Thursday, July 16, 2015

Whittler’s Corner revived in Fort Payne City Park by John Dersham

I did not get to attend Mayor Larry Chesser’s dedication ceremony of Whittler’s Corner in the Fort Payne City Park last Saturday, but I love the idea of having it. I think the mayor had a great idea in re-establishing Whittler’s corner, tree stump horseshoes and togetherness. Retro technologies and lifestyles are very popular again and are increasingly so among young people. The next thing becoming more popular is retro cultural experiences. These are places you can visit or create yourself that are not just retro in appearance but retro in the experience. There are examples of this all throughout culture. Collecting and listening to LP’s instead of CD’s is very popular. Retro photography using film and darkroom has a growing niche. Pottery, quilt making, woodworking and the list goes on and on. No technology either scientific, art or craft ever completely disappears. You can now take a vacation to a paid destination that by design takes you off the grid. No smart phones, notebooks, TV, email or text. Oh my, it might mean you will sit around a campfire and talk or sit on the front porch of a lodge with no TV or connectivity. You might eat together, walk together, and catch lighting bugs together. Maybe you’ll hike at night or just sit out and look at the stars. It is amazing how we can entertain ourselves if the options we have been using are no longer available, even if it is only for a day or a week.
When I was in high school I was in Columbia, Missouri. Columbia was and is a sort of upscale college town but all around it was good old solid Americana, rural towns. As a family we would go to those towns in the evening or a weekend just to mill around. We’d eat there (no chain restaurants), we walk around to various shops and usually ended up somewhere local for ice cream. In 1972, I moved to Nashville, TN and began working for Colorcraft/Kodak film processing. I had been in photography for a long time already by that time. I was the middle Tennessee sales representative. Included in my territory was Nashville but also towns like Gallatin, Dickson, Lewisburg, Pulaski, Lawrenceburg, Columbia, Clarksville, Ashland, Franklin, Shelbyville and many more. Many of these towns were county seats with a courthouse square. In those days many of our accounts were on the square. Back then all drugstores sold cameras, film and photofinishing and most towns had a mom and pop camera store too. Yes, by then the outskirts had K-Mart and some other chain retailers that used our products and services too. In the 70’s all of those small towns were filled with men sitting around the courthouse yard wearing bib overalls and whittling and in many cases there were horseshoe and checker games going on. Since I was into photography I liked to take pictures in those downtown areas. I often checked out the courthouse lawn and see who was sitting out there solving the world’s problems. These guys were products of the great depression and World War II; they were hard working farmers, laborers or local business people. They were in the 70’s or 80’s by then they were retired…taking it easy whittling, talking to lifelong friends and probably talking politics and about the younger generation that seemed rather worthless to them. You know they won’t work and have that long hair and won’t do what they are told, was in the conversation. In 1982, my family and I moved to Philadelphia, PA as a company promotion and I got separated from those quaint middle TN rural towns. In the 1990’s we were again living near enough to Nashville to make trips there. We’d go through some of the towns that were part of my old stomping grounds but by then the elderly men on the courthouse lawn were gone. They died out and my generation that followed did not have whittling in their culture. By then, air conditioning, TV and various other entertainment venues were occupying the senior’s time. You could find them in the morning at any coffee shop, however, not whittling, not playing horseshoes or checkers but they were drinking coffee and talking about politics and that younger generation.
Myself and other Baby Boomers were here for the non electronic culture and we are here for the new technologies and most of us use new technology in one way or another all the time and the new technologies are great but sometimes I like to think back to a time less congested with technology that takes you away from a simpler form of communicating with others and simpler more easy going forms of entertainment, like sitting on the porch in the evening, playing in the yard with the kids watching daylight fade to darkness then staying out to enjoy the stars and the cooling air. I think we all need a little retro in our lives a little calm a little time to revive the spirit. I am glad we have revived Whittler’s Corner as a renewed addition to Fort Payne City Park. Horseshoes anyone?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Front Porch Communications Network by John Dersham

