Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy New Year! by John Dersham

Happy New Year!
Okay let’s make 2015 the best year ever, so far. It is a time for renewal, new commitments, new promises for self improvement…oh my, if that’s the case my list just got real long list.
I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I do make a conscience effort to make some year round improvements along the way. I guess the real measure is if you feel you are making some long term improvements in any category you wish to improve.
At DeKalb Tourism our mission is simple and to the point and we try to get better each year at two focus areas that are in-line with our mission statement.
1-Annual growth in the number of visitors that choose DeKalb as their destination for a vacation.
2-Improved visitor experience at our visitor information center. Provide the best and most updated information with all the options our visitors can see and do in DeKalb.
We have been very fortunate in that tourism has continued to grow each year with last year crossing the 71 million dollars spent by tourists visiting our area. This means taxes were paid into the revenue stream of our area on $71 million. To highlight this number we have doubled expenditures in less than 10 years.
It is our goal to keep growing. There are a number of projects in the works right now that will help insure long term growth in tourism to DeKalb. A few of these projects are: Lookout Gateway Trail system that would link public land trails to Fort Payne and Mentone. The objective is to increase our visitor stay by a day or two. In addition the multipurpose trail would be a boost in health and wellness opportunities for our local communities. There are ongoing projects being considered at the Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center as well as One World Adventure community center in the Quinn building. There are projects being worked on by Landmarks of DeKalb for historical tourism and multiple projects in Mentone including a Cultural Arts Center. This is just a sampling of potential for DeKalb.  There are more, but all of these are long term projects and all upon fruition will bring growth and development in tourism but also growth for all the communities involved.
I’d like to wish each of you a blessed and prosperous New Year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

One World Adventure by John Dersham

I love to see people making things happen in our community. We have such a great area and our tourists love us…but we need more to keep them here longer. The average visitor in DeKalb County will spend over $400 at day if they spend the night. They buy lodging, food, gas, retail purchases and they go to attractions. Our average overnight visitor, if they are here as a tourist, spends two nights on average. Just think if we could get them to spend three or four nights. The tax revenue would increase rapidly. Bill and Angie Shugart, founders of One World Adventure in 2008, are involved in a whole lot of things in DeKalb that perpetuate our long term success in growing our tourism expenditures but also in contributing to the health, physical fitness and education of our young people in our community and visitors. One World Adventure offers a host of current endeavors that include summer adventure camps on Little River. These camps offer an outdoor experience for youth, things such as Kayaking and canoeing, interpretive hikes, rappelling and climbing. The cost structure is based on income, affording all kids the opportunity for a great outdoor education and an extremely fun time while school is out. My granddaughters attended this last summer and they came back with great stories about the things they learned and the fun they had. In today’s culture many children do not get to participant in many outdoor activities other than organized sports programs.
During the school year, One World Adventure provides environmental education outreach to FPMS. Three years ago they started volunteering in Mrs. Baker’s Wildlife Elective class. Now in its third year, they go into the school once, sometimes twice weekly to teach students about Alabama’s waterways, the many uses of water and water conservation. On the school campus they have added a native plant garden and compost station and are in the process of adding rain barrels.
Throughout the year, the One World Adventure Little River Waterkeeper program is active in educating our community about water and habitat conservation, responsible outdoor recreation and sustainable economic growth. The program also works with local government land agencies such as forestry, coop extension, and our public land agencies to monitor our river for pollution, working with farmers and timber companies to prevent or lessen their impact on the watershed.
One World Adventure has a large project in the planning stage for our community. The old Quinn Hotel will become the WM Beck III Discovery Museum. The 17,000 sq. ft. historic building will be the year around home of One World Adventure and a place for quality out of school time for area youth. The center will be themed to accommodate natural light, green technology and interpretive nature and art exhibits. There will be an outdoor climbing wall on the East facing wall, green rooftop, and outdoor retail space. Not only will the center be a downtown hub for the community and its youth, visitors will find an incredible facility filled with wonder that will enhance their experience in our area. The project has a 1.5 million dollar price tag. Currently the process of raising funds for the project is underway with a projected opening date of April 2016.
In addition, the Shugart’s are intimately involved in a project called the Lookout Mountain Gateway Trail Project that would connect the cities of Fort Payne and Mentone to a top of the mountain trail system, including new trails but also using existing trails already in place at DeSoto S.P. and Little River Canyon N.P. and the Wildlife Management area. This multipurpose trail system would be for hiking and biking with some areas that are for equestrian use too. With the tremendous total length of this system it is estimated we could add an extra day or two to the length of our visitors stay in DeKalb. The trail will have points in various locations to park and get on and off the trail. It is our goal to have well marked trails that serve our local population with a great access to a quality a physical fitness platform for our community and a place for the visitors to spend multiple days feeling comfortable they can find their way. This project was the result of a Gateway Communities seminar hosted by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to look for projects to help rural areas grow and develop in the area of overall increase of quality of life. The Shugart’s, myself and a host of city and county leaders are on the planning and developing committee for this project. Our group attended an ARC meeting in Abingdon, VA last January to kick off the program.
I want to pass along my thanks to the Shugart’s and to all of you who are working toward improving the quality of life for all of us in DeKalb County.
To learn more about One World Adventure and all their activities, please visit their website at

