Secret Vistas: Waking Up on Lake Lurleen

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Lake Lurleen State Park

By Glynn Wilson

LAKE LURLEEN, Ala. – Jefferson and I woke up camped along Lake Lurleen in the State Park named after Alabama’s only female governor, Lurleen Burns-Wallace, and I snapped these photos with the new iPhone early in the morning as the dog took a swim.

Unfortunately, this state park has yet to come into the modern age with free WiFi, and the cell phone connection was too iffy to get any work done. So I may not use the park again until they get a cell tower nearby.

We were in my old stomping grounds of Tuscaloosa for several reasons. There is a computer repair guy who works on Macs here I found on Craigslist awhile back, and he was offering a little money for my old MacBook Pro. You may recall that little incident a year or two ago when I was working on a video on Birmingham’s Southside and accidentally spilled beer in the keyboard, not once, but twice in one week : )

Ouch! Crap happens when your having fun.

Well hopefully, somebody can still use some of the parts from that older machine. You know what they say. Reuse, recycle.

So now I’m actually working off the generator by the Black Warrior River in the new riverfront park by the University of Alabama. Hope the noise doesn’t bother anybody. I’ll make this as quick as possible before taking the dog for another walk here.

Friday I had lunch with my former dean, mentor and adviser from the journalism and communication programs at UA, Ed Mullins. He’s retired now, but still going strong, heading up a writers group through the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, which operates under the slogan: “Engaging Communities and Changing Lives.”

The mission is to connect faculty, staff, students and community partners in research-based projects designed to solve serious problems identified within communities.

He and I talked about a lot of things, including the future of the free press in America, technology, state and national politics, and I shot a video interview with him for a long-term project I’m working on about the “New South.”

There also may be a way to get university undergrad and grad students involved with The Locust Fork News-Journal Web publishing project to expand what we can cover, at least in Alabama. I’ve long had the goal of using some of the most promising young writers in the region and around the country to beef up this new, freer Web Press to challenge the corporate press in its approach to news.

The need I’ve identified through experience and research is that a re-definition of objective journalism is long overdue. We need to get back to the roots of that American invention and tell stories in a way that better serves readers, communities and even social movements. The idea is to protect the most important aspects of our democratic ideals, while embracing the changes going on in the world on the technological front to literally, vastly improve how we are able to communicate effectively.

We also need to stop letting public relations folks dictate the news. We need to find out ourselves in person as journalists and reverse this trend of so-called “professionalism” over the past three decades. For starters, the public does not turn to non-profit groups or legal Websites for news. They look to news organizations. The sooner everybody realizes this the sooner we can make move on to make significant progress in building the economy to fund this new press.

While I’m visiting Lake Lurleen, however, I also wanted to take a few minutes to do a little preliminary research on the state’s only female governor, to see if there may be lessons there to tie into the political turmoil now gripping Alabama and especially the Democratic Party here. I’m still gathering information and not ready to reveal where I’m going with this yet. Just thought I would share a few links with you today in case you are not familiar with this part of the state’s history.

According to PBS, Lurleen Burns, born in 1926, grew up in the working-class community of Northport, Alabama, across the Black Warrior River from Tuscaloosa. Her father, like many from Northport, made his living as a laborer, working as a river bargeman and later as a shipyard crane operator.

Young Lurleen, a “tow-headed tomboy,” enjoyed spending weekends with her father and older brother, hunting and fishing. In addition to their Northport home, the Burnses owned a small farm. Lurleen’s family on her mother’s side had been Alabama farmers for three generations and were considered “good country people” — a euphemism for hardworking and churchgoing but poor. While not academically inclined, Lurleen did graduate from high school early in 1942 by taking summer courses. She planned to attend nursing school and helped earn her keep at home by working part time at Kresge’s five and dime store in Tuscaloosa. It was there she met and fell in love with George C. Wallace, and the rest is history.

The Encyclopedia of Alabama also has a historical piece on her, as well as the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

There is way more to this story that has already been told, but it should be pointed out here that as governor she was instrumental in funding a major renovation project of state parks. We should thank her for that, considering the budget pounding they are taking today from the new Republicans in charge.

The lake and state park lie just 9 miles northwest of Tuscaloosa and Northport, 14 miles from the University of Alabama campus. The scenic lakeside retreat covers 1,625 acres on a 250-acre lake. The campground is fairly nice, wooded and shady in places with large enough camp sites with open space and natural buffers between them. There is also a banquet room, a picnic area, play area, pavilions, a beach with a bathhouse and a fishing pier. They even rent boats for the day.

The place is known locally for fishing, camping and hiking, and well worth checking out — if you’re traveling through the area with your Dodge Roadtrek Sprinter Van, or other RV or camping set up. There are tent sites too.


Lake Lurleen early in the morning

Now it’s time to shut down the generator, make a phone call or two on another investigative story I’m working on, and take Jefferson for another walk. I’ll be back in The Ham called Birmingham