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The Sweet Sounds of Progress: The Singing River Trail Is On Its Way!

There has been nothing but beautiful music coming from the Singing River Trail project since Dr. John Kvach took over as its first executive director in July.

Unveiled last year by the Land Use Committee of Huntsville’s Launch 2035, the Singing River Trail is the committee’s most ambitious legacy project. It connects the North Alabama region to its rich history and preserving its pristine environment – originally consisting of 70 miles of walking, biking, and hiking trails and greenways.

However, the trail is kicking off 2021 with several significant accomplishments.

Kvach was on hand to announce the opening of four miles of the Hays Farm Greenway that includes an early intersection with the vast Singing River Trail network. The ribbon-cutting highlighted the partnership the trail has with south Huntsville, the city of Huntsville, Hays Farm, and South Huntsville Main Business Association, and stirred the interest of other potential corporate partners.

The Singing River Trail at Hays Farm merges the local greenway into the larger SRT footprint.

“The Singing River Trail is open for business along 2 1/2 miles of Haysland Road just south of the new Grissom High School,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest news to come out in 2021 is the new and much expanded trail map.

Originally planned as a 70-mile, three-county project, it has grown into a 150-mile, eight-county project under Kvach’s leadership, connecting North Alabama from Bridgeport/Scottsboro to Sheffield, bringing it within 16 miles of the Natchez Trace.

The Singing River Trail map shows it extending from near South Pittsburg, Tenn., to The Shoals. (Map courtesy The Singing River Trail)

Kvach has met with state legislators, mayors and city officials to increase awareness and possible funding sources. And he is working on a feasibility study for a section of the trail that will run from Scottsboro to Guntersville to Huntsville.

“We are now partnering with the National Park Service as we focus on the Deas-Whiteleay Trail of Tears Overland Route as the western expansion route,” he said. “And we can now call Athens State University a partner after it proactively reached out to to make sure the trail will be part of their campus.”

The National Park Service and Muscle Shoals Heritage Area are also in talks as the trail grows.

The trail has received funding from the state of Alabama, and the Community Foundation awarded a Compass Society grant for $11,000 for a new and more engaging website design promoting their “Get Outside Alabama” campaign. Kvach has also been working on a corporate-giving strategy and development packet that will allow the trail to pursue public and private money.

“We are currently working toward funding two design projects at the Huntsville International Airport, a trail route feasibility study in Athens, website work in collaboration in Decatur/Morgan County Tourism, and funding for a master plan from Bridgeport/Scottsboro to Huntsville and from Decatur to Sheffield/Florence,” Kvach said.

“Because the trail is a nonprofit tasked with raising its own operating expenses and funding, we will begin working with the state Legislature to pass a resolution of support on behalf of the Singing River Trail in 2021, and to find a line on the state budget for recreational, educational, and cultural/historical programing and to help with economic development along the trail.

Kvach said despite COVID-19 numbers rising in North Alabama going into the first of the year, he has seen an increase in interest about the trail.

“Outdoor recreation, hospitality, and engagement are becoming more commonly accepted and desired,” he said. “The trail has been working with two new partners in Huntsville who will rely on the trail as a source of alternative transportation, and as a way to highlight safe and fun outdoor activities and engagement.

“Taking a negative and making it a positive is working well with community partners.”

$14M Million Runway Distribution Center Takes Flight in the Jetplex

With the “sound of success” in the background and overhead, ground was broken on a $14 million, 208,000 square-foot Runway Distribution Center in the Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport.

L-R: Huntsville International Airport CEO Rick Tucker; Huntsville-Madison County Chamber CEO Chip Cherry; Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; Bill Fleagle, senior vice president of Shamrock Investments; Dennis O’Brien, founder and president of Shamrock Investments; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; and Barbie Peek, director of Business Development for the Port of Huntsville. (Photo/Steve Babin)

As the group of elected, civic and business officials  ceremoniously shoveled dirt, heavy equipment continued plowing the soil in the background, preparing the new spec industrial facility for its first tenant in July. The ceremony marked the official groundbreaking for Shamrock Investments’ fourth multimillion-dollar land investment in the Jetplex since 2017.