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Calling all DeKalb County Daycationers by John Dersham

During this holiday season many of us will reflect back on earlier times in our lives. We spend a lot of time inside with family and friends. It is a time of year that conjures up fond memories of times gone by and those wonderful memories are discussed with visiting family and friends that visit over the holidays.
Since I am in tourism I want to bring that reminiscent feeling to life in the written word. DeKalb Tourism and the Times Journal would like to hear your favorite story about things you did and places you visited in DeKalb County. Your story can be from something you did this summer or it can be from your childhood, no matter how long ago. It can be about an attraction that is no longer here or no longer in business. It can be a story about an afternoon picnic or a four day adventure down in Little River Canyon. If it is a funny family story or an exciting adventure, please tell it to us.
The rules are simple:
*It must have taken place in DeKalb County
*It needs to be about a public attraction; a park, hotel, cabin, B&B, campground, hiking, picnicking, kayaking, repelling, bird watching, nature study, summer camp, biking, water events, etc.
*It should be no more than 600 words.
Deadline is January 31, 2015.
The top five stories will be printed in the Times Journal next year. DeKalb Tourism will use them to promote tourism to DeKalb County on social media, blog spot and other locations. You will always be listed as the author.
Submit them to Heather Buckner at the Times Journal. Email them to her at A panel of judges at the Times Journal and I will review the entries and pick the top five most applicable stories.
This is a fun project, so don’t procrastinate. I know you have a good story to tell because I have heard some of them told to me already.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Some of the best moments in life are spontaneous and unexpected by John Dersham

I had a wonderful gratifying happenstance last Saturday...or maybe it was meant to be. I have had an exhibit of my fine art B&W photography at the JSU Canyon Center at Little River Canyon N.P., since it opened in 2009. The print on the wall in this picture has been a part of this show much of the time. I change the pictures every now and then. This picture is of Paul C Marsh General Store in Locust Fork, AL. I shot this on 8x10 film in 1991. The family store closed a few years later and I had not seen the owners since I took this picture. I went to the Canyon Center today to attend Canyon Fest which comes the first Saturday in November each year. As I and family arrived from the parking lot into the building where my prints are on display a gentleman asked me if I was John Dersham.  I said yes and he explained he was Dan Marsh, the person in my picture of the general store. Since 23 years had passed it took me a moment to recognize him. He had seen me on Absolutely Alabama TV show recently and was told the now somewhat famous picture of him and his wife inside the general store was on display at the Canyon Center. He had never been there. In addition, several people have taken pictures of this picture on the wall and put it on social media with comments about them being related to the owner or having been in the store as a kid or working there, anyhow the Marsh's knew this print was here. I had sent them a darkroom print of this image years ago, just after I took the picture, but today they came to see it on display and it was a thrill to see Mr. Marsh again. He explained his wife had passed away a number of years ago. The thrill of this story is he had no idea he'd see me but he and his son and daughter-in-law brought with them the original painting Mrs. Marsh was painting in the picture I took.  In addition, they brought a painting she did later of my photograph. I never knew she made this painting of the photo. So in this picture taken with my smart phone is Dan Marsh, who in the original 8x10 film picture is standing behind the counter on the right and his wife painting the one in my current photograph and also shown is one she painted later of my B&W photograph. This was an honor and a whole lot of fun. Dan Marsh, his dad Paul C. Marsh and their family operated this store for 50 years. The building was built in 1931, the Marsh family bought it in 1945 and father and son and family members worked there and operated the store through 1994. This has been a popular photograph for me, mostly because of the all “Americana” look and feel of a time that has mostly passed away. When I was a young man starting photography, 50 plus years ago, scenes like this were more common. By 1991 when I took this image, scenes like this were becoming quite rare. There are still some places like this and if you know of one I’d love to photograph it on 8x10 film like I did this one.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mentone's Annual Colorfest by Kayla Worthey

For more than 30 years, the Annual Colorfest has drawn thousands of people to Mentone’s little village causing it to come to life with artists, musicians, local chefs, visiting patrons, and even nature seems to respond.  They come to drink in the cool, crisp mountain air, admire the glory of the fall foliage, and enjoy the festivities. Set for October 17-19, 2014, Colorfest brings together many different forms of art, the sounds of live music, fabulous foods and other family-friendly activities as Mother Nature sets the stage for a spectacular autumn season.

