U.S. 72 Resurfacing Project to Begin In Madison, Jackson Counties

The Alabama Department of Transportation advises motorists that a major resurfacing project on U.S. 72 in eastern Madison County and western Jackson County will begin.

Whitaker Contracting will be resurfacing more than 16 miles of the four-lane highway, from east of the Flint River in the Brownsboro area to east of Parnell Circle in the Woodville area. Work on the westbound lanes will be complete before progressing to the eastbound lanes. The $11,658,369 contract sets a Nov. 19, 2021, deadline for completion.

Prior to milling and paving beginning, a subcontractor will perform work on bridge guard rails. That work will start June 23, weather permitting. Motorists are advised to expect single- lane closures on U.S. 72 westbound between Jackson County 7 and Jackson County 63 in Woodville from about 8 a.m. to about 5 p.m. daily.

Motorists are asked to drive with caution in the work zone, reduce speed and be prepared to merge.

 

Trash Pandas Hosting Movies, Block Parties, Camps in Lieu of Baseball This Summer

MADISON — Just a couple months ago, Josh Caray planned on calling play-by-play baseball in the first season of the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas.

Instead, he’s helping the club Band-Aid what so far has been a lost baseball season across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You look forward to a baseball season, covering games and being around players and managers and riding the bus and seeing different cities seeing different ballparks and, you know, getting better at your craft and things like that,’’ Caray said. “And then all of a sudden, one month out (from the season opening), and have that all taken away from you over something you can’t control is frustrating.

“But then you look at what’s going on across the country and across the world and I realize it’s really not that bad. And I also appreciate the fact that, in comparison, we are fortunately in a much better position than a lot of other Minor League Baseball teams.’’

In lieu of baseball, the Trash Pandas hosted their first “Block Party’’ at the sparkling new Toyota Field last weekend. There have been kids’ day camps the past two weeks and the first On-Field Movie Night, presented by Paragon Research Corp., takes place tonight at 7:15; gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for kids. The movie is “Angels in the Outfield” – the Trash Pandas are the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angelse Angels. Folks can sit on the field (blankets only, no chairs) or in the stands. Concession stands and the Junkyard team store will be open.

Upcoming events include a Trash Pandas Instructional Baseball Camp June 15 and 16 and another Block Party on June 19, featuring live entertainment and fireworks.

On July 3, the Fourth of July weekend kicks off with an Independence Eve Block Party. Block Party tickets are on sale now at TrashPandasBaseball.com/Events and the Toyota Field Ticket Office.

A July 4 features a patriotic extravaganza will feature the “biggest fireworks display in the Metro!’’ Tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m.

For each event, Pepsi Gates will open at 5 p.m. and Trash Panda Nation full-season ticket holders will gain early entry at 4:30 p.m.

“There’s nothing like fireworks blasting off in the summer surrounded by friends and family,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “We can’t wait to deliver our slice of Americana to this great region with our summer lineup that will knock it out of the park.”

Admission to each event is $10. Kids two and under enter for free, and there is no charge for parking.

In accordance with CDC guidelines, the facility will operate at half-capacity for all events.  Fans are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance

The events are added to a slate of activities the organization has produced since the latest amendments to the state’s Safer at Home Order.

“We’re adjusting and doing the very best we can,” Nelson said. “I mean, we’ve got very, very talented people in our organization who oversee entertainment and promotions and things like that, so we’ve been able to make this into a positive situation and it’s been a very negative situation with regard to baseball.’’

 

Rocket City Mom Promises a Creek Stomping, Splashpad, Bucket List Good Time This Summer

There are 60 days of summer wedged in between the end of the 2020 school year and the beginning of the new 2020-21 school year.

For working parents who rely on summer camps for childcare during summer break, not sending their children to summer camp is simply not an option for them.

Stephenie Walker, managing editor of Rocket City Mom, a Huntsville-based internet media company that helps parents and new families to the city, find and share information about Huntsville and the surrounding area, said the number one question parents and families are asking in the wake of an unprecedented spring disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, is whether summer camps are going to happen this year.

