December 2009
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Black Belt Adventures Taps Rich Natural Resources

The strip of prairie soil crossing central Alabama has long been known for its dark, fertile soil, rural demography and hard-working citizens struggling to make a living.

What every Alabamian who enjoys the outdoors knows is the Black Belt is renowned as one of the premier destinations for hunting and outdoors activities in the nation.

In an effort to capitalize on the Black Belt’s natural resources, Montgomery businessman and landowner Thomas Harris hatched an idea to promote those assets and spread the word throughout the world.

After almost two years of planning, that idea was unveiled at Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge in Hayneville, smack dab in the middle of the Black Belt.

Called the Alabama Black Belt Adventures, the initiative is tailored after the successful Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and the Alabama Quail Trail.

The initiative currently has 22 hunting and/or fishing camps and lodges lined up to participate in the program with more expected to be added. The initiative not only promotes a wide variety of outdoor activities, but also the many historical and cultural attractions available in the Black Belt. The website and an extensive marketing campaign are being spearheaded by Luckie & Co. of Birmingham.

"The Black Belt, as you know, is rich soil, rich heritage and history, abundant wildlife and outdoor recreation," said State Rep. John Knight of Montgomery. "It is a region of honest, hard-working Alabamians. Those are the assets of one of America’s unique regions – the Alabama Black Belt. What we’re talking about not only means so much to the Black Belt, but so much to the state of Alabama.

"Last year I was pleased to begin working with many of our outdoor recreation and economic development leaders to develop a way to take the Black Belt’s abundant resources and use them to create jobs and opportunities for our people. Alabama Black Belt Adventures will make Alabama one of the top destination points in America to hunt, fish, hike, bike ride, bird watch, ride horses and enjoy our many other outdoors opportunities. There are so many opportunities wrapped up in this adventure. My goal for the initiative is simple – take the God-given natural resources of the Black Belt and use and promote them to help all the people of the Black Belt."

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Commissioner Barnett Lawley worked with Rep. Knight, Economic Development Director Neal Wade, Thomas Harris and Tim Gothard of the Alabama Wildlife Federation to hash out the details of the initiative.

"We met about a year-and-a-half ago at Thomas’ house about what we could do to create economic opportunity for the Black Belt and make it sustainable," Lawley said. "We came to the realization that heavy industry, like the automotive industry, was not going to work because of several reasons – lack of infrastructure and lack of a workforce. What we did realize is there was no shortage of natural resources and outdoor opportunities within the Black Belt. The resources are continually flourishing because of the soil, the black prairie soil, hence the Black Belt. There’s no other place in the world that has the rich nutrients that this soil continues to produce every year.

"Our goal is to harness the resources that are created from this, promote them to boost tourism in the Black Belt through a marketing program that we are developing for outdoor opportunities. In doing so, we expand job opportunities. In addition to the vast hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, bird-watching, kayaking and other opportunities the Black Belt naturally offers the citizens and the people of this country, there is really something special about the historical amenities offered by the Black Belt. We’re talking about the Southern cuisine, the historical sites throughout the Black Belt or just the friendly people located throughout the region. There are many attractions other than hunting and fishing that people can enjoy."

Lawley said the ADCNR will create education programs at the State Cattle Ranch in Hale County, a Forever Wild acquisition, and the Auburn Research Facility in Camden to help landowners and farmers improve their wildlife habitat. Lawley also said the program would also ensure the cultural aspects of the Black Belt are not affected.

"During the effort to brand the Black Belt as a premier destination for outdoors adventures, we’re going to strive to protect the heritage, the history and culture of the region while harnessing and expanding the natural resources that are so abundant," Lawley said. "The infrastructure to support this initiative is already here, already in place. This is not something new we have to do. We want to work with expanding facilities and help create new ones. By marketing this area and creating activities by use of the natural resources is going to have an economic impact on every community in the Black Belt. The abundance of land and natural resources in the Black Belt is unlike any other place in the world."

State Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville said his support of the initiative is grounded in his lifelong love of the outdoors in Alabama.

"I grew up hunting and fishing all over Alabama with my granddad and dad," Bedford said. "Now I have the privilege of hunting with my son, now 22, all across the Black Belt. I appreciate the values that come from being in the outdoors with your children and instilling those values in them. God gave us this land to be stewards of it. I think Black Belt Adventures is a step in the right direction – not only from the hunting and fishing but the fellowship and the image improvement for Alabama.

"In this time of divided politics where they talk about red issues and blue issues, we come together today in a bipartisan manner on an issue that’s red, white and blue. And I’m glad to be a small part of it."

Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society (BASS) and resident of the Black Belt at Pintlala, said seizing on opportunities is what made his ventures into bass fishing and the creation of the Whitetail Institute so successful.

"That’s exactly what we’re doing here," Scott said. "We’re taking something that is so obviously evident and putting a saddle on it. I think it’s going to be one of the best doggone programs that’s ever happened."

Jackie Bushman of Montgomery said he followed Scott’s lead when he formed the hunting organization Buckmasters.

"What we wanted to do was promote hunting," Bushman said of the birth of Buckmasters. "It doesn’t get any better than this. Where else can you hunt something for seven months out of the year? It doesn’t happen many places. Some states have only seven or eight days of hunting. We have it all right here. We’ve got this opportunity now and we can make it happen.

"After 20 years in TV, we do 26 original shows a year and a third of those shows are done right here in the Black Belt. It doesn’t get any better than this. . . .I was born and raised in Alabama and I will die here. I love Alabama and I love the outdoors. This will accentuate everything we do. I will promote it every chance I can."