Colorfest will kick off with its traditional Friday night Fish Fry and bonfire hosted by One World Adventure at the Mentone Inn backyard pavilion from 3:30pm to 7pm. Cost is $10 each and includes a heaping plate of fresh catfish, Dave’s hushpuppies, homemade slaw, drink and dessert. Hang around and enjoy a two-hour tribute to the Beatles by David Lusk from 8pm to 10pm. Bring your lawn chair and/or blanket.

Get up early Saturday and “get your run on” at the Color Craze 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run before the festival. Participants will enjoy a scenic route beginning at Mason Park while being doused with colored powder.  Registration begins at 7am with the first wave of runners starting at 7:50am. Be sure to admire the Scarecrow Holler display while you are at Mason Park and go back to vote for your favorite handmade scarecrow during festival hours.

On Saturday morning, gates open at 9 a.m. to a glorious display of arts and crafts from over 70 premier artists and craftsmen in Brow Park, which offers perhaps the most spectacularly breathtaking bluff views in Mentone.

Exciting, down-home mountain music fills the air with the “Sounds of Mentone” – 2 days of a steady stream of music from some very talented local musicians. Live music will keep festivalgoers on their toes throughout the weekend with a line-up of energetic and professional local musicians that include Taylor Poff, Marc Womack, Ryan Keefe, Jerry Bloom, Jordan Brown, Jared Cushen, Jess Goggans, Silvia Constantino, Lisa Crow, Larry Joe Hall, Terry Hutcheson and David Lusk, all slated to perform at the Brow Park pavilion.

This year they bring an additional blast of local talent to the festival in the form of singers and musicians from area schools. These young performers will be on stage throughout the weekend at the Children’s Festival – located in the side parking lot of Kamama Gallery. Performers include Hannah Blansit, Taylor Henderson, Bri Wells, Abigail Goolesby, The Fowler Sisters, The Inputs, Moon Lake Chorus, Chris Robert’s Jazz Group and winners of the Singing with the Stars competition, Kenadie Lee, Payton Sells and Tatum Campbell.

Another new addition to The Children’s Festival will be The Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama. Along with pony rides, pumpkin bowling, glitter tattoos, cookie decoration and a dunking booth where festivalgoers have the opportunity to soak their favorite (or maybe least favorite?) politician or other community leader, you should have plenty to enjoy while at The Children’s Festival.

Be sure to browse the entire town at your leisure when you go. There are lots of shops, boutiques and unique places to discover.  Catch a ride in a horse drawn carriage near brow park and then head into town to enjoy some fantastic fall displays set up by many businesses that are participating in the Pumpkin Patch Jubilee decorating contest.

Look for the "Taste of Mentone" signs when your tummy starts talkin'! During festival hours, the Taste of Mentone participants will give you an opportunity to taste some of the best cuisine in the south!

The Mentone Business Association (MBA) is overseeing a free family friendly scavenger hunt that will lead you all over town in search of clues that offer a treat with each one found. If you complete the game, you can qualify to win a cash prize. You can visit MBA’s booth at the festival to register and get game rules. 

Festival hours are 9am to 5pm on Saturday and 11am to 4pm on Sunday. Handouts will be available at various locations around the Town of Mentone and will include a full schedule of events as well as a guide map. Admission is free, so bring the whole family and enjoy the festivities and the beautiful fall season.

Colorfest is presented by Mentone Area Preservation Association and sponsored by Jet Polymer Recycling, DeKalb Tourism, Skelton Orthodontics, Kamama Gallery, Wildflower CafĂ©, Mentone Realty, Custom Home Designs, First State Bank, Dixie Salvage, First Fidelity Bank, Wilson Funeral Home & Crematory, Accel Graphics, The Citizens Bank, Bruce’s Foodland, Westmoreland Tire, Valley Head Drugs, BJ Foodmart, Mountain Top Country Store and Mentone Camps (Desoto, Laney, Skyline, Riverview, and Alpine).