And, as if on cue, a cargo jet flew over the “runway” running alongside the development for which it is named, drowning out Shamrock Investments Vice President Bill Fleagle as he spoke about the new project .

“Since our first investment in the Huntsville in 2017, Shamrock Investments has seen Huntsville in general, and specifically the Port of Huntsville/Huntsville International Airport area, as an excellent location for strategic growth,” said Fleagle on an unseasonably warm and sunny February afternoon, . “We are very excited about the addition of Runway Distribution Center to Jetplex Industrial Park … and we appreciate the efforts of the City of Huntsville who helped make this project a reality while we continue to look for future opportunities to … expand our partnership with the greater Huntsville business community.”

He continued over the roar of the plane and laughter from the audience, “And we thank the Airport Authority and the Port Authority in helping us with the FAA, because as you can see, we are slightly close to the runway and were presented with some challenges to work through.”

“That is the sound of a Runway Distribution Center – that is the sound of success!” said Huntsville International Airport CEO Rick Tucker.

“The Huntsville community is on a roll from an economic development standpoint,” said Tucker. “We are pleased with the investments Shamrock Investments have already made and this endeavor represents the future … it is our goal to continue to work with them as partners to ensure success.”

Also on hand were Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; and Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce CEO Chip Cherry.

“I think what you see here is a community that believes in partnership,” said Battle. “As partners your success is our success, and we look forward to some great successes here. As you do well, the city of Huntsville does well.

“We see that on a day-to-day basis with our companies coming out and employment being provided. It is really realized when you see the young people working inside a new facility who have moved up in their status to a job where they can … grow a family. And that’s what it’s all about – it’s about providing … something that gives everybody a chance to be productive citizens and make a living. So, thank you for your investment in Huntsville.”

Based in Birmingham, Shamrock Investments has three other properties at the Jetplex. The new facility adds to the company’s Huntsville footprint at the park to more than 470,000 square feet.

“It’s phenomenal the growth we have seen over the last few years,” said Cherry. “It’s just evidence of the faith that people like Shamrock have in this community and what’s going on here – in the growth, the development, and the vision you have. So, thank you for placing some of that investment here in the form of buildings and we look forward to the jobs it’s going to create, and you becoming a part of the fabric of this community.”

Strong agreed it is nothing less than phenomenal what is going on in Huntsville and Madison County.

“There is no better place to be than Huntsville and Madison County to grow this economy,” he said. “Thank you for your commitment. What you are doing here today makes our community stronger.”

 

Last Days to Vote! Boost HSV From No. 2 to No. 1 as USA Today’s Best Small Airport

According to the most recent leaderboard, Huntsville International Airport is in second place in USA Today’s Best Small Airport competition.

But, guess what. 

That is exactly where HSV stood last year in the last few days of the competition, and the community pulled together to vote and win. 

According to Public Relations Manager Jana Kuner, Huntsville can do it again but time is running out. The voting site – https://tinyurl.com/VoteFlyHSV – closes Monday, Feb. 1 at 11 p.m. CST. 

“Last year our community and North Alabama came together and voted so much in the final days that we moved into the No. 1 spot,” said Kuner. “All the credit goes to the people in our region who refuse to lose, and we know they will come together and vote in this same tremendous way again.” 

Huntsville International Airport hosts Delta, American, United, Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines, offering nonstop service to 10 major destinations across the country.

For the second consecutive year, HSV has been nominated for the honor by a panel of travel experts with the 10 Best Reader’s Choice 2021. Fifteen small airports across the U.S. have been nominated this year with HSV as Alabama’s lone nominee.

All voting is digital, and you can vote once per day from each of your devices. Kuner also asks folks to share the link (https://tinyurl.com/VoteFlyHSV) on social media.