Televisions, computers, smart phones, laptops, note books, IPods, IPads, Netflix, social media, Skype, DVD’s, DVR’s all to make life easier, more efficient, more organized and more in contact with everyone and everything, right? Got to get to work, to church, to kids sports events, run here, run there- never stop, text message got to stay in touch every second, every day, right? So with all this technology that makes everything you do faster and easier why is there such a disconnect in being connected? Instead of using our devices as a tool to speed up our work and our personal lives like it could, we have made electronics our life and our entertainment. You know our culture has changed when you’d rather text a person then call them or even worse, text them when they are in the next room from you.  Even worse than that, argue with them, criticize them or slander them via text or email or social media when you’d never sit them down, look them in the eye and tell them that same information. With all of this said, I’d like to introduce the Front Porch Communications Network. It is where, we the people (politicians too) talk through issues face to face with the intent of establishing a middle ground, a compromise. In family life, in the work place and in politics, solutions are established “for the people and about the people”. It is the place families meet in the evening and sit and talk and look at each other and enjoy the birds chirping and the crickets scraping their legs together and the smell of the air and the feel of the breeze with the sun sinking low and falling into darkness. You can argue and look at each other while you are doing it. You can talk of days gone by and tell funny stories about what each other did once upon a time. You can pray, you can talk about science and history and math. You can talk about the future and you can love one another and feel bonded by your closeness. I think one of the reasons we are not working out differences in opinions in politics and in our home lives has to do with the way we communicate. Instead of looking at each other face to face and talking through our issues with the intent of reaching some compromise we are communicating our beliefs electronically and in the case of politicians via radio or television. The problem with this system is it distributes the opinion but does not offer a discussion of opposing viewpoints and once spoken to the world in the media the opinion becomes locked in and compromise becomes an ego issue. The opposing viewpoints are then distributed on TV and radio too and no real discussion has taken place between the parties involved. Compromise is worked out through joint efforts between people talking to each other and working with each other with the intent to find a viable solution that everyone can agree upon, or live with.
When I was a kid, friends and I played outside till dark in the summer. No thought of staying inside. At that time the only thing on TV during the summer were reruns from the same year. At that point we had CBS, NBC and ABC.  There were no choices for shows being produced and viewed as new episodes throughout the year, like now. None the less our culture was to be outside in the evening and our parents were too. All of the adults were sitting on their front porches. We would walk the neighborhood. There were sidewalks and you’d drop in on people on their porches. If you wanted to talk, there was no need to call them, just walk to their house and they’d most likely be on the porch which was very communal. It was a way of life and no one was looking for privacy while on the front porch. They were relaxing, feeling the pleasant evening air and talking with neighbors and friends, in person. I can still hear my relatives arguing with each other on the front porch about politics, children and social opinion. They would tell each other how wrong they were, but in those conversations they always had some form of resolution to the issue and invariably someone else would say, well that might work. I think we’d get along better and accomplish more if we’d spend a little more time using the Front Porch Communication Network and less time alone reading and watching other people’s opinion with no discussion. In a world that has a format for everyone’s opinion to be heard and accuracy of detail or correctness of information is not required we need to step back a little and do some face to face time.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tourism Economy Critical to DeKalb by John Dersham

Tourism is the largest non agricultural industry in DeKalb and in the State of Alabama. The dollars spent by tourists in our area are critical to the economy of our area, so much so that if there were no dollars spent by tourists in DeKalb County every household in DeKalb would have to pay an extra $230 in taxes just to make up the difference.
Every year at this time the state of Alabama releases its tourism economic impact report. We just got ours for DeKalb County. Last year tourists spent 75 million dollars in DeKalb. This is 75 million dollars that our cities, county and state collected tax revenue from. This is a 4.8% increase over 2013 and in a time of a slow overall economy in our area tourism has managed to continue to grow. This is good considering that we have lost a couple attractions and not gained new ones. Sequoyah Caverns closed a couple years ago and we lost our legendary Mentone Springs Hotel. The good news is DeSoto S.P. is adding an attraction with a zip line under construction now and the JSU Canyon Center is growing rapidly in the number of events held there and the attendance is growing. In addition there are long term growth items in the works such as the One World Adventure, Beck Building Discovery Center, and the Lookout Gateway Trail system which is 60 miles of multipurpose trails connecting Fort Payne and Mentone to an extensive trail system on top of Lookout Mountain. There is a Cultural Arts Center in the works for Mentone and a Main Street program for Fort Payne. These are all in planning stages and when funded and in operation will greatly help tourism.
The number of visitors to our area continues to grow too. Our lodging was up 4.8% also and the headcount at Little River Canyon is continuing to rise. Visitors love our area and they come back year after year. Our hometown group Alabama is out there on concert dates and they are recording and continuing to win awards. They are in the process of sprucing up the Fan Club and Museum and have great things planned for fan appreciation weekend this June 18th-21st this summer.
The State of Alabama has also continued to grow in tourism. Last year tourists spent 11.8 billion dollars in our state generating $43,400 for the general fund of Alabama. People love the diversity of the scenery in Alabama from the mountains in the north to the black belt, the coastal plains and the gulf coast.
Long before I ever visited Alabama I learned in 5th grade geography class that Alabama was the only state in the continental U.S. that could be self sufficient without other states. We have costal waterways, a great river system and changing soil conditions across the state to allow for a general array of crop, tree and animal farming.
For more information about upcoming events and things to do and see in DeKalb, visit our website at or call us at 256-845-3957.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Main Street Alabama - Fort Payne by John Dersham

