Bowled Over

Liberty Bowl Stadium(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Liberty Bowl Stadium
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s more to bowl-game trips than football

As football season fades into history, host cities gear up for events that really score. Get ready for kickoff with a tour of the 2015 bowl games in cities across the South — which are great places to visit anytime.

December 23

GoDaddy Bowl; Mobile, Alabama; Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Let’s start your tour with the week leading up to the bowl game in Mobile. The focus is on the bowl’s eve and its Mardi Gras-style parade. Marching bands and cheerleaders from each bowl team will help pump up team spirit. The parade culminates in a giant pep rally on the waterfront at Mobile Bay. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Get into the action.

Other sights to see:

USS Alabama in Mobile Bay

USS Alabama
(Photo courtesy of USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park)

The USS Alabama arrived in Mobile Bay in 1964 and opened for public tours a year later. Bill Tunnell, executive director of the USS Alabama Memorial Park, says bowl week is always a lot of fun for players and fans.

One of the best places to view Mobile’s historic past is at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The cathedral’s stained-glass windows date to 1890, so bring your camera. And this would be a good place to say a prayer for a successful Hail Mary near game’s end. The church is at 2 S. Claiborne St.

Where to eat: Regina’s Kitchen, 2056 Government St., a mile from the stadium. Best bet: muffuletta with a side of potato salad.

December 26

Camping World Independence Bowl; Shreveport, Louisiana; Independence Stadium

On our next stop, the days leading up to the bowl game see a marked change in the city of Shreveport. Fans sporting team colors are out in full force enjoying the many cool, old places to eat, drink and socialize along the riverfront. There will be a pep rally, which consistently draws big crowds. And there’s always been a free event for families: Fan Fest — a fun time with face painting, jump houses and more.

If you feel the need to shop, there’s no better place to go than Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets, home to 60-plus stores. “It’s probably the most-popular destination for football fans,” says Chris Jay, with the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.

Kids will enjoy spending time at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center. It’s always ranked in the top 10 of children’s science museums in the country.

Where to eat: Sam’s Southern Eatery, 3500 Jewella Ave., 0.7 miles from the stadium. One of the best spots in town for fried seafood. Favorite dish? It’s a coin toss between the 3N3 — three shrimp and three fish fillets — or the shrimp with red beans and rice.

December 30

Birmingham Bowl; Birmingham, Alabama; Legion Field

The journey continues as the year winds down. It’s one of the smaller bowl games, but don’t be blindsided by the fact that there will be as much play-by-play action off the field as on.
Bowl eve begins with the Monday Morning Quarterback Club Team Luncheon. The public is welcome, but tickets are required. Then, at 2 p.m., the Uptown Street Fest and Pep Rally kicks off a huge celebration with team bands, cheerleaders, players and live music.

And if you have time, make a drive to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum with its collection of almost 750 vintage and modern motorcycles and race cars.

Where to eat: Niki’s West Steak and Seafood, 233 Finley Ave. W, 2.7 miles from the stadium. Some of the best soul food in Alabama. Fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, stewed okra and white beans are favorite sides to daily entree choices.

December 30

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl; Nashville, Tennessee; Nissan Stadium

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship (Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship
(Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

The home of country music earns a stop on the itinerary. Last year’s Music City Bowl was one of the highest-attended in its 17-year history, and organizers are hopeful to repeat that success this year. To kick things off, there’s a battle off the field on game eve: MusicFest and Battle of the Bands. It begins with the Hot Chicken Eating World Championships, followed by a free concert at Riverfront Park. The evening ends with the two team bands “duking it out” on the streets.

While in town, be sure to make time for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where the history of country music comes alive.

Where to eat: Manny’s House of Pizza, 15 Arcade Alley, 0.8 miles from the stadium. Creative pies are the trademark of this pizzeria, as well as great spaghetti and calzones. A local favorite.

December 31

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl; Atlanta, Georgia; Georgia Dome

Don’t forget to plan a New Year’s Eve stop. When traveling to a city the size of Atlanta, deciding what venues to visit is difficult. And during bowl week, they’re often crowded. The Peach Bowl draws one of the largest of all bowl crowds. Visitors enjoy the restaurants, sights and sounds of The Big Peach, including the Peach Bowl Parade. Dozens of bands and floats pass through the streets.

