and when the day is done, goes back to the world where each lives.

But most important, these reunions are a reason, an excuse, to celebrate the institution that has always been at the center of Southern life – the family. A time to thank the Lord that you have one. And, maybe, to feel a little sad for those who don’t.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is retired professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University whose most recent book is The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera, featured in the January 2013 Alabama Living. His work appears in the Anniston Star and Northeast Alabama Living. He can be reached at

Let’s talk about Medicare

October is “Talk About Prescriptions Month” and marks the beginning of this year’s Medicare open enrollment period. It’s the perfect time to talk about Medicare prescriptions and the Extra Help available from Social Security.

Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries and current beneficiaries who are considering changes to their Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) plan should act now. The Medicare open enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. The Medicare Part D prescription drug plan is available to all Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications. Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the prescription drug coverage.

While all Medicare beneficiaries can participate in the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, some people with limited income and resources may be eligible for Extra Help to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. The Extra Help is estimated to be worth about $4,000 per year. Many Medicare beneficiaries qualify for these big savings and don’t even know it.

To figure out whether you are eligible for the Extra Help, Social Security needs to know your income and the value of any savings, investments, and real estate (other than the home you live in). To qualify, you must be receiving Medicare and have:

  • Income limited to $17,235 for an individual or $23,265 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. Some examples where your income may be higher include if you or your spouse:
  • Support other family members who live with you;
  • Have earnings from work; or
  • Live in Alaska or Hawaii; and
  • Resources limited to $13,440 for an individual or $26,860 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds. We do not count your house or car as resources.

You can complete an easy-to-use online application or get more information by visiting To apply for the Extra Help by phone or have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020).

And if you would like more information about the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program, visit or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).

While we’re on the subject of open seasons, the open enrollment period for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act is Nov. 15 to Feb. 15. Learn more about it at

This Medicare open enrollment season, while you search for the Medicare prescription drug plan that best meets your needs, see if you qualify for the Extra Help through Social Security. That’s a winning prescription worth talking about.

Kylle’ McKinney, Alabama Social Security Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached in Montgomery at 866-593-0914, ext. 26265, or at

Go wild about wildflowers


I’m still wild about them, even if they are running a little wild.

That’s how I feel about the wildflowers my husband and I planted five years ago this month and that have, ever since, enriched our lives and apparently the lives of all kinds of fluttering, zooming, dashing, creeping and scurrying creatures.

That meadow came about in 2009 when we decided to convert part of our lawn into a more natural landscape. Our goals for this one-third-acre plot of land were to reduce the maintenance demands of our lawn and to attract more birds, bees and butterflies to our yard.
We’ve met both goals, in spades, and in the process we’ve learned a lot about the evolution of a meadow and a bit about how we could have done it better.

Because we wanted the area to be as natural as possible, we used no herbicides to kill off existing grasses or weeds in the area. Instead, a tractor-owning friend plowed the spot for us; then we hand-scattered a wildflower seed/sand mixture that contained more than 15 different native southeastern wildflower species across the area.

That following year we were rewarded with a spectacular progression of blooms, beginning with a blue mist of lupines in early spring that segued into an ocean of bright yellow lance-leaf coreopsis. As the summer advanced, the meadow became a patchwork of colorful blooms—purple coneflowers, red-orange gaillardias, yellow-to-orange rudbeckias among them—all of which continued to bloom well into the fall.

This happened without a drop of irrigation water or fertilizer and we only mowed it once that year, in early winter when most of the seeds had either been eaten by birds or had fallen to the ground, ready to come up again next year.


We were so pleased with ourselves and this enchanted space. Then a weedy reality crept in that second spring. That was the year that long-dormant weedier plants, which had previously had been controlled by regular mowing when the area was a lawn, began sprouting among the flowers. Okay, we thought, this is only natural and, still trying to avoid the use of chemicals, we opted to hand-weed the area, something we continue to do to this day. It is sciatica-inflaming work, but it’s also good exercise and we feel so virtuous.

This year the meadow was particularly weedy—we had a massive crop of too-tall goldenrod that we’ve been struggling to control—and it certainly didn’t look very manicured. But its wild beauty lured in a plethora of bees, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and other beneficial insects as well as hummingbirds, songbirds, box turtles, rabbits and a number of other four-legged creatures, all of which we are delighted to see.

In fact, thanks to this wildflower patch as well as some other native plants and wildlife-friendly features we’ve added to our landscape, our yard is now designated as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat, something you, too can do whether you garden on a few feet of land or a few acres. (Look for more on this in a future column or learn more HERE.)

And keep in mind that you don’t have to create an entire meadow to enjoy the benefits of wildflowers. Just plant them in a flowerbed or some other small area of the yard and watch them work their wild magic. It’s best to use wildflower seeds that are native to the Southeast and buy them from a vendor that doesn’t add filler to the mix. You’ll get more blooms for the buck that way.

