Monday, April 18, 2005

It's a Zoo

After Hurricane Ivan hit our coast in September our local zoo received worldwide attention because of the escape of "Chuckie" the 12-foot alligator that has been a favorite attraction at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo for years. While the news media was camped out after Hurricane Ivan waiting for the water to recede, reporters began to cover the story that Chuckie had escaped during the flooding caused by the storm. The AP picked up the story and soon it was worldwide news.

The Zoo was devastated by the hurricane but the majority of the animals were evacuated to safer areas in Baldwin County. However, Chuckie was given extra food and left in his pond due to the difficulty of moving an alligator weighing 1000 pounds. A week after the hurricane, Chuckie was located in a ditch not far from the Zoo property. Experts from Florida’s Gatorland were summoned to assist with Chuckie’s relocation to a safe holding area at the Zoo until the repairs are complete in his habitat.

Besides national press coverage surrounding the events, both The Weather Channel and National Geographic have sent film crews to gather footage for future specials. The Weather Channel coverage will be a “Storm Stories” airing the first week of June, to coincide with the beginning of the 2005 Hurricane season.

There are other stars at the Zoo such as a male white tiger born last summer and his sister who carries the white tiger gene. These two are favorites of visitors both young and old. When we sponsored an event at the Zoo for our Winter Guests they received a real treat by a close encounter with both tigers.

The latest edition to the big cats at our Zoo is a three-week old female Barbary Black Mane lion cub and a slightly older male lion cub that will eventually be breed. The lions are too young to go on exhibit yet but they should be ready when the Zoo reopens around Memorial Day. Both lion cubs were sponsored by the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Lions Clubs as a gift to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.

The devastation of the Zoo was much more pronounced than expected with both wind and flood damage. A variety of fundraising efforts are underway to supplement the FEMA recovery funds and insurance which do not cover all the damage.

One of the fundraisers occurred over the weekend when the Gulf Shores Elementary, Middle and High School held a Festival. A booth selling Zoo merchandise was manned by members of the Board of Directors. As a member of the Board I was privileged to spend the day treating kids to a look at a few animals. There were ferrets and twin 8-week old goats to pet along with leopard geckos and bearded dragons (lizards) to observe. The kids loved the chance to see these animals up close and I enjoyed watching their faces. I also got a kick from giving the noon bottle to the female goat named "Radar."

Meyer Real Estate sponsors the web cam at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which has recently been reactivated. To watch the renewal progress visit and click on “Web Cam”.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Act Like a Tourist

It's a fact of life that most people living near attractions, entertainment venues and resort areas postpone their own experience because of the close proximity. I suppose there's a mindset that because these pleasures are easily accessible putting them off temporally is not a big deal.

This is certainly true for a beach resort. I can testify to the fact that those of us in the Hospitality Industry and Real Estate Sales business are "slammed" during summer when typically a person would go to the beach. However, it's spring and fall that locals really take advantage of our wonderful weather and beautiful surroundings on the gulf coast in Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida.

I've tried to make a point of spending family time acting like a tourist, which basically means actually taking the time to enjoy what other people travel here to find. One spring during the time azaleas are at their peak my family spent the day at Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, Alabama. We did everything offered to visitors - the Delta Cruise, the tour of the historic Home and of course the tour of the Gardens. It was a real treat and an obvious reason for tourists to visit our area.

Last week I was feeling a need to connect to the beach. My cure was taking time to have lunch at a local's and visitor's favorite spot - Sea-N-Suds Restaurant. This well-known restaurant was damaged during Hurricane Ivan but amazing not to the extent imagined. The ramp to the restaurant was completely gone however. Now a brand new ramp accesses Sea-N-Suds along with an newly built and expanded pier. The restaurant sits over the water so the views up and down the coastline are fabulous. New construction exists close to this special spot but the character of a beach resort is highly evident at Sea-N-Suds, as if time stood still at the beach. So I spent my lunch hour with two colleagues surrounded by tourists. And for that brief time I felt the island vibe again.

I realize this Blog often contains references to those places I choose to eat. But if you've visited our coast you know it more of an experience than merely a meal. Our laidback lifestyle and great food make for a winning combination.