To narrow down the playing field of other sights to see, there are two places near the Georgia Dome. The College Football Hall of Fame is a touchdown for football fans with its interactive exhibits and helmet and jersey collections. And for fishy folks, there’s the Georgia Aquarium and the inhabitants of its 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water.

Where to eat: Jamal’s Buffalo Wings, 10 Northside Drive NW, 0.7 miles from the stadium. Scramble over to Jamal’s for a football tradition: wings. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but don’t let that stop you.

January 2

AutoZone Liberty Bowl; Memphis, Tennessee; Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Bash on Beale Pep Rally (Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Bash on Beale Pep Rally
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s nothing sad about ending a bowl season journey at the home of the blues. As if Beale Street wasn’t busy on any given day or night, it scores big with an undercurrent of excitement that builds as the Liberty Bowl teams come to town, exploding at the Bash on Beale Pep Rally. The area comes alive beginning at 3 p.m. with a parade featuring local bands, team bands, cheerleaders and more. When the parade ends, the pep rally begins. And this year, it all happens on Jan. 1, the day before the game.
And if there’s time in your schedule, don’t forget a tour of Graceland, as well as Sun Studios where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and more sang the blues.

Where to eat: Soul Fish, 862 S. Cooper St., 1.4 miles from the stadium. The best catfish, Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos in Memphis, but the place scores an extra point for its oyster po’ boys.

Tech-Savvy Traveler:

As if the holidays didn’t provide enough excitement, it’s nearly time for an unending blitz of college bowl games. There are a few apps to help get us even further into the game. Team Stream is a popular sports news app by Bleacher Report. Want the latest scores and highlights? The ESPN app alerts you when your team scores. Searching for a social media society of sports fans? FanCred’s app could help visiting fans survive a trip into hostile territory.

For the love of food

A Q&A with Stephanie Parker, a blogger from Birmingham, Alabama, who loves to share recipes and family adventures with fellow foodies on her blog “Plain Chicken.” Check out her blog …

What do readers find at your blog in addition to recipes?
Stephanie Parker: In addition to recipes, Plain Chicken posts about our world travels and our three cats, and we also post a weekly menu on Sunday to help get you ready for the week.

Why did you become a blogger, and how has blogging changed your life?
SP: Blogging started as a way for me to store recipes. I would make food and take it to work. People would ask for the recipe later, and I had to search for it. I decided to make a blog and store everything online. The blog started expanding because we were in a dinner rut. I decided to make one new recipe a week. Well, that morphed into four new recipes a week. Plain Chicken has totally changed my life. I was in corporate accounting for over 18 years. Plain Chicken took off, and I was able to quit my corporate job and focus solely on I am so lucky to be able to do something that I love every single day.

Everyone has different tastes, so when the extended family gets together, what kind of menu can you plan to please everyone?
SP: Pleasing everyone is always hard, especially nowadays with all the different diet plans people are on. I always try to have something for everyone. If you know someone is vegetarian or gluten-free, make sure they have some options. But for me, at the end of the day, I’m their hostess, not their dietitian.

What are some ideas for getting the children involved in preparing the holiday meal?
SP: Getting the children involved with preparing the holiday meal is a great idea. When making the cornbread dressing, let the children mix up the batter and crumble the cooked cornbread. Have the children mix the cookie batter and form the cookies. For safety’s sake, just make sure the adults put things in the oven and take them out.

Budgets play a big role in planning holiday menus. What are some ideas for hosting a party with “champagne taste on a beer budget?”
SP: Plan your menu early and watch the grocery store sales. Buy ingredients and store them for the holidays. Freeze what you can, and store canned/dry goods in the pantry. Wholesale clubs, like Sam’s and Costco, are also great places to buy large quantities of items and meats.

Do you have a good recipe for the holidays you’re willing to share?
SP: Yes. Spicy Ranch Crackers are a great snack to have on hand during the holidays. The recipe makes a lot, and the crackers will keep for weeks. They are perfect for unexpected guests and are also great in soups and stews.

Spicy Ranch Crackers
Spicy Ranch Crackers
1 (1-ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1/2 to 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 box saltine crackers

Combine dry ranch mix, cayenne pepper and oil. Pour over crackers. Toss crackers every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes, until all crackers are coated and there is no more oil mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Store in a resealable plastic bag.