For more details on planting and maintaining wildflowers and information on seed sources, check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System publication ANR 623, Wildflowers in Alabama Landscapes HERE. Then go ahead, go a little wild!

October Gardening Tips
  • Plant lettuces, spinach, turnips, radishes and onion sets.
  • Clean and oil garden tools and wash out empty pots for winter storage.
  • Harvest and dry or freeze herbs for winter use.
  • Continue mowing lawns until no sign of new growth is evident.
  • Plant shrubs and trees.
  • Turn compost piles and apply compost to garden beds.
  • Keep bird feeders and birdbaths filled.
  • Test soil and add amendments as needed.
  • Dry and save seed.
  • Take cuttings of tender perennials.
  • Plant a winter cover crop (ryegrass, etc.) to protect and enrich soil.

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

Building memories

Teaching children about the outdoors creates bonding experience

By John N. Felsher


Thousands of sportsmen, young and old, will take to the forests, fields and wetlands across Alabama this fall to participate in various outdoors activities.

According to a recent survey by, nearly 46 percent of sportsmen took at least one child hunting in the previous year. Most people probably start hunting because their father, uncle or grandfather liked hunting and wanted to share his favorite sport. Increasing numbers of young women take up hunting each year, often to spend more time with their husbands or boyfriends. The number of women hunting for their first time increased 25 percent between 2005 and 2011.

A young hunter waits until a more experienced hunter tells him to fire at ducks coming into range. Photo by John N. Felsher
A young hunter waits until a more experienced hunter tells him to fire at ducks coming into range.
Photo by John N. Felsher

I grew up fishing and hunting with my dad. He loved teaching young sportsmen about the outdoors and would rather watch a child catch a fish than land a state record himself. Dad always used to say, “You can either fish or take small children fishing, but you can’t do both at the same time. Decide what you are going to do and stick with it.”

The same philosophy applies to hunting. When hunting with young children, Dad frequently carried his gun, but rarely fired it. He preferred to watch children, or even young adults who had never hunted before, do the shooting and would rather miss a chance to make a shot himself than take an opportunity away from a child.

Too many sportsmen don’t understand this philosophy. They want to hunt more than they want to take their children hunting. Some sportsmen think young children should already possess the skills of Daniel Boone and yell at the youngsters when they make mistakes. Instead of yelling, teach children how to do something correctly. Don’t do everything for a child, but let young sportsmen learn by doing and even making mistakes. Just make sure they don’t do anything that could harm themselves or anyone else.

Make any outing interesting and enjoyable for young children. Instead of taking young children deer or turkey hunting, where they must sit quietly and motionless for long periods, take them on a more active excursion, such as following beagles on a rabbit hunt. Even during the offseason, people can walk through a park or preserve and “hunt” without actually firing a shot. See how many squirrels a child can spot. Let a child practice stalking skills and see how close he or she can get to a squirrel or rabbit without spooking the animal. This teaches young sportsmen woodsmanship skills.

Knowing the value of spending time with his children, Dad always tried to turn our outings into adventures. Even before I could carry a BB gun, he explained the interconnected web of nature. While walking in the woods, he took time to point out tracks and animal signs. He taught us to identify various birds and animals we spotted even if that meant taking home one less game animal in the bag.

Never compromise on safety

Although Dad didn’t care as much about bagging a limit as enjoying a good time, he never compromised on safety. From an early age, he pounded gun safety into our heads. Whenever we wanted to look at his guns, he let us do so with his supervision. We never handled a gun without first checking to make sure it was unloaded. We never pointed a gun at anything we didn’t want to shoot and never shot at anything until we absolutely identified the target and what lay beyond it so we could make a safe shot. If that meant not taking a shot and letting a game animal escape, that’s what happened. Whenever a new person, old or young, came along for a hunt, Dad always gave that person a crash course in gun safety and made his rules perfectly clear before anyone loaded a firearm.

To make an interesting adventure for a young sportsman, try hunting from a small boat. Federal laws prohibit shooting at migratory birds from boats under power or sail, but people can hunt from paddle-powered craft. The adult can paddle from the stern and point out game while the child remains ready to shoot while comfortable in the bow. When hunting from a boat, sportsmen can carry refreshments and take occasional breaks. In many parts of Alabama, sportsmen can successfully hunt squirrels, rails, gallinules, coots and ducks from small boats.

A shooting preserve makes another great place to introduce children to hunting. Shooting preserves release pen-raised birds, such as quail, chukar or pheasant. Guides work trained dogs to find, flush and retrieve birds. This type of hunt guarantees action and helps a youngster improve his or her wing shooting skills. Sportsmen can find shooting preserves throughout the state at

Because hunting with a child takes effort, sacrifice and patience, many sportsmen prefer the company of like-minded adults. That’s fine, but a parent will never meet a better fishing or hunting partner than one created over time – the most precious and fragile of all gifts.