Kuner said 2020 was a hard year for the travel and tourism industry overall and HSV was impact as well but a No. 1 finish can make a difference.

“This contest could be a very positive thing for HSV as we enter into a new year and hopefully begin to get our passengers back to the skies,” she said.

Huntsville International hosts Delta, American, United, Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines, offering nonstop service to 10 major destinations across the country. 

The airport has an onsite hotel and a range of food and beverage options.

USA Today’s 10Best.com averages 5 million visitors per month and provides a variety of travel content, top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for the top destinations in the U.S. and around the world.

Going for a Repeat! HSV Nominated Best Small Airport – Let’s Turn Out the Vote!

Huntsville International Airport was voted the Best Small Airport in the United States last year in USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice awards.

Now, HSV is defending its crown and the deadline for voting is Feb. 1. 

All voting is digital with a limit of one vote per day. HSV has created a link to the voting page at https://tinyurl.com/VoteFlyHSV. Voting can also be done USA Today’s standalone travel website, 10Best.com.

Airport officials are also urging the community to share the voting information through social media. 

Fifteen small airports across the U.S. have been nominated this year by a panel of travel experts, including editors at USA Today

And, like last year, HSV is the only airport in the state to be nominated. 

“It has been a difficult year for travel and tourism,” said Jana Kuner, Huntsville International Airport Public Relations manager. “This contest could be a very positive thing for HSV as we enter into a new year and hopefully begin to get our passengers back to the skies.”

The winners will be announced Feb. 12. The official contest rules can be found here

Huntsville International hosts Delta, American, United, Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines, offering nonstop service to 10 major destinations across the country. 

The airport has an onsite hotel and a range of food and beverage options.

USA Today’s 10Best.com averages 5 million visitors per month and provides a variety of travel content, top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for the top destinations in the U.S. and around the world.

How to Fly Right During This Holiday Season

If you have not traveled much this year due to the pandemic, Huntsville International Airport is sharing its “Tips for Air Travel” during the holidays. Vacationers and business travelers will find this advice helpful as well, for cruising through security, passing through the ticketing process, and securely boarding the aircraft.

According to representatives from the Transportation Safety Administration and HSV, travelers can expect to see security officers throughout the terminal wearing face masks and disposable gloves they can discard after pat-downs, while many will also wear eye protection or face shields. 

Travelers can expect less physical contact at each step of the process.

Acrylic barriers have been installed at the terminal to limit exposure between airport personnel, security officers, and travelers during the issuance of your boarding pass and showing an ID. You will notice social distancing leading up to and into the security checkpoint environment; and surfaces in the security checkpoint area are frequently and intensely cleaned and disinfected.

The following procedures will make air travel much faster and less invasive as you travel this holiday season:

  1. Pack Smart! Pack only essential items and avoid packing prohibited items in carry-on bags. Pack liquids, gels and aerosols in small containers and place them in a plastic bag. Pack keys, loose change, wallets, lip balm, tissues, and cellphones into carry-on bags before entering security checkpoints to avoid having to put them into bins.
  2. Follow Universal CDC Guidelines. Wear a mask. Always keep a supply of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Bring a photo ID.
  3. Enroll in TSA PreCheck. TSA Precheck expedites the screening process and reduces touchpoints. Enrollees do not have to remove their shoes, belts, lightweight jackets, electronics, or their bag of travel-size liquids and gels. Click here to Apply for TSA Precheck.
  4. Do Not Wrap Christmas Gifts. Pack gifts without giftwrapping them so that if they trigger an alarm, they will not have to be unwrapped for examination. Gift bags, gift boxes or decorative bows are easy alternatives.
  5. Download the FREE myTSA app. It is the traveler’s best friend and a trusted source for last-minute travel questions. It provides passengers with 24/7 access to the most frequently asked airport security information, and has a helpful tip for preparing for security, including a searchable “Can I Bring” database. The app also keeps travelers up to date on flight delays and provides directions to TSA PreCheck lanes at any airport terminal. The app is available on iTunes or Google Play. 
  6. Properly Prepare Food Items for Travel. As a rule, if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it – pack it in a checked bag. Cakes, pies, cookies, and casseroles can travel in carry-on luggage.