Other food blogs that might tempt your palate:
This site combines a love of reading, writing and cooking into a blog that will keep you busy in the kitchen creating recipes that have been tested and tweaked for delicious results.
Even for people who work with food for a living, the editors at Saveur “were overcome with desire,” and named this blog its “Blog of the Year” for 2014.
This Prattville, Alabama-based blog focuses on Southern food with the idea that “food down South is not all about deep frying and smothering stuff in gravy.”

Connected Christmas

Your 2015 Gadget-Giving Guide

Ah, Christmas. It’s approaching quickly, and it’s never too early to start shopping. But are you struggling with what to buy that someone who has everything? Here are some of the season’s hottest items that are sure to impress that technologically savvy, hard-to-buy-for family member, significant other or friend.

Wocket Smart Wallet


If you’re tired of keeping up with all the cards in your wallet, the Wocket is for you.

The Wocket Smart Wallet is the world’s smartest wallet. How does it work? First swipe your cards using the card reader included in the Wocket. Information like your voter registration or any membership or loyalty cards with bar codes can also be entered manually.

The information stored in the Wocket is then transmitted through the WocketCard.
The WocketCard gives the information to the point-of-sale device when it is swiped, just as with a regular credit card.

For only $229, you can own the smartest wallet on the planet. Order yours at


The Lily Drone

Have you been considering getting a drone, but can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger? Meet Lily, the drone that takes flight on its own, literally. All you have to do is toss it up in the air, and the motors automatically start.

Unlike traditional drones that require the user to operate what looks like a video game controller, Lily relies on a hockey puck-shaped tracking device strapped to the user’s wrist. GPS and visual subject tracking help Lily know where you are. Unlike other drones, Lily is tethered to you at all times when flying.

Lily features a camera that captures 12-megapixel stills, and 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, or 720p at 120 frames per second. You can preorder today, but Lily will not be delivered until May 2016. Expect to pay $999.

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

If you’re looking for a new personal assistant, Amazon has you covered. The Amazon Echo is designed to do as you command — whether it be adding milk to your shopping list, answering trivia, controlling household temperature or playing your favorite music playlist.

The Echo, which uses an advanced voice recognition system, has seven microphones and can hear your voice from across a room. The Echo activates when hearing the “wake word.” The Echo is constantly evolving, adapting to your speech patterns and personal preferences. “Alexa” is the brain within Echo, which is built into the cloud, meaning it’s constantly getting smarter and updating automatically.

It’s available for $179.99 on



Have you ever wondered what your beloved pup is doing while you’re not at home? Wonder no more. iCPooch allows you to see your dog whenever you’re away. By attaching a tablet to the base of iCPooch, your dog can see you, and you can see them — you can even command iCPooch to dispense a treat.

Just download the free app to your tablet or smartphone and never miss a moment with your pup!

iCPooch is available for $99, not including tablet, from Amazon and the website

Classic Christmas Cookies

Hope Barker, of West Liberty, Kentucky

Hope Barker, of West Liberty, Kentucky, makes family cookie recipes her own.

Cookies so good Santa won’t want to leave

By Anne P. Braly,
Food Editor

We all know that holiday cookies are a lot more than sugar, flour and eggs. They tell a story. Remember walking into grandma’s house only to see warm cookies she just took from the oven sitting on the counter?

Hope Barker has similar stories when she reminisces about baking cookies with her mom. Her favorite recipe is a simple one: sugar cookies.
“My mom and I used to make these when I was young,” she recalls. The recipe came from an old cookbook — now so yellowed and worn with age that it’s fallen apart, but, thankfully the pages were saved and are now kept in a folder.

She learned to cook at the apron strings of her mother, Glyndia Conley, and both grandmothers. “I can remember baking when I was in elementary school,” Barker says. “My mom and I made sugar cookies to take to school parties. And Mamaw Essie (Conley) taught me how to bake and decorate cakes. From Mamaw Nora (Cottle), I learned how to make stack pies — very thin apple pies stacked and sliced like a cake.”

She honed these techniques and soon became known for her baking skills in her town of West Liberty, Kentucky, so much so that she opened a bakery business that she operated from her home, making cookies and cakes for weddings, birthdays, holidays and other special events.
During the holidays, cookies are in demand. Not only are they scrumptious, but just about everyone loves them, too. They make great gifts from the kitchen, and if you arrange them on a beautiful platter, they can become your centerpiece.