John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer and photographer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He’s written more than 1,700 articles for more than 117 magazines. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors radio show. Contact him through his website at

Worth the Drive – Nick’s in the Sticks

Good steaks at great prices at Nick’s

By Jennifer Kornegay

A wreath was placed on the front of Nick’s in the Sticks in September,  in memory of longtime owner Lloyd Hegenbarth, who passed away Sept. 12. Hegenbarth became the third owner of the popular Tuscaloosa restaurant in the mid-80s. Photo by Laurel Stephenson
A wreath was placed on the front of Nick’s in the Sticks in September, in memory of longtime owner Lloyd Hegenbarth, who passed away Sept. 12. Hegenbarth became the third owner of the popular Tuscaloosa restaurant in the mid-80s. Photo by Laurel Stephenson

It’s that time again. Breezes are blowing cooler, leaves are donning their fall fashions, and, most importantly, pigskins are flying through the air. It’s the arrival of this last item every autumn that draws fans in droves to Tuscaloosa; they travel from near and far to watch the Crimson Tide do its thing. But whether football Saturdays find you chanting “Rammer Jammer” or not, you should make your way to T-town, too. Roll right on past campus, and bypass Bryant Denny Stadium. Instead, punch 4018 Culver Road into your phone’s GPS and head about 5 miles out of town on a two-lane road. If all goes well, you’ll soon arrive at a one-room, cinder block building with an American flag doing double duty as patriotic symbol and window covering and an awning striped with crimson and white jutting off the front. There’s only an empty metal frame where the sign once was, but you’re in the right place. You’ve made it to Nick’s Original Filet House, known to most as Nick’s in the Sticks, a humble-looking spot that’s been serving good steaks at great prices for more than 75 years. And you’re in for a big treat – after a big wait, that is. It doesn’t look like much; its bare-bones décor scheme inside and out definitely earns it a spot on Worth the Drive’s “serious dives” list. (And you’ll have to ask your waiter to tell you the story behind the dollar bills tacked to the ceiling, since I forgot to ask.) Yet, despite all this, plus rickety tables pushed a little too close together, there’re always more people than seats available, and the overflow is forced to wait out front. They wait in the heat; they wait in the cold; they wait in the rain; and most are wearing a smile. So what brings these happy people here and brings so many of them back? Three things:

  1. The filet and onion rings have been a mainstay at Nick’s in the Sticks for years. Photo by Jennifer Kornegay
    The filet and onion rings have been a mainstay at Nick’s in the Sticks for years. Photo by Jennifer Kornegay

    The filet. Don’t expect béarnaise sauce, blue cheese crumbles or lump crabmeat embellishing (distracting from) this steak served on a metal plate set down in a wooden charger in old-school steakhouse style. Probably Nick’s most popular item, it’s all about the meat. It’s bacon-wrapped, lightly seasoned and cooked to your degree of doneness. It’s soft and juicy, and for just under $10, it’s the arguably the best dinner deal around for miles.

  2. The onion rings. These hand-battered circles of crispy golden goodness are a smart side choice for any of Nick’s offerings. The onions have lost their sharpness (only sweetness remains) but not all of their crunch, and the light crust stays put when you take a bite.
  3. The Nicodemus. Myth and mystery surround the ingredient list for this ruby red drink like the foggy haze it often induces. Exactly what all goes into this adult punch-like concoction (always served in a Styrofoam cup) is unknown, but you don’t have to guess what you’ll feel like tomorrow if you have more than one or two. When you arrive, note the number of folks in the waiting group clutching the signature white cups. The Nicodemus could be a contributing factor to their afore-mentioned smiles.

These three things should be enough to pull you away from the areas of this college town that are easier to find and quicker to access. But if you require more incentives, consider these: fat, flavorful cheeseburgers, thick-cut steak fries, fried chicken livers and gizzards (if you’re into that) and cheap, super-cold beer. And you know I’m working hard to make my case when I quote poetry, but I think a little Robert Frost applies here: “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” That, and two of those fun, fruity drinks in foam cups.

 Nick’s Original Filet House (a.k.a. Nick’s in the Sticks) • 4018 Culver Rd, Tuscaloosa, AL • (205) 758-9316 •

Jennifer Kornegay travels to an out-of-the way restaurant destination in Alabama every month. She may be reached for comment at Check out more of Jennifer’s food writing, recipes and recommendations on her blog, Chew on This at


Cahaba River Race

See the river up close in Cahaba Classic River Race

White chalk bluffs about three miles upstream of the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers. Photo by David Haynes
White chalk bluffs about three miles upstream of the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers. Photo by David Haynes

Story and photos by David Haynes

Alabama’s Cahaba River winds its entire length of nearly 200 miles through Central Alabama and is one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the world. A rare flower found only in this river and a handful of nearby other streams – the Cahaba Lily – bears its name.