“Anyone who has followed our seasonal activity guides released every spring, summer, winter and fall for the past 10 years knows we usually cover musical events, festivals, movies, camps, et cetera,” said Walker on a teleconference call with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “But this is an unusual summer and many of those things are closed due to the pandemic.”

In fact, while the Summer Teen Volunteer Programs across the city have been mostly cancelled, there are still several arts and education-related camps, some of them virtual, still active.

In the sports and fitness camp arena, Row Huntsville Watersports camps and the Rocket City Swim League camps are still on; the popular YMCA Camp Cha-La-Kee overnight camping and Burritt Nature rangers Day Camp is taking reservations; and some Vacation Bible School camps are still active.

The CyberProtex “Get Into the Game” introduction to cyber security camp for ages 11 to 15 is on, as are Huntsville STEAM Works and Huntsville City Schools’ virtual camps. Space Camp and Robotics Camp are tentatively starting up in late June, and the new Rocket City Trash Pandas may not have started their long awaited minor league baseball season, but they are moving forward with their Day Camp at Toyota Field.

“We are excited the Trash Pandas are giving the community what they have asked for and we expect some very creative ideas to be coming out of that organization this summer,” said Walker.

“Overall, we had to pivot from business-based events and come up with a guide that covers the limited number of summer activities still out there, while offering parents creative alternatives that will prevent boredom and get kids away from their device screens. Essentially we needed to come up with something that would help parents and families survive Summer 2020.”

While brainstorming with her business partner and founder of Rocket City Mom, Jennifer Breuer, they recalled the many times they heard parents reminisce during normal times about the days of their own childhood summers when they entertained themselves by riding bikes, climbing trees, running and jumping and playing Fort or King of the Hill.

“This is that summer!” Walker said.

From that concept, they pulled together a summer activity guide that can be found on the homepage of their website at RocketCityMom.com.

“We have tried to offer multiple recommendations for every day of those 60 days until school starts back, and you will find some events that can be done from home or online, while others are real life events away from home, but still in compliance with CDC guidelines for safe social distancing,” Walker said.

Rocketcitymom.com began as a Mom Blog in 2010 when Breuer’s husband relocated the family to Huntsville. They had a daughter who was just a toddler at the time, and they didn’t know anyone in Huntsville and had no family in the area to rely on for information. Breuer and her child began exploring the area on their own and Jennifer began blogging about it.

Take a day out to do some creek stomping! (Photo/RocketCityMom.com)

Four months into the blog project, Jennifer met Stephenie Walker. Walker has lived in Madison County most of her life and knew the community having worked at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library and being involved in community projects.

The two had a simpatico perspective on things – Breuer knew what new Huntsville moms needed and Walker knew what was available. They began collaborating and, today, RocketCityMom.com provides a perspective and detailed information about Huntsville and Madison happenings, as well as where new families to the area can find products, services and activities.

“This year we put together all the different activities you can do while safely social distancing, from water parks, splashpads, swimming pools and swimming lessons, to hiking, camping, horseback riding, disc golf and visiting waterfalls, parks and playgrounds,” she said.

Some of the highlights from the guide include Creek Stomping. It is free and open to the public and Rocket City Mom provides a guide with plenty of tips on how to do it right.

You start with a creek such as the Indian Creek Greenway, the Alum Hollow Trail on Green Mountain, the Hays Nature Preserve, or the Mill Creek Greenway in Madison to name a few; and then you go stomp around it. You can wear a pair of rainboots, duck shoes, water shoes, sandals, or just go barefoot. Popular sidelines include skipping stones, building dams with rocks and sticks, searching for crawdads, and netting small fish.

The guide also recommends provisions for this activity like plenty of bug repellent, sunscreen, a net, a side of dry clothes and plenty of towels.