“Cookies are easy to make and easy to package,” Barker says. “They don’t require plates and forks, so they are more convenient than many other desserts. Also, because they are less time-consuming, you can make a variety in less time than many other desserts. They can be decorated many different ways. And who doesn’t love to get a plate of pretty cookies?”

But there is one big mistake some less-practiced cooks often make when baking cookies — overbaking.

“If you leave them in the oven until they ‘look’ done, they are going to be overdone,” Barker warns. “The heat in the cookies will continue to bake them after you have taken them out of the oven.”

She says the best outcome for pretty cookies is to start with the right equipment — a good, heavy cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. “This will keep them from sticking to the cookie sheet and help them to brown more evenly on the bottom,” she says. And when finished, remove them from the oven and let them cool completely before putting them in a sealed, airtight container to keep them moist.

Barker no longer caters, but she continues to do a lot of baking during the holidays for family, coworkers and friends.
Cookies, she says, just seem to be a universal sign of welcome, good wishes and happy holidays.

Sugar cookies are a delicious and versatile classic during the holiday season. This is Hope Barker’s favorite recipe. They can be made as drop cookies or chilled and rolled for cut-out cookies. You can use the fresh dough and roll balls of it in cinnamon sugar to make Snickerdoodles, or use it as a crust for a fruit pizza.

Classic Sugar Cookies
2/3 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup milk
Additional sugar (optional)

Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix very well. Add flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Make sure all ingredients are well-incorporated.
For drop cookies, scoop fresh dough into 1-inch balls and place a couple inches apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Smear a small amount of shortening on the bottom of a glass, dip the glass into the sugar of your choice and flatten each dough ball into a disk about 1/4-inch thick. Continue to dip the glass into sugar and flatten the dough balls until all are flattened into disks. Sugar can be sprinkled on cookies at this point, if desired. Bake the cookies at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven when they begin to color at the edges.
For rolled and cut cookies, refrigerate the dough for at least 3 hours or overnight. Roll out portions of the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Sugar can be sprinkled on cookies at this point, if desired. Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size/thickness of the cookies. Remove from the oven when they begin to color at the edges.

Sugar Cookie Variations

Various Sugar Cookies Frosted Cookies
Bake either the rolled or drop cookies. Prepare your favorite frosting recipe (or buy canned frosting) and frost the cooled cookies. Frosting can be tinted with different colors and piped on in seasonal designs.

When making the drop cookies, mix together 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon with 1 cup granulated sugar. Roll each ball of dough in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and then put onto the cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass into a disk shape and bake as directed.

Maple Cookies
Replace the vanilla flavoring in the recipe with maple flavoring. Make rolled cookies with no sugar on the tops. On the stovetop, stir together 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons milk; stir well. (Be careful as the mixture will splatter a little when you add the milk.) Put saucepan back on stove and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour the mixture over 1 1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar and mix on low/medium speed until smooth. Drizzle the warm frosting over the cookies with a spoon. Allow to cool completely.

Jell-O Cookies
Make rolled cookies with no sugar on the tops. When the cookies come out of the oven, spread a thin layer of light corn syrup on the tops with a spoon. Immediately sprinkle with Jell-O gelatin powder of your choice. Allow to cool completely.

Fruit Pizza
Use about a half batch of the dough and spread evenly in a greased jelly roll pan. This will be the crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough begins to get some color at the edges and on top. Let the crust cool completely. Mix together 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 7 ounces marshmallow creme. Spread this over the crust. Cut up about 4 cups of fresh fruit (strawberries, kiwi, bananas, mandarin oranges, grapes, apples, etc.) and stir together with a package of strawberry fruit gel. Spread the fruit mixture over the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate before slicing and serving.

A Haunting in the Hills

Haunting in Hills Vector-small

The Big South Fork National Recreation Area hosts “Haunting in the Hills.” (Illustration courtesy of the National Park Service.)

Storytelling in the Big South Fork

By Noble Sprayberry

Everyone tells stories. Maybe you share an anecdote over the dinner table. Or, perhaps there’s a years-old tale of childhood mischief repeated at every family gathering.

The craft of storytelling is engrained in every culture. It’s part of who we are, and some people can elevate storytelling to a performance. That’s when magic happens. A well-told story can bring a smile, or a tear. An audience can be silenced by a profound thought, or left shaking with laughter.