Your are invited to a social event at the Vintage 1889 at 6 P.M. tonight for wine tasting, music and an auction to help raise money to support the initial Main Street program fees.
Over the last few months various elements in the business community of Fort Payne have been meeting and working on the potential of Fort Payne becoming a “Main Street” community. Some of you may not be familiar with the program. It is a nationwide program to redevelop the original downtowns of small town America. Over the last 5 decades many small towns have lost their downtown, retail, restaurants and offices to a suburban outskirt environment often on an outer loop or next to an interstate. The Main Street program is a comprehensive marketing and business plan to revive downtowns.
Here is Main Street Alabama’s mission statement;
  Main Street Alabama is focused on bringing jobs, dollars and people back to Alabama’s historic communities. Economic development is at the heart of our efforts to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods. We have developed a tiered program of services to help communities organize themselves for success, improve the design of their neighborhoods, promote their districts and enhance their economic base.
Towns and cities in Alabama like Athens, Decatur, Opelika, Cullman, Gadsden, Fairhope, Florence and Auburn speak for themselves. If you have been to any of these lately you will see almost 100% of storefronts occupied, lots of restaurants, gift shops, art galleries and entertainment venues. These towns have thriving downtowns again much in part to their becoming a certified Main Street downtown.
Fort Payne has gone through several steps already. Main Street has made a public presentation, and the Fort Payne Merchants Association has sent Lynn Brewer and Connie Fuller to the Main Street annual seminar of which must be attended in order to fill out an application to be considered eligible for Main Street selection. Only three cities per year are selected. The selection committee takes a look at how ready our community is to begin the program. Things like the willingness of business owners to participate and how engaged the local elected officials and community leaders are toward the program. Once selected as a Main Street community the process begins which is four tiered.
1-    Technical Assistance; How to get funding, training seminars, market analysis, strategic planning, planning guides and on-site visits.
2-    Educational Recourses; Multitier program to instruct and educate each step of the process toward a successful Main Street downtown.
3-    Downtown Network; Networking with existing successful Main Street cities for help and advice.
4-    Designated Main Street; Officially a Main Street city and can use the official trademark logo’s and sign package making it a Main Street Community.
There are many benefits that accrue as a city or town becomes a Main Street community. More jobs, more open businesses and more tourism. Most historic Main Street communities have become successful tourist towns. The historic quality of the old downtown areas coupled with the ambience it projects tend to attract restaurants, bars, boutique shopping, antiques stores, the arts, cultural events and museums, walking parks, gardens, coffee shops, craft beers, wineries and all the things visitors like to go to.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finally it is Spring by John Dersham

Wow! What better feeling can there be than those first sunny warm days of spring. Especially after an unusually long, dreary and cold winter like this one has been. Last Sunday after a miserable wet cold day on Saturday the skies cleared and Sunday was a beautiful sunny pleasant day. In fact I could not go inside for very long. I had to be outside with my face in the sun feeling the warmth and witnessing the beginnings of spring already evident in the maple trees that send out little reds blossoms early in the spring. The blossoms die and for a little while the trees look bare again and then all of a sudden little leaves begin to appear. Soon the cherry trees will be blooming and the daffodils finally got enough warm weather to really bloom. They have been trying to bloom since late February but they keep getting frozen and slowed down.
The improvement in weather has a very positive effect on tourism too. People from all over our region get the urge to come see our beautiful parks and waterfalls. All of a sudden Little River Canyon N.P. and DeSoto State Park are bustling with hikers and sightseers. When this happens we start getting weekend visitors for our campgrounds, cabins, B&B’s and hotels.
Over the last several years we have tried to lure spring breakers to our area by running ads and press releases to promote a spring break vacation here. We have had a little success at that but not like we would like mostly because kids tend to convince their parents to go to the beach or somewhere with higher activity based attraction content for their age demographic.
Our tourism season begins in March and grows each month through July then drops off a little as school begins and picks up tremendously in October and November. DeKalb has always struggled for visitors in the winter. Cloudmont Ski Resort does well when weather permits the making of snow. We will have overnight visitors for skiing but not in large quantity. Many young people come and go in the same day.
Our area has been a successful leisure tourism area for more than a century. Now, we are in the process of expanding our visitor experience by including activities of a younger demographic by increasing our physical based entrees; things like an upcoming zip line at DeSoto S.P. and more venues for hiking, biking, rappelling, caving, canoeing and kayaking. This can be a real boost to our environmental tourism business. If you will look at our website ( and view our calendar of events you can keep up with some of the offerings we have through True Adventure Sports, Jacksonville State University Canyon Center and One World Adventure. In the future we hope to have an extensive trail system for biking, hiking and some equestrian. This trail system is in the planning stages but requires property right-of-ways and funding. Our tourism future is very bright as we add layers of visitor interests to our venues that appeal to a variety of generations.