Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway by John Dersham

We have one of America’s most scenic drives right here in DeKalb County. The Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway is a state scenic byway and is in the beginning stages of becoming a National Scenic Byway. Lookout Mountain Parkway runs from Gadsden, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee through the Northwest corner of Georgia. The parkway runs 103 miles from its beginning at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden to its terminus at Ruby Falls in Chattanooga. The mountain itself is 93 miles long but the parkway meanders for added scenic value to its travelers. Over the last several years Lookout Mountain Parkway has been honored by Readers Digest as one of America’s Most Scenic Drives and by National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s Driving Tours of Appalachia. Thirty seven miles of this beautiful drive are in our county giving our county the longest single portion of the drive.
Lookout Mountain Parkway is beautiful year-round with its host of scenic venues along the way including Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden, Alabama then north through beautiful rural countryside up to Little River Canyon National Preserve. The scenic parkway includes an alternate drive along the rim of the canyon with multiple easily accessible overlooks that provide breath-taking views into the canyon. Little River Canyon National Preserve is host to many, many plant and animal species, some of which are native only to the canyon. Lookout Mountain Parkway runs through the portion of the eastern USA that is the transition geography between northern and southern plant and animal species and in this particular area many species of both northern and southern plants and animals thrive. After Little River Canyon you head north toward DeSoto State Park. From DeSoto State Park you will enjoy a seven mile wilderness drive to Mentone. Along the way you will see a short drive off the parkway to go visit the 104 foot DeSoto Falls. In Mentone you will find a host of cabins, B&B’s, restaurants and quaint artsy gift shops. Located in Mentone is the Mentone Springs Hotel built in 1884 which is now a B&B, it is the oldest hotel in Alabama still in operation. From Mentone follow the LMP signs that will lead you into Georgia and north along the eastern brow of Lookout Mountain. You will gradually work your way north toward Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is a short drop off the parkway. Cloudland Canyon is another marvel of Mother Nature that will make your Lookout Mountain Parkway trip well worth while. As you head toward Cloudland Canyon you will finish your trip back on the western brow of the mountain until you head down the mountain in Chattanooga. Along the western brow you will find Lookout Mountain Flight Park. It is the largest and most popular Hang Gliding resort and school in the US. Later along the drive you will pass Covenant College, known as the castle in the clouds from its prior days as a resort hotel. It can often be seen covered in fog when viewed from I-59 and I-24. Other things to see in as you head toward Tennessee are the famous Rock City located just before the Tennessee state line. Rock City is known for its view of seven states and for its incredible rock formations. As Lookout Mountain begins its decline down to Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River you will find the quaint artsy town of Lookout Mountain Tennessee. Just off the parkway are Point Park Civil War Park and the famous incline railroad bringing you up or down from the foot of the mountain below. Finally there is Ruby Falls. This water fall is underground inside Lookout Cave. You ride in an elevator into the cave for this magnificent view of Ruby Falls. Lookout Mountain Parkway is the host to the southern portion of the very popular World’s Longest Yard Sale every August.
John Dersham Executive Director of the DeKalb County Tourist Association will serve as President of the Lookout Mountain Parkway Association in 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

DeKalb County Has Two Great Arts Councils by John Dersham

Considering we are a relatively small county from a population point of view we are blessed with an inordinate amount of interest in the arts. We have two large arts councils in our county in the Big Will Arts Council and the Mentone Area Arts Council.

The Big Wills Arts Council (BWAC) is designated by the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) as a Local Arts Council (LAC) and has operated under the authority of the City of Fort Payne since the early 1990s. Since that time, the BWAC, under the directorship of Russell Gulley, has been noted as an exemplary rural arts program by the Southern Arts Federation (SAF), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the ASCA.

The mission of this 501 (C3) non-profit organization is:
To aid, encourage, advise, and to correlate all activities dedicated to the promotion of cultural arts in this area, to include, but not be limited to, increasing our youth's appreciation of the arts through education, preserving this area's contribution to the arts and humanities, and encouraging an on-going participation therein.

Today the organization’s primary focus is arts in education programming. Director Russell Gulley is one of the few teaching artists in Alabama that has been studying "Integrated Arts Curriculum" as sponsored by the Alabama Institute for Arts in Education (AIEA) and instructed by Karen Erickson, noted master teaching artist with the Kennedy Center in Washington. Russell is on the ASCA's Roster of Arts in Education Artists, has for two years (2007 and 2009) participated in the ASCA’s Alabama Rural Schools Touring Program presenting his “Intro: Folk Music, Blues and Tradition” residency and concert program, and is currently serving the Fort Payne City Schools as an Artist in Residence in Music in his 3rd year.

Russell has been involved in local community arts for over 2 decades and has served the state on grant review panels, as President of the Board of Directors for the Alabama Folk life Association (AFA), is a graduate of the AFA's "Alabama Community Scholars Institute" sponsored by the ASCA and the NEA, and is dedicated to preserving the state's cultural heritage. (Information and text provided by Russell Gulley.)

The Mentone Area Arts Council was established by a group of farsighted individuals in 2004 and was incorporated in 2006. It received its designation as a private, non-profit organization in 2007. Growing steadily from humble beginnings, the Council now has well over 100 members, from as far west as Fort Worth , Texas, as far north as Bethesda, Maryland, and as far south as Tampa, Florida.

The Arts Council plays a significant role to enrich the quality of life for people in Mentone and neighboring communities by raising funds for the arts, sponsoring events, providing educational opportunities, and strengthening cultural resources for the benefit of all businesses and citizens in the Mentone area. Our primary focus is on three areas, namely, our artists, the Lookout Mountain community, and providing educational opportunities for children in our local schools and adults as well.

Our artists are an overlooked, valuable part of the cultural makeup of the Mentone Area. In the 1920’s, people from all over the country were attracted by the clean air and mineral springs in the Mentone Area for health enrichment, rest and relaxation. For the same reason, artists settled in the area where mountain environs were conducive to creativity and innovation. Their skills have been passed down for generations and today, we have located over 250 fine artists in the area who are contributing to the cultural fabric of the community and its economy on a daily basis. (Information and Text provided by Neal Whitt.)

This Christmas buy local and buy some of your gifts from our very talented artisans in DeKalb County.