From its headwaters near Trussville to its confluence with the Alabama at the Old Cahawba State Archaeological Park near Orville – Alabama’s first state capital city – the Cahaba touches a variety of landscapes, wildlife and tens of thousands of people along its meandering course.

On Sunday, Nov. 2, the Inaugural Cahaba Classic River Race will give both experienced and novice paddlers a chance to see the river up close just above where it empties into the Alabama.

Old Cahawba Archaelogical Park and the Cahaba River Society are partnering to sponsor the event, which is aimed at introducing more folks to the joys of being on this unique river. Just about anyone with any kind of paddlecraft can participate, including the usual canoes and kayaks as well as the newly popular stand-up paddle boards.

Historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, recently restored with assistance from Auburn’s Rural Studio.
Historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, recently restored with assistance from Auburn’s Rural Studio.

The race will feature two courses. The first will be suitable for more experienced boaters and covers about nine miles from the Alabama Highway 22 bridge to the river’s mouth. The other “Fun Run” course is about three miles from Clear Creek to the same finish point.

Gordon Black, education director for the Cahaba River Society, explained that although medals or other prizes will be awarded to the winners in each class, the real goal is to show those who might not have tried paddling before that they, too, can do it.

He explained that the time required to run the nine-mile course will depend on the type of boat and level of paddler experience more than anything else. “A seasoned boater in a racing canoe might do it in an hour and 15 or 20 minutes while someone with less paddling experience in a standard canoe might take three or four hours,” he said.

But making the run in record time isn’t the point. The real reason for this race is to get people on the river who haven’t experienced what it has to offer.

This rural area is teeming with wildlife, including numerous species of birds (the park is part of the Alabama Birding Trail), various mammals, including a recent rare sighting of a black bear, and of course there is the occasional alligator. This section of the river passes beneath some impressive chalk bluffs and numerous sandbars. In several areas paddlers will pass stands of cypress draped with Spanish moss. Fishing here is good as well.

Linda Derry, site director for the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, who along with her husband Richard is an avid canoe and kayak paddler, explained that the park now has canoe rentals available, thanks to various local businesses who sponsored the purchase of an initial stable of four canoes. 

She said the river race and canoe rentals are only the most recent of the park’s efforts to help bring visitors access to the river and its wonders.

The park has a shaded 1/8th-mile walking trail to a boat launch and observation deck – built with assistance from the Nature Conservancy – at Clear Creek, just before it joins the Cahaba three miles from the river’s end. The shaded wooden deck overlooks the mouth of Clear Creek and numerous cypress trees.

In addition to the canoe rental the park also has 12 cruiser bicycles that park visitors may use for free to explore the former capital city, which today is more of a ghost town where moss-covered trees shade only empty streets where state offices, businesses and houses once stood. The visitor center has interpretive maps to help guide and inform visitors on what they’re seeing as they tour the park.

With either the canoe rentals or bike rides, Derry recommends calling the park to make sure the units are not already reserved on the day of your visit.

For additonal information about Cahaba Classic River Race, Old Cahawba Archaeological Park or the Cahaba River Society, please visit or 

Life’s a beach at Gulf State Park


By John N. Felsher

A decade ago, Hurricane Ivan slammed ashore on the Gulf Coast, packing nearly 130 mile per hour winds. Early on the morning of Sept. 16, 2004, the monster about the size of Texas scored a direct hit on Gulf State Park, causing considerable damage.

“People came down from other parks to help,” recalls Kelly Reetz, who began working at the park in 2000. “While most people were heading north, park employees were heading south. Getting ready for Hurricane Ivan, we worked so hard getting everything off the beach and securing the facilities as best we could, but we still had a lot of damage.”

Ten years later, scarred trees remind visitors of that terrible day, but the park recovered quickly at the time, repairing and rebuilding facilities. Over the years, the park also added facilities not there in 2004, such as a zip line for guests. Today, the park occupies 6,180 acres of prime real estate on the Gulf of Mexico between the towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

“We’re one of the most popular parks in Alabama all year long,” explains Lisa Laraway, superintendent of Gulf State Park and the Southwest District. “We get people who come here from all over the country, particularly in the winter. Some people from northern states and Canada stay all winter. Most people come here for the beach, but we have plenty of reasons for people to visit here.”


The park includes more than 3.5 miles of sugar-white beaches along the Gulf shoreline, often considerably less crowded than adjacent beaches in either Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. For those who want a break from the sand, the Beach Pavilion offers beachgoers picnic tables in the shade, a seasonal concession stand and air-conditioned bathrooms with showers. Parties can also book the pavilion for weddings, beach parties, reunions or other functions.