Donna WashingtonStorytellerKimBrundagePhotography_RichmondVA_MeganHicks
Featured “Haunting in the Hills” storytellers (from left) Carrie Sue Ayvar, Donna Washington, Dan Keding and Megan Hicks. They will not only entertain from the event’s big tent, but also visit area schools to introduce students to the art of storytelling.

Each fall for the past 23 years, some of the nation’s best storytellers have visited Big South Fork National Recreation Area for the “Haunting in the Hills” Storytelling Festival.

“In the South, we’re known as great storytellers, so it’s a great fit for the Big South Fork,” says Niki Nicholas, the recreation area’s superintendent. “Wherever you go in the world, storytelling is at the heart of every community. It started at the beginning of humanity, and people have always told stories.”

The festival brings in some of the nation’s finest professional storytellers. Three of this year’s tellers offer their perspective on the art.

A personal performance
Storytelling is different than an actor doing a monologue, says Donna Washington, who has worked as a professional storyteller for 27 years.

She was introduced to the art while attending Northwestern University. “It’s not where you’ve memorized something, or where you’re ad-libbing.

Storytelling is not like that,” she says. “It’s an organic medium, and it takes place between the audience and the storyteller. Stories can get off track and go different ways. It’s the audience and performer in real-time and in the same space.”

Each storyteller brings a unique perspective. “As a storyteller, I don’t just stand up and present stories. I don’t read them. It’s all in my head.”

For someone interested in learning to tell stories, Washington offers simple advice: “Make sure you’re telling a story you love.”

When a storyteller brings a tale to life, an audience can live in that moment, says Washington. One of her favorite stories, “The Lover’s Promise” was crafted by her 18-year-old son, Devin, when he was 10.

“It’s a creepy, scary love story, and it’s interesting to guide an audience through it,” she says. “As a storyteller, my job is to make the people watching go somewhere else. They should not remember me. They should see the story.”

Carrying on family traditions
Carrie Sue Ayvar believes she was destined to become a storyteller. “If you ask my mother, I’ve been telling stories all my life,” she says. “I can blame this on my family because I’m at least a third-generation storyteller.”

As a child, she spent summers at the South Florida home of her grandparents, Nathaniel and Thelma Helfgott. “At night, my grandmother would ask where in the world would we like to go,” she says. Then, her grandmother would weave tales based on the folklore of that country.

Ayvar attended college and later lived in Mexico, where she learned another language and another culture. “I met adults who were well-read but had never heard stories, and I thought everyone had,” she says. By the mid-1970s, she knew she wanted to build a career from storytelling.

“There was only one downside. In 1975, people had never heard of a professional storyteller,” she says. “The good news when pioneering any new field is that there is no one to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.”

Like other tellers, she engages audiences at fairs, festivals and workshops. “Everyone should have a personal story to tell — whether it be your own or a folktale — because no one can ever take that away,” she says.

Connecting with the audience
Megan Hicks’ father worked in the oil industry, including stops in Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Southern California and, briefly, in Australia.
“I grew up around a lot of preaching because I was taken to church three times a week,” she says. “For me, the interesting part of the preaching was when the pastor told stories.”

She was into her 30s before hearing a spoken word performance, but she was hooked when she heard it. “It took me to such a sweet place,” she remembers. “They call it a storyteller’s trance. You can feel the whole room listening. I want to make that happen.”

Hicks draws stories from the world’s cultures. While she works to select the right story for each audience, the choice must also resonate with her. “A story should be wedged pretty deeply into the heart and the gut of the person telling it,” she says. “They have to understand it on a level that doesn’t have anything to do with intellect.”

But the right story, the right storyteller, and the right audience can create memories. “When you get that perfect storm, you experience something wonderful,” she says.

Fiber vs. dish and cable

PrintA performance advantage

Do you remember the days when television meant an antenna towering upward from a home’s roof? Or maybe the fuzzy images and flat sound from early cable- or satellite-based services?

Technology has advanced, and channel lineups have exploded from fewer than a dozen stations to hundreds of options.

Now, there is another fundamental shift in television delivery: fiber optic cable. The technology meets today’s needs, and it can grow to serve tomorrow’s entertainment and information opportunities.

Highland has just completed a five-year, $66-million project, rolling out more than 2,000 miles of new fiber optic cable. By now, most members know the system can carry Internet and phone, but many are surprised to learn it also carries television service.

Other providers, such as those dependent on unreliable satellite or low-quality cable, can serve portions of Highland’s service area. Before making a choice of television service, consider the advantages of fiber.