“The Land Trust takes care of a lot of the outdoor spaces where you can enjoy these activities so we always advise visitors to leave our outdoor spaces in better condition than how you found them,” Walker said. “Pick up your trash and make sure you don’t disrupt the ecosystem. Teaching children this is in itself an educational experience.”

While Point Mallard is currently closed, splashpads at Bicentennial Park, Everybody Can Play on Drake Avenue, and Hogan YMCA are open.

“It’s a great way to go out and cool down and it doesn’t cost a thing,” said Walker.

There is a Civil Rights driving tour that is very timely and will help put what the country’s going through today into its proper context.

The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library’s annual Summer Reading program is still happening in a slightly different way. Parents and their kids can go by and pick up their summer reading packets and in it are reading logs. The library is giving out prizes to kids who meet their goals and those goals are customizable to every child’s reading level.

“Summer reading is something to do and your child will be much better equipped with less ground to recover when school starts back in August if they keep reading all summer long,” said Walker. “It is easier to get some kids to read than others, but if you talk to your local librarian, they are very clever and have many ways to get even the most reluctant readers to pick up a couple of books.”

Furthermore, almost all the area’s farmer’s markets and Community-supported Agriculture are open and dozens of area orchards, U-Picks, and roadside stands are open throughout the summer, providing a tantalizing experience for kids and families.

Finally, Rocket City Mom has introduced a new category of fun this summer. The Summer Bucket List is a printable checklist of 61 days of items designed to get bored kids thinking about socially distant things they can do like catching fireflies, building a kinetic sand castle, organizing a water balloon Olympics, or making a themed dinner for their family.

“We felt we needed to provide a good mix of things you can do at home, and out in the community. This way we are providing our readers what they are looking for. That’s what we do best,” said Walker. “Give working parents and their families an event calendar of things to do together.

“Hopefully, everyone can find what they are looking for this summer.”

 

Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center Reopening June 19

After being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center will reopen June 19.

New health and sanitization protocols will be implemented for visitors and staff. Highlights of the new protocols include:

  • All Visitor Center staff will wear protective face masks.
  • Curbside service – visitors may call the Visitor Center to request brochures be brought out to their vehicle.
  • Entry/exit – guests will enter only through the front doors facing Church Street, and exit through the Cleveland Street side doors.
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be installed near entrances, elevators, bathrooms, and other areas throughout the facility.
  • All “touch” surfaces will be cleaned thoroughly each morning with disinfectant wipes (counters, light switches, door handles, bathroom counters, handrails, etc.).
  • The front counter will be wiped after each customer service interaction and every hour throughout the day.
  • Benches/furniture will be removed or spaced appropriately to allow for at least six feet between seating locations.
  • Signs and floor markers will be located throughout the facility to mark social distancing of at least six feet.
  • Disinfecting wipes will be made available for visitors.
  • The #RocketCitySelfie station and digital guest sign-in kiosk will be removed until further notice.

Huntsville/Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau officials hope the increased safety measures will inspire confidence in visitors, quickening the recovery process for the local travel and hospitality industry.

“We’re looking forward to the return to travel, but we also understand that reopening needs to be done cautiously and with strict adherence to the health guidelines recommended by the CDC and our public health officials,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB. “The more our visitors see us doing our part to keep them safe, the more comfortable they’ll feel in slowly getting out to local restaurants, hotels, museums, and other venues.

“Reopening our local travel economy will be a process, and it starts with us.”

The visitor center hours will be 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and noon – 3 p.m. on Sundays. The visitor kiosk at the Huntsville International Airport will remain closed until further notice.

Information on reopening announcements and travel-related health protocols from Huntsville tourism partners can be found on the CVB’s digital reopening guide and COVID-19 resource page.

 

2019 ‘Banner Year’ for Huntsville/Madison County Tourism

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been given quite a reason to celebrate.

According to the 2019 economic impact report recently released by the Alabama Tourism Department, the Huntsville and Madison County area achieved the state’s highest percentage increase in travel and tourism revenue over the past year, reaching $1.62 billion in sales.