Also unique among Alabama state parks, the Gulf State Park Pier extends 1,540 feet, or more than a quarter mile, into the Gulf of Mexico. Ivan severely damaged the pier in 2004, but the rebuilt structure opened in July 2009. It now offers anglers about 41,800 square feet, including 2,448 feet of fishing space along the rails. Special removable panels allow the sea to blow through holes in the pier while leaving the concrete supports intact.

“Living right on the Gulf Coast, we are prepared for hurricanes,” Laraway said. “When the pier was rebuilt, the decking was made in sections so it could be picked up and removed. We removed the panels when Hurricane Isaac hit in 2012. It’s a good thing we did, because the water went over it. It took about a week to get it back in operation, but it had much less damage than when Ivan hit.”

The pier also contains fish-cleaning stations where anglers can prepare their catch. At the shore end of the pier, patrons may sample barbecue and other restaurant specialties as sea breezes cool them. They can also stop in the store to purchase supplies and refreshments or even rent fishing gear.

The largest pier on the Gulf Coast remains open for fishing 24 hours a day all year long. Anglers must possess a pier fishing permit and a state saltwater license to fish on the pier. To save a few dollars, sportsmen can purchase a special state pier license instead of the saltwater license. In addition, anglers can buy a daily, monthly, semi-annual or annual pier fishing permit. Non-fishermen pay a small sightseeing fee to go out on the pier.

“I’ve been fishing the pier since I was old enough to drive about 40 years ago,” said David Thornton, an area sportsman. “People catch just about every type of saltwater fish off the pier. We catch a lot of big bull reds. They also catch Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and other fish. Occasionally, someone even catches a tarpon. Pier anglers just can’t fish for sharks. If anglers hook sharks, they must cut their lines. The park staff doesn’t want people fishing for sharks so close to the swimming beach.”

Besides offering an excellent place where anglers without access to boats can catch large fish, the pier exists as an educational facility. Placards along the rails provide information about the fish species, birds and other creatures that live in the area. Some at the cleaning station even explain fish anatomy.

“Each week, depending upon the weather, we give guided pier walks, by far our most popular nature program,” Reetz advised. “Guests have an opportunity to see fish being caught and learn about different types of fish, birds, crustaceans, shells and marine mammals. Sometimes we get lucky and see huge schools of fish or some dolphins. We might see fish herding bait into a ball and birds attacking the baitfish from the air.”

Although anglers can fish the Gulf for salty fish, they can also explore three natural spring-fed freshwater lakes north of the beach. Connected by canals, Little Lake, Middle Lake and Lake Shelby total about 900 acres. The largest, Lake Shelby, spreads across about 750 acres. They average about four feet deep, but some holes in Lake Shelby drop to about 18 feet deep. Anglers may launch their own boats into the lakes or rent canoes from the park.

“They are freshwater lakes, but they connect to the salt marshes and Little Lagoon,” explained Randy Stultz, one of the park managers. “Salt water from prior hurricanes got into the lakes and mixed with the fresh water. Now, anglers can catch largemouth bass, redfish, crappie, speckled trout, flounder and other fish in them. I’ve even seen mangrove snapper and tarpon come out of the lakes.”

Along the lakes, campers may erect tents or park recreational vehicles at nearly 500 improved campsites complete with water, sewer and electrical hook-ups. Open seven days a week, the camp store sells items campers need. Patrons may also find souvenirs, shirts, coffee mugs, or even buy items to make minor repairs on recreational vehicles.

Overnight guests may also rent 11 three-bedroom cottages that overlook Lake Shelby. Cottages come equipped with modern conveniences such as full kitchens complete with utensils, dishes, flatware, microwaves, coffee pots, toasters and dishwashers. The park also rents more than 20 similarly equipped cabins including some on the lake and others in secluded in pine forests. Visitors may bring their pets when staying in the woods cabins. Two lakeside cabins are handicapped accessible.

For those who want to golf on the Gulf, the Refuge Golf Course offers 18 holes in picturesque beauty amidst the oaks. The golf course stays open seven days a week. After swinging clubs, golfers may wish to visit the Refuge Grill in the pro shop for a delicious sandwich or other refreshments. Some golfers start their day with a breakfast at the grill.

Miles of trails to see wildlife and nature



Many nature enthusiasts enjoy hiking or biking on miles of trails. Named for a former park superintendent, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails wind through marshes, pine forests, oak hammocks and other habitats. The Oak Ridge Trail wanders behind the golf course. The Rosemary Trail runs south of Middle Lake and Little Lake before hitting the beach road. Created after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979, the Hurricane Ridge Trail follows a natural ridge built by the storm tidal surge.