Fiber creates an advantage
Traditional cable television used coaxial cable to deliver programming transmitted by radio frequency signals. Cable may also use digital transmissions with quality that can compete with fiber. However, electrical interference, such as that from lightning storms or radio signals, can degrade sound and picture quality.

Meanwhile, satellite television relies on all-digital transmissions, which can result in a high-quality television picture. But satellite requires a small receiving dish in the yard or attached to a roof. Signal quality can deteriorate or fail completely if the dish loses line-of-sight contact with the orbiting satellite. Even cloud cover can take away your signal.

“Someone’s kid bumping a dish with a four wheeler, a tree growing up and blocking the signal or bad storms can all harm dish-based TV performance,” says Jared Carson, Highland’s chief operations officer.

Meanwhile, television programming delivered on fiber optics not only avoids the problems of older technology, but also meets the demands of the latest innovations.

Digital signals transmitted as pulses of light over fiber and delivered by strong, interference-resistant strands of optic cable carry television programming — as well as broadband Internet and phone — straight to your home. Fiber is not susceptible to electric and radio-wave interference.
Also, trained Highland technicians install all the necessary equipment and verify its performance. There are no surprises, such as those of dish customers who order service and then realize trees or mountains block the signal.

Ready for the future
Just as television viewing habits changed with the revolution of cable and satellite delivery, fiber and broadband open the door to the future, Carson says.

Content providers such as HBO and CBS have joined established over-the-top services such as Netflix and Hulu to deliver on-demand television through the Internet. Similarly, Xbox and other gaming systems turn televisions into interactive hubs.

All the services required for a seamless experience are rolled into Highland’s fiber optic-based services — great quality and a fair price, all delivered in one convenient bill.

“As people become more reliant on interactivity and viewing shows over-the-top, fiber has distinct advantages over cable and, particularly, satellite television,” Carson says. “We’ve built this network to be ready for whatever entertainment options are coming next.”

Celebrate cooperative businesses!

06-sarenaOctober is National Cooperative Month, highlighting businesses like Highland Telephone Cooperative that are built and owned by their customers.

Highland was founded by local residents who wanted a better communication network for this area. Due to the rural nature of this region, for-profit telecommunications providers would not serve the area because of the high cost of deploying service and the low returns on their investments. Without the cooperative business model, the region would not have the outstanding service it has today.

Remember to celebrate this legacy, not just in October, but all year-round.

The SEC Network is here!

SEC_ESPN_Network_Logo_1Don’t forget, the SEC Network is available from Highland Media. Highland and the SEC Network are teaming up to provide unmatched, in-depth coverage of the NCAA’s premier athletic conference. The SEC Network delivers 24/7 programming covering all of your favorite college sports. The network will broadcast many of the biggest events from your favorite SEC team. Call us at 423-628-6800 to talk about adding the SEC Network today!

HTC employee helps raise flag for July 4th

KevinTuckerCable splicer Kevin Tucker used his HTC bucket truck to raise Old Glory in the Stearns Historic District for the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area as part of a community-wide Fourth of July celebration. HTC is honored to serve the community, not only as a local small business, but also to aid in various ways and support the area’s growth.

Wild and Scenic – Lessons in solitude and beauty on the Obed River

by Kirk Eddlemon (17)

The Obed River’s pure water, steep rock faces and whitewater create a destination for paddlers wishing to test their kayak and canoe skills. Ace Kayaking School, the only permitted outfitter on the Obed River, expanded classes this year to include the scenic river. No dam controls the Obed River, making it a natural adventure for anyone paddling a canoe or kayak. Waterfalls and scenic views surround the Obed River, providing non-paddling adventures. Kayakers play in waves surrounded by scenic beauty. Photos courtesy of Kirk Eddlemon.


By Noble Sprayberry

In the two years since first dipping a kayak paddle into the water, Alyce Wellons realized the places where whitewater flows capture the imagination.
“At first, you really don’t know anything, and you’re going with a club or a group,” she says. “Then you start to hear things about certain rivers, and there was always this awe and reverence when people talked about the Obed.”

by Kirk Eddlemon (7)

Photos courtesy of Kirk Eddlemon.

Wellons, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist, made her first trip to the Obed River earlier this year. She joined two other women for three days of lessons and exploration with the Ace Kayaking School.