The area also secured the number two spot in county visitation rankings, bringing in roughly 3.7 million visitors and leap-frogging fellow Alabama tourism hot spots Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery.

2019 saw the economic impact of travel and tourism to Madison County reaching its highest levels ever, providing nearly 19,000 jobs, and saving residents roughly $925 in taxes as a result of travel expenditures.

These figures represent a 15.2 percent increase in traveler spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transportation.

In addition to the explosive growth the city has seen over the past year, the CVB attributed much of the 2019 increase to the successful efforts of partners such as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Alabama Bicentennial Commission in promoting two key events for Huntsville – the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Alabama bicentennial. Celebrations around these anniversaries were major tourism drivers for the area.

“2019 was truly a banner year for the Rocket City,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Not only did Huntsville continue to see growth in our hotel, dining, and entertainment options, but so many of our community partners rallied together to offer top-caliber events and programming around two nationally significant events – the Apollo 11 50th anniversary and our state bicentennial.

“It’s not every year that we get to enjoy such a global spotlight on our city. We worked hard and leveraged that attention to the best of our abilities, and it’s wonderful to see the return on those efforts.”

Huntsville International Airport Adopts Face-Covering Policy

Huntsville International Airport will implement a face-covering policy for anyone entering the airport terminal building effective Monday, May 18.  This policy will be in effect until further notice.
The policy urges everyone entering the facility to wear a face-covering and applies to anyone inside the terminal building whether traveling or not.  In addition, HSV is also requiring all airport employees, tenant employees and contractor employees to wear face coverings in public areas of the airport terminal building.
“One of Huntsville International Airport’s top priorities throughout this pandemic has been to keep passengers, tenants and employees safe while at our facility”, said Rick Tucker, Huntsville International Airport CEO. “We are adhering to the recommendations of the CDC in regards to face-coverings because safety is a priority and because we want all passengers to feel comfortable traveling through HSV.”
Transportation Security Administration  employees are already required to wear face coverings and the airlines serving HSV also require face coverings to be worn starting at the check-in lobby, at the boarding gate areas, on jet bridges and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight. Passengers are permitted to remove coverings in order to eat or drink.
The HSV policy will not require passengers to wear face-coverings if it is unsafe for them to do so in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person respiratory droplets from someone who is infected. Additionally, COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms. The CDC recommends that everyone wear a face-covering in public to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others in case you are infected but do not have symptoms.

Area Hospitality Industry Weathering COVID-19 Storm

It officially began with a health order from the state March 20.

That’s when all on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants and bars had been officially banned.

Then, Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Stay at Home order” followed on April 4 thus further delineating “essential” versus “nonessential” businesses.

One thing that is certain since COVID-19 is uncertainty. Since mid-March, there have been a lot of mandates with the information changing daily, perhaps even hourly in some instances.

Over the past few years, Huntsville and Madison County have been experiencing exponential growth in lodging, dining, and beverage establishments.

However, COVID-19 has been quite the game changer, for both seasoned and new businesses alike.

Although the order was scheduled to end April 30, it is anyone’s guess as to the long-term impact and what Huntsville-Madison County’s version of the “new normal” will be.

Many people do not immediately consider North Alabama as a tourist destination.

However, in 2018, there were roughly 3.35 million visitors to Madison County and more than $1.4 billion generated by tourism.

“We receive information on an annual basis from the Alabama Tourism Department,” said Charles Winters, executive vice president at Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “As far as estimated visitors to our county, their estimation of economic impact of all types of visitors; that’s business travelers, convention attendees, all the folks who come into our community.

In North Alabama alone, tourism-generated dollars are tied to a multitude of capital improvements, as well as an estimated 20,000 jobs in the hospitality-service industry sector.

With the “Stay at Home” order, businesses cut back their hours and services, which translated into fewer employees being needed. Many have been furloughed, laid off, or flat-out terminated.

As a result of COVID-19 and assorted mandates, varying from state-to-state, the hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard, with estimates as high as 7 million jobs lost or furloughed at the national level.