“While most people come here for the beaches, we have more than just beaches,” Reetz emphasized. “We also have salt marshes, lakes and different forest habitats. We have many different types of wildlife including deer, bobcats, raccoons, lots of alligators and other reptiles. Many migratory birds come through in April and October. Endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles sometimes nest on our beaches. We also have endangered Alabama beach mice.”

While many people like to explore nature on their own, others take guided tours. As the park naturalist, Reetz leads diverse adventures including the pier walk and other nature programs to introduce people to the types of wildlife that inhabit southern Alabama. People can also visit the Nature Center, a living museum with many exhibits including both live and stuffed animals.

“At Nature Time at the Nature Center, we take the animals out for children to see them and touch them,” Reetz said. “We have nature programs all year long. On guided nature walks, we meet people at different places and talk about the plants and animals we see. We always see something different. The trails stay very busy. In the winter, visitors from up north love to get on their bicycles and ride all over the place.”

Whether zipping down a line over a lake, dropping a line off the pier, biking along a trail or just absorbing the sun on the beach, one of the most popular parks in Alabama offers something for just about everyone. For more information on Gulf State Park, see For reservations, call 800-ALAPARK (800-252-7275).

Keeping land Forever Wild

Program preserves vital disappearing habitat for all

By John N. Felsher

Canoeing on the Bartram Canoe Trail. Photo by billy pope
Canoeing on the Bartram Canoe Trail. Photo by billy pope

Each year, more than a million outdoors enthusiasts traverse a state blessed with an incredible variety of habitats from tidal marshes to mountaintop forests. Many of them visit the more than 1.3 million acres of public land in Alabama. Many sportsmen hunt on 37 state wildlife management areas totaling more than 775,000 acres.

The state of Alabama owns some wildlife management areas, but leases significant acreage from timber companies or other large landowners. As part of the lease, these landowners permit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to manage the properties for public use. However, companies change ownership, leadership or focus periodically. Consequently, the state sometimes loses access to formerly public properties. When the state loses wilderness lands previously open to the public, those lands frequently disappear forever.

Fortunately, the state controls thousands of acres in the Forever Wild program. As the name implies, these properties will never go under a bulldozer or concrete, but will remain natural and forever open to the public for recreation.

“Forever Wild is a state operated land acquisition program with the purpose of securing lands for public recreation as wildlife management areas, state parks, nature preserves or recreational areas,” says Chris Smith, the ADCNR state lands manager in Montgomery. “Some WMAs draw a lot of out-of-state people who come here to hunt. They spend a lot of money. With leased property, we’re constantly under the possibility of losing parcels. Lands in Forever Wild are state-owned properties that we can preserve and keep forever wild.”

Forever Wild began with a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1992. In 2012, 73 percent of the voters reaffirmed their desire to keep the program going. Since 1992, the program set aside more than 241,000 acres in 25 counties for an array of public recreational activities. Besides hunters and fishermen, many hikers, boaters, paddlers, horseback riders, cyclists, bird watchers, history buffs and other outdoors enthusiasts visit these lands each year. The system includes more than 220 miles of hiking trails plus numerous canoe trails among other recreational opportunities.

“Not all Forever Wild properties are wildlife management areas, but roughly 88 percent of the Forever Wild Land Trust property is within a WMA somewhere in the state,” Smith says. “About three percent are additions to other historic parks or nature centers. Less than one percent of those properties are additions to existing state parks. The rest are not quite big enough to be in the WMA system, but we manage them as nature preserves and recreational areas.”

The system includes caves, mountainous habitat, coastal prairies, marshes, swamps, rivers – just about every habitat type found in Alabama. Some major proprieties in the system include Barbour, Cahaba River, Coosa and Perdido WMAs. One of the best public deer hunting properties in the state, Barbour WMA covers 28,199 acres near Clayton in the transition zone between the Black Belt Region and the coastal plain of southeastern Alabama. It frequently produces whitetail bucks exceeding 200 pounds.

“In 2006, Field and Stream magazine named Barbour WMA one of the top whitetail destinations in the nation,” notes Bill Gray, the ADCNR wildlife biologist for that part of the state. “It has some hardwood drains, upland pines, swamps, hills and hollows.”

The William R. Ireland/Cahaba River WMA covers 40,504 acres in Bibb and Shelby counties near West Blocton. Coosa WMA spreads across 32,624 acres of Coosa County near Rockford along the Coosa River. The Perdido River WMA includes 17,337 acres on the Alabama side of the Perdido River, which separates Alabama from Florida near Gateswood.

“In July 2014, we closed on a 460-acre parcel adjacent to a county park in Shelby County that has river frontage along the Cahaba River,” Smith says. “We’re thinking about putting in some canoe launches and take-out points. That’s a beautiful river to float. We’re looking to open a canoe trail that will span about 19 miles along the Perdido River in 2015. We’re working to improve some roads that will provide good access to trailheads, plus canoe put-in and take-out points.”