If you need to know what items should go in a carry-on bag, or if you have last-minute questions, send them to @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger

Helpful travel tips are posted regularly at @TSA and @TSA_Gulf on Twitter. For localized travel information, visit FlyHuntsville.com.

(Photos courtesy of Huntsville International and the TSA)

Built for Business and Baseball: New Avid Hotel at Town Madison Open

MADISON — It is sure to be a home run for business travelers and baseball fans – the new Avid Hotel at Town Madison has the perfect setup for both, at the Madison/Wall-Triana Highway exit of I-565. It is a just a throw across the infield from Huntsville International Airport, Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.

A fitness center is among the amenities provided at the Avid.

For the business traveler, there are 55-inch HDTVs with free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, free breakfast with fresh-ground coffee, high-quality mattresses and black-out roller shades to promote a sound sleep. 

The Avid includes a 24-hour “market.”

For the baseball fan, it is just a throw from the outfield of Toyota Field, home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. There are outdoor patios and a 24-hour market for after-the-game munchies and a mini-refrigerator in every room.

According to Pritesh Patel, one of the owners of Jalasai Hospitality Co., the 87-room Avid by Intercontinental Hotels Group is a boutique-style hotel that promises a spotless hotel environment that is always ready for its next guests.

Double beds await the traveler for a restful sleep.

“This Avid hotel is the perfect fit for this location and community,” said Patel. “Whether you are a business traveler or visiting for a game at Toyota Field, in town for business or pleasure, you will find that we focus on getting the essentials right. The Avid hotel will provide the comfort, modern design and high standard of quality service to exceed your expectations.” 

The Town Madison hotel is the 21st Avid hotel and is a short hop from more than 1 million square feet of new retail, restaurant, and entertainment venues including Duluth Trading Co., J Alexander’s Restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, and 700,000 square feet of office space. 

Not Traveling Is Working for Now, But Can Virtual Business Sustain Test of Time?

While questions remain about when life in general will return to normal after nearly a year of pandemic, some of the more pressing questions surround the sustainability of businesses if they continue to operate in a virtual vacuum.

Certainly, for the time being, both small and large businesses in Huntsville are adjusting well to the circumstances. Telework and working from home, Zoom conferences and virtual events have made their way into the mainstream, and everyday life from online learning to groundbreakings, tradeshows, and award ceremonies are relying on virtual technology to carry them through. 

While some people, particularly in the educational field, are reporting “Zoom fatigue”, others are already seeing it as an opportunity to get creative, scale back office space, and streamline procedures and operations well into the future if not permanently.

But how sustainable is it really?

Air travel at Huntsville International Airport is ordinarily 70 percent business and 30 percent leisure. Currently combined, HSV is operating at about 30 percent of what it was this time in 2019. 

According to Jana Kuner, airport public relations and customer service manager, air travel is slowly improving, but business travel will be the real indicator for how long it will take to get back to normal, and when it does – assuming it will eventually, just how much will business have changed?

“Do people prefer Zoom to in-person meetings and are the savings in travel costs justifiable when compared to face-to-face meetings to ‘close a deal’ or meeting new people to build relationships?” she asks. “These are questions businesses everywhere are asking and the airport is interested in their perspective.”

Bevilacqua Research Corp. CEO Larry Burger said employees are losing, and missing, the personal connection with people.

“Those little conversations you have waiting for a meeting to start, or at the end of the meeting when you extend the conversation beyond the meeting,” he said. “You lose that sense of belonging, that feel of family in an organization when you haven’t seen someone in a month or so who works within your company.

“I think there are a lot of general update meetings for established customers that may continue to be virtual after everything returns to normal,” said Robert Conger, senior vice president of Technology and Strategy at Adtran. “However, when it comes to competing for new business and establishing key relationships, companies will still want to be in-person once they are able to safely do so.