Although restaurants have been deemed “essential” and can still offer curbside or window pickup, as well as a variety of delivery and pickup options, not all restaurants have decided to keep their doors open.

“Due to COVID-19, Grille 29 Huntsville is temporarily closed,” said Regina Burnett, director of catering sales. “We are unsure of a return date at this time.”

The layoffs and furloughs serve as a double-whammy for the already personnel-strapped hospitality sector.

“As an industry, we’ve been growing exponentially here in Huntsville,” said Jennifer Middleton, director of sales at Candlewood Suites Huntsville-Research Park. “Workforce has been a huge issue for everybody, especially the hospitality industry.”

As the area growth ensued, local industry leaders addressed the issue by getting involved in tech programs, culinary programs at area high schools, along with assorted job fairs, all designed to bring attention to showcasing hospitality and service industry jobs as variable career options.

“Then, overnight, this work that we have been promoting as one of the best industries to work in – it comes to a halt,” said Middleton. “It’s just sad, for us to come from one place to another where we were in desperate need and, now, we have too many and not enough demand.”

In response, the Huntsville-Madison County Hospitality Association board took action. Using social media, the association contacted its members, letting them know that resource information had been posted on its Facebook site. A Facebook public group site titled, “HSV Food To Go Options (COVID 19)” was also created so people can find out what restaurants are open along with ways the community can help do their part to boost the hospitality industry.

“On a positive a note, we can promote ourselves as one of the best industries to work in because, as an industry, you can see how resourceful we are,” said Middleton. “We say this all the time, amongst ourselves, that we are one big family.

“And we’re passionate about serving people and especially about taking care of our own.”

Huntsville International Airport to Receive Funds from CARES Act

Huntsville International Airport is among the entities to receive aid in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides financial assistance to the air travel industry to help overcome the staggering impacts of COVID-19. The legislation provides some $10 billion to the industry, including airports across the nation.

Commercial  airports have reported 50 to 85 percent revenue loss since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Huntsville International is among the hardest hit, according to the Aviation Council of Alabama.

“Huntsville International Airport projects that we will lose 75 percent of revenue for the next three months or a total of $7 million to $10 million,” said Rick Tucker, HSV CEO. “Our airport is operating in mission critical mode and without emergency assistance the outlook for us seems grim.”

Decatur’s Pryor Field Airport Authority is reporting a drastic decrease in business traffic as well.

“Tenants are not flying very much and none of the airport’s regular business travelers have utilized the facility in the last week,” said Airport Manager Adam Foutz.

Tucker said airports are economic drivers that provide vital transportation infrastructure to give communities access to business opportunities across the nation and the world.

“This is why we are tremendously grateful that the federal government has worked so hard to support the airline and airport workforce during these unprecedented times,” Tucker said. “We are pleased to see that after a week of negotiations, lawmakers, staff and the administration worked tirelessly to find an agreeable way to infuse needed funds into our organizations. These funds will protect our workforce so that we can continue providing passengers with an economic and cultural lifeline via the air transportation network.

“Huntsville International Airport will now do our part to continue safely operating and providing transportation services that will move our region past this pandemic and into the future.”

Tucker also thanked U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R, and Doug Jones, D, and U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks, R, and Robert Aderholt, R, for their work on the legislation.

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

Convention & Visitors Bureau Cancels Guided Walking Tours in April

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) public health threat, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has announced that the guided, historic walking tours, originally scheduled for each Saturday in April through the Twickenham and Downtown Madison historic districts, have been cancelled.

The free walking tours are part of a statewide initiative by the Alabama Tourism Department to foster the exploration of Alabama’s history and culture, especially in downtown areas.

Details will be announced for the fall walking tours, which take place in October and explore the historic Five Points and Old Town districts.

Visitors are encouraged to reference the COVID-19 travel resource page on huntsville.org for updates on attraction closures, event cancellations and delays, travel advisories, and more.