Photo by Billy Pope
Photo by Billy Pope
Preserving irreplaceable properties and habitats

At Blakeley State Park near Spanish Fort, visitors can walk among fortifications used by Union and Confederate soldiers when they fought one of the last major battles of the Civil War in April 1865. Many of these fortifications still look almost exactly like they did when the war ended a few weeks later.

Sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the South, the Walls of Jericho area in Jackson County holds some of the most scenic and ecologically significant property in the state. Five tracts totaling about 16,363 acres sit adjacent to James D. Martin-Skyline WMA near Scottsboro along the Tennessee state line. About 200 years ago, Davy Crocket hunted these hills and valleys. Today, hikers, photographers, birdwatchers and horseback riders can explore numerous trails or follow the gorge along the Paint Rock River.

“We try to preserve unique, irreplaceable properties and habitats, like the Mobile-Tensaw Delta,” Smith explains. “We also do some habitat restoration work on some properties, such as replanting them in native vegetation. Some properties are already beautiful, unique properties, but it’s rare to find a Forever Wild property that doesn’t need some type of enhancement or restoration.”

Mountain biking is a popular activity on Forever Wild trails. Photo by Billy Pope
Mountain biking is a popular activity on Forever Wild trails. Photo by Billy Pope

Practically in the shadow of downtown Mobile, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta spreads across about 250,000 acres of wilderness, second in size only to the Mississippi River for river delta wetlands in North America. Forever Wild preserves more than 50,000 acres in this maze of bayous, creeks, lakes, swamps, marshes and estuaries. In 1974, Congress declared the delta a National Natural Landmark.

From north to south, the delta transitions from bottomland hardwood forests pockmarked by numerous streams and lakes to cypress swamps. The lower delta opens into an enormous network of bays and bayous bordered by fresh and brackish marshes at the northern edge of Mobile Bay. The area provides homes to one of the largest concentrations of black bears in Alabama, plus numerous waterfowl, wading birds, raptors, whitetail deer, otters, alligators and many other creatures.

The Forever Wild program also tries to preserve or restore habitat vital to endangered species. For instance, the program owns two tracts in Monroe County totaling 4,376 acres that provide crucial habitat for endangered Red Hills salamanders plus other rare plants and animals. The Red Hills Tracts consist mainly of upland pines and mixed forests north of Monroeville.

“The Red Hills Tracts were commercial timber properties when Forever Wild bought them,” Smith says. “We’re restoring the habitat to what it was and monitoring the salamanders.”

The Forever Wild Land Trust does not take private land away from owners. In fact, the law specifically dictates that Forever Wild can only buy land from willing sellers, but anyone can nominate a property as a Forever Wild candidate. After a review process, the state can then make an offer to buy the property at fair market value.

Once a property becomes part of the Forever Wild system, state land managers determine what to do with it. They might create a wildlife management area, public park or other recreational facility. Then, property managers plan what enhancements or restorations they want to do such as building hiking or canoeing trails.

“We’re always looking for new acquisitions,” Smith advises. “We’re close to closing on about 3,000 acres along the Sipsey River in Tuscaloosa County. There’s already a 3,000-acre tract along the Sipsey River. It’s very popular for hunting and horseback riding. We should be able to add that new property to Forever Wild in the next four to six months. That’s going to give us about 40 river miles on the Sipsey where we can put in some canoe launches and take-out points. People will be able to float down the river and hunt or fish.”

For more information on the Alabama Forever Wild program and to see an interactive map of the properties, visit

How you can help preserve more valuable habitat

By John N. Felsher

Forever Wild does not receive any tax dollars. Money for the Forever Wild Land Trust fund comes from interest earned by the Alabama Trust Fund, mostly through monthly royalty payments from oil and gas extraction. The program receives 10 percent of that interest annually, up to $15 million.


People can also help fund Forever Wild programs and preserve more land by buying a Friends of Forever Wild car license plate. Most of that money goes directly toward the purchase of properties for the Forever Wild system. These lands could become part of an existing park, wildlife management area, historical area or a separate nature preserve.

Anyone who buys a Forever Wild car tag directly supports Forever Wild land acquisitions,” explains Chris Smith, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lands manager. “All of that money goes directly to the land acquisition fund to protect our Alabama natural heritage.”

To learn more about this program, click HERE.