“I do think web meetings and remote work will continue to play a much larger role in business than they did prior to this year, but each company will have to make their own decisions about when they may return to normal based on the type of work and roles within each company.”

For example, Conger said it will depend on the type of work a company is doing, the individual roles within those companies, and the experience level of the employees as to how effective remote working will be in the long run.

“For a lot of jobs like software development, remote work is fairly efficient and effective as long as the employees have a good environment at home to limit distractions. However, for employees that are new to a company or are earlier in their careers, there is a lot of value in those face-to-face work environments where you can collaborate more frequently and easily.”

Kuner uses the AUSA 2020 Annual Meeting going virtual this year as an example of a travel-related event that had a big impact on HSV because so many people in Huntsville travel to that conference by air. 

“Some things just can’t be done in the same way virtually,” she said. “While a simple meeting or conference call can accomplish some tasks, it can’t replace the in-person networking, relationship building, and deal making that in person accomplishes.”

Burger agrees.

“Virtual conferences are much less effective because you don’t get that synergy of a face-to-face,” he said. “We just had a live event in Huntsville for the Redstone Small Business Contracting Conference & Expo and we got more than a dozen leads that were unexpected because we were there. We could have discussions face-to-face with people wandering around the exhibit hall. None of it would have occurred virtually.

“We get almost nothing from a virtual event. We are still following up with several opportunities to work together with companies we met at the Redstone event. That’s the value of the conference … being in person, able to combine everybody’s good ideas to come up with a much better solution.”

How about the costs incurred in by having to have IT teams and creative departments develop virtual “booths”, Kuner said. Do other businesses stop by those booths like they do when the conference is in person?

“We hosted our first virtual customer summit a couple of months ago,” said Congers. “We had to invest in a platform that nearly cost as much as what it would have cost to host customers on site, at least for the first use. With that said, we can continue to use the platform at a lesser expense moving forward, so it will reduce our cost over time. 

“In the case of the virtual customer meeting with Adtran as the host, it was a great success in terms of how many customers we were able to reach versus on-site but you certainly lose some of the focused customer attention and relationship-building opportunities in a virtual environment. 

“As for the larger virtual conferences with booths, these are much less effective than the typical in-person conferences.”

But Burger said in-person meetings hold an advantage over online meetings.

“We attended another live event where we rolled out a new product and more than 10 percent of the people we talked to were very interested in following up or purchasing, whereas we can’t get any traction with just online stuff,” said Burger. “For a new product, if you let me explain it to people and talk to them about it, they tend so say, ‘Oh, okay, that makes sense’ or ‘That’s a good idea’.”

Burger said Bevilacqua has made allowances for some of his employees so they can still travel.

“We’re doing very limited travel, but we have several folks who are traveling by automobile,” he said. “One of our older employees who is high risk, bought a recreational vehicle so he and his wife can travel together. Of course, what used to be a half-day trip takes them two or three days, but they feel safer and they don’t have to stop at restaurants along the way.”

Roger Rhodes, Business Development director at Qualis, said nothing replaces the human face-to-face interaction for building relationships and making deals but he believes virtual meetings are here to stay.

“We completely cut out travel since May,” said Rhodes. “I think virtual meetings will continue to play a major role in business for the foreseeable future, but companies will reassess travel costs versus the benefits in the near future but the way of marketing and business travel has definitely changed. We will look to others to determine that balance of travel for the new norm.” 

Congers agrees.

“Virtual meetings will continue to be a vital component in day-to-day engagements where maybe face-to-face meetings are not as critical or as a complement to less-frequent on-site meetings,” he said. “However, when it comes to relationship-building and pursuing new customer opportunities, each vendor will want to have an edge of their competition and being in front of the customer more often is one way to achieve that.”

Kuner said it is important for people to know HSV is clean and safe and they have all of the appropriate procedures in place to keep people safe. 

“We encourage our region to get back to the sky for business and leisure,” she said. “Our airport is so heavy with business travel, if Huntsville gets back to traveling sooner, it could positively impact the airport since the airlines will be making decisions for adding back flights and routes based on demand. It could give them an opportunity to re-evaluate what worked before the pandemic, and where needs are for travel after.

“If we show that we are back to the sky and we need the service, then chances are that they will provide it. This could be an opportunity for us to shake things up.”

Huntsville International Airport Implements Cutting-edge Scanner Technology

No, it does not teleport you directly from the security checkpoint onto the airplane … maybe one day.

The CT scanner employs an algorithm to analyze the contents of each bag. (Photo/Huntsville International Airport)

But Huntsville International Airport’s state-of-the-art Computed Tomography scanner streamlines the screening process and reduces the number of touchpoints at the security checkpoint.

With the CT scanner, travelers will not need to remove electronics, food, or travel-size liquids from their carry-on luggage. This, in turn, reduces the number of bags that need to be opened for inspection.

“The CT machine employs a sophisticated algorithm to analyze the contents of each bag,” said Federal Security Director Gail Linkins, “and allows TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officers to rotate the image for a thorough analysis.” 

“One of Huntsville International Airport’s top priorities throughout the pandemic continues to be keeping passengers, tenants and employees safe,” said Rick Tucker, airport CEO. “This is also a priority for our partners across the airport as evidenced by the Transportation Security Administration’s continued efforts to reduce touchpoints.

“HSV is pleased that TSA in Huntsville will now offer this new technology as we all continue to work to provide our region with a facility that continues to improve safety and that our customers can utilize comfortably.”

To take advantage of the benefits offered by the CT scanner, travelers should enroll in the TSA Precheck program. Once enrolled, passengers do not have to remove shoes, belts, lightweight jackets, electronics, or their bag of travel-size liquids and gels. To apply for the program, visit www.tsa.gov/precheck

TSA is extending its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign from the summer. Still in place through the holidays, the campaign focuses on stopping the spread of COVID-19 and reduces the potential for cross-contamination at security checkpoints.

Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center Temporarily Closed

In efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center, Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau administrative office, and Huntsville International Airport visitors kiosk will be closed through Wednesday to allow for a thorough deep cleaning. The Visitor Centers and administrative office will resume regular operating hours Thursday.

Visitors should visit the COVID-19 travel resource page at huntsville.org for updates on attraction closures, event cancellations and delays, travel advisories, and more.

Huntsville Brings Home Top Peak Awards from Alabama Mountain Lakes Association

 

GADSDEN — After taking it on the chin for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Alabama’s $3 billion tourism industry found plenty of good reasons to celebrate at the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association’s 2020 PEAK Awards.

Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (left); and Jennifer Moore, vice president of Tourism for the Convention & Visitors Bureau (right); with award winners Pete Doyle, general manager of the Holiday Inn Research Park; and Marie Bostick, executive director of the Land Trust of North Alabama. (Photo/John Dersham)

Presented as part of the AMLA Annual Meeting in Gadsden, the awards recognized 11 North Alabama hospitality industry professionals and venues for their leadership despite extraordinary challenges that threatened to devastate the North Alabama tourism industry.

Five of the 11 awards went to venues based in Huntsville – including one of three President’s Awards.

Jana Kuner, public relations and customer service manager at Huntsville International Airport, received a President’s Award, presented to any person or organization whose tourism-related project created awareness or presented a positive image for North Alabama in the past year. Kuner’s role in helping stop a human trafficking incident at the airport this year earned her the recognition.

“We were honored to receive the President’s Award from Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism this year,” said Kuner. “Even more than that, we are pleased to be able to shed more light on human trafficking and to hopefully be able to continue to make a difference by keeping our passengers safe.”

“The Peak Awards showcase the work, service, creativity and contributions of those who are leading the way in the North Alabama tourism industry,” said Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association President/CEO Tami Reist. “With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, it has been and continues to be a challenging year for the tourism industry. This year’s winners have demonstrated a commitment … to showcase the best of North Alabama during these unprecedented times. It is a well-deserved win for each of the recipients.”

Awarded Organization of the Year, the Land Trust of North Alabama was recognized for opening its eighth nature preserve – Bethel Spring Nature Preserve in February, offering new trails for the community and visitors to explore.

“Land Trust of North Alabama was thrilled to be recognized by Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association as Organization of the Year,” said Marie Bostick, the Land Trust’s Executive Director. “North Alabama has a wealth of natural beauty and throughout this unusual and challenging year we were reminded how beneficial and rejuvenating those spaces can be.”

The Apollo 50th Anniversary Celebration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, a multimonth series of events that culminated the week of the Apollo 11 mission was named Event of the Year.

“We are honored the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association selected the Apollo 50th Anniversary Celebration for its event of the year award,” said Pat Ammons, senior director of communications for the center. “Two years of planning went into the events that brought people from all over the world to Huntsville to celebrate Alabama’s role in putting Americans on the moon.

“It was thrilling to be able to share those accomplishments with so many.”

Pete Doyle, general manager of the Holiday Inn Research Park, brought home the Tourism Professional of the Year award. (Photo/John Dersham)

Pete Doyle, general manager of the Holiday Inn Research Park, an anchor in Huntsville’s MidCity development, brought home the Tourism Professional of the Year award. He moved to Huntsville from Nashville in 1990 to manage the former Holiday Inn Space Center on University Drive and took the helm at the larger Research Park property in 2000. He led the 195-room hotel property through a newly completed $4.5 million renovation.

He is past president of the Huntsville Lodging Association and the Huntsville/Madison County Hospitality Association and serves on the City of Huntsville Lodging Recruitment Committee.

“I am quite honored to be recognized in an industry that has been my life is very humbling and appreciated,” Doyle said. “In over 30 years of work here in Huntsville, I have witnessed massive growth to our community that seems at warp speed now. That makes it a very exciting time and it has always been my pleasure to assist and give my input when asked by either our Convention and Visitors Bureau, Von Braun Center, Chamber of Commerce or City Hall to improve our stature.”

Zenovia Stephens, center, of Black Adventure Crew was named Top North Alabama Ambassador of the Year. (Photo/John Dersham)

Zenovia Stephens of Black Adventure Crew was named Top North Alabama Ambassador of the Year. Originally from Chicago, Zenovia and her husband’s love for exploring North Alabama with their sons and finding creative ways to be adventurous at home, have her active in the community. She serves as a board member for Chaffee Elementary School PTA and a volunteer at the Southeast YMCA.

“I’m honored that my work in promoting the adventure and beauty of Alabama, and the need to diversify the great outdoors has been recognized,” Stephens said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to showcase all our state and lead in helping to change the outdoors narrative.”

AMLA is dedicated to the promotion and development of the travel industry in the 16 counties that make up the North Alabama tourism region. The membership consists of chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, attractions, campgrounds, festivals, communities, counties, golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, vendors, financial institutions, and individuals.

Other winners were Decatur’s Cook Museum of Natural Science chosen as Attraction of the Year; Philip Formby, operations director for the Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheatre, won the Good Neighbor Award; and Haley Newton, facilities operator for Joe Wheeler State Park, won the Northern Star Award.

Maryanne Floyd, communications director for Decatur Morgan County Tourism, was named Young Professional of the Year; the Lasting Impression Award went to Scotty Kennedy, curator of the Red Bay Museum; and the Chairman’s Cup went to Fred Hunter of Absolutely Alabama.

There were two additional President’s Award winners: Hilda Smith, director of sales and events for the Hampton Inn by Hilton in Winfield, and Mindy Hanan, president/CEO of the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

(Top photo: Jana Kuner, public relations and customer service manager at Huntsville International Airport, receives a President’s Award from the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association. Photo by John Dersham)