Instructor Kirk Eddlemon, who wrote “Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians,” hopes to introduce many others to the Obed as the school expands into the area.
The trip that included Wellons is one example of the classes he runs. “We tried to give them an understanding of the Obed, its shape and its history,” Eddelmon says. “In the morning, we’d paddle for a while and then get out and make coffee. We’d hike to the rim and point out wildflowers and put the river in the geologic context.”

A pearl of a river
Tributaries along the Cumberland Plateau build into the powerful Obed, which slices deep through Morgan County.

Pure water, steep rock faces and one other key — whitewater — create a destination for paddlers wishing to test their kayak and canoe skills.

Parts of the Obed appear unchanged since the first white settlers arrived in the 1700s. About 45 miles of rivers in the area, including a long stretch of the Obed, carry the National Wild and Scenic River designation.

“(The designation) protects the water quality and free-flowing nature of the nation’s special rivers,” says Matt Hudson, the chief National Park Service ranger for the river.

Obed River by Kirk Eddlemon copy

Photos courtesy of Kirk Eddlemon.

The status puts the Obed in the company of waterways such as the Rio Grande River in Texas, and the Little Pee Dee River running through North and South Carolina.
The National Park Service manages the designated section of the Obed. And downtown Wartburg is home to the Obed Wild and Scenic River Visitor Center.

A 2013 study found that the river receives about 500,000 visitors annually, Hudson says. The river has a local economic impact of about $3.3 million, supporting about 35 jobs, he says.

“The qualities that I think are really outstanding are the wildness component, the solitude and the clean, intact nature of the ecology and the environment,” Eddlemon says.

A paddler for 16 years, the Knoxville resident developed much of his kayak expertise on the Obed. Like many paddlers, he considers the river a destination worth making a drive to experience.

by Kirk Eddlemon (5)

Photos courtesy of Kirk Eddlemon.

Introducing others to the Obed

This year, Ace Kayaking School, which is based on the Ocoee River in Southeast Tennessee, began bringing students to the Obed. The company is the only licensed outfitter on the river.

Sessions include one instructor, such as Eddlemon, and no more than three students.

The Obed, as well as the nearby Big South Fork, are part of the reason the region is considered a premiere location for whitewater sports in the United States.

“I think the Southeast is the best place to learn to be a paddler,” Eddlemon says. “It’s a casual and straightforward place to learn, and I think the sport will always be really popular here.”

In the Northeast, the whitewater season might last three to four weeks, with rivers either frozen in the winter or too dry to run in the summer, Eddlemon says. In the West, winter snow-melt turns into whitewater that is often too challenging for beginners, as are many of the routes in the rainy Pacific Northwest, he says.

“Here, our weather’s great, and our rivers don’t freeze over, so we have water year-round,” he says. “And we have one of the largest systems, probably anywhere in the world, with specific water releases for recreational use.”

by Kirk Eddlemon (3)

Photos courtesy of Kirk Eddlemon.

A wild river

But even in a whitewater haven like the Southeast, the Obed offers something different compared to dam-controlled rivers such as the Ocoee and North Carolina’s Nantahala.

“The Ocoee is almost an adrenalized, technical workout session,” Eddlemon says. “The Obed is more of a journey dictated by the river.”
Rainfall, not dams, control the water level on the Obed, making the experience less predictable and more natural. Extending the lessons Ace teaches on the Ocoee to the Obed gives paddlers a natural progression. “The idea is to teach them at the Ocoee and then let them reap the rewards up here,” Eddlemon says of the Obed. “It’s just a great place to introduce someone to wilderness paddling. We’re being permitted to go up there and float through an amazing place that’s predominantly wild — to see wildlife and to paddle around every bend with a sense of curiosity.”

To open the river to less-experienced paddlers, Ace Kayaking School will also run guided inflatable kayak trips on the Obed for a day rate of $125 per person.
For Eddlemon, part of the joy of showing newcomers a place he loves goes beyond whitewater. “I always thought the Obed was an under-appreciated place,” he says. “You can paddle for 10 or 12 miles through vertical rock formations and never see another soul.”

And for people such as Wellons, making a trip to the Obed from a city like Atlanta — nearly 200 miles away — is worth it.

“I had heard descriptions of the place we’d be going, but standing up there on those cliffs and looking down on that river was just breathtaking,” she says. “If they said they were doing a trip tomorrow, I’d want to leave my office right now and go. You could live your entire life there and not take it all in.”