Vintage Motorcycles

Barber Museum is home to the world’s largest collection

By David Haynes

Eclectic design and attention to the finest of details help the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum stand in a class by itself.
Eclectic design and attention to the finest of details help the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum stand in a class by itself.

|To view more pictures click here|

|Click here to view a video interview with Mr. Barber|

If you want to experience Leonardo De Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” in person you’ll need to buy a ticket to Paris and visit the Louvre. A personal viewing to ponder the moody, swirling colors of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” requires a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

But to marvel in the presence of the chrome and black steel of a rare 1951 Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle in pristine condition, Birmingham, Alabama, would be your destination of choice, where the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum houses the largest collection of vintage motorcycles in the world!

Earlier this year, the Guinness Book of World Records officially recognized the Barber collection as the world’s largest. According to Museum Director Jeff Ray, the museum currently has more than 1,340 motorcycles in its collection with approximately 700 on display at any one time in its sprawling, five-story building, with new bikes and cars added every week.

George Barber stands on the ground floor of the largest motorcycle collection in the world.
George Barber stands on the ground floor of the largest motorcycle collection in the world.

The museum employs a staff of 22 people, including five full-time and one part-time restoration technicians who continuously restore and maintain machines in the collection. Nearly all of the motorcycles on display could be running and ridden within an hour. At present the technicians have 13 major restorations under way with another 200-plus in the warehouse awaiting some type of restoration or conservation, Ray says.

But as impressive as the museum’s collection of vintage and rare motorcycles and racing cars is, it is only one component of the 830-acre Barber Motorsports Park, located near Leeds on the east side of Birmingham. Directly adjacent to the museum is a world-class 2.38-mile race track where national and international competitions are held several times a year for both motorcycles and cars. The museum is so close to the track that one entire glass wall of the 5-story museum overlooks a sweeping turn where visitors browsing in the museum can watch motorcycles and sports cars zoom past on the track below.

According to Ray, the various events hosted by the museum and track annually pump around $100 million into the local economy. Over the past 10 years this had totaled about $1.1 billion, he added. The two biggest events each year are the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in the spring and the Barber Vintage Festival in October, each of which brings about 65,000 visitors to the park.

Aside from these major events, Ray says the track is used approximately 285 days in a typical year with private or corporate events, track days, a Porsche sport driving school and other public events.

In recent years the Barber Vintage Festival has become almost an annual pilgrimage event for many in the motorcycling community from around the country and around the world. This year’s Vintage Festival – the 10th Annual – will be the weekend of Oct. 10-12. This motorcycling mecca feels like a three-ring circus of activities and rapid-fire events that offers something for everyone in the motorcycling world.


At last year’s Vintage Festival there were near continuous races featuring vintage motorcycles racing on the track as well as vintage motocross and other dirt-oriented events. Surrounding the beehive of activity on the track were vendor and manufacturers’ display areas, one of the largest and best-attended motorcycle swap meets anywhere. There was even a motordrome “Wall of Death” featuring riders on vintage bikes defying gravity as they ride sideways around the 30-foot-diameter wooden barrel. So much is going on at once there’s literally more to see than one person could take in without being in two places at once!

The museum, track and park are here primarily due to the efforts of George Barber, the longtime head of Birmingham-based Barber Dairies. He raced Porsches in the 1960s, including 63 first place finishes, and began collecting and restoring vintage sports cars in 1969 (The Barber Museum today has the largest collection of Lotus sports cars in the world).

Soon Barber’s interest turned to collecting and restoring vintage motorcycles and his collection grew until in 1994 it became the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum when it was granted a 501(c)3 not-for-profit status. A year later the museum opened to the public for the first time, being housed in an almost hidden building on Birmingham’s Southside, where it operated until moving to its present location in 2003.

“The track was built a year or so before we built the museum and it really started on its own with Porsche coming here and having their classes here,” says Barber. “They have been with us ever since and they have around 160 days of Porsche school every year, which is really fabulous.”

Over the years vehicles from the Barber collection have been featured in numerous shows, including the famed “Art of the Motorcycle” at the Guggenheim’s New York and Bilbao, Spain, locations as well as the Field Museum in Chicago. Another show at the Birmingham Museum of Art featured a special exhibition devoted entirely to motorcycles from the collection.

Barber himself will be inducted into the prestigious American Motorcyclist Association Motorcycle Hall of Fame on Oct. 17.

Today visitors to the museum can see bikes ranging from a 1902 Steffey, which was driven by a leather belt, to modern-era production consumer and racetrack machines. These include bikes from 20 different countries representing over 200 manufacturers. A day browsing through these beautifully restored machines is akin to walking through the history of motorcycling. Motorcycle enthusiasts and non-riders alike will undoubtedly find the experience rewarding and satisfying, if only for the appreciation of the craft involved in preserving these unique machines in their original state.

And the work goes on. Barber says future plans include building an autocross track, installing a walkway from the museum’s second floor to the gazebo and observation area to allow visitors to watch races, and constructing a 60,000 to 80,000 square foot addition to the museum.

For more information on Barber Motorsports Park, the museum and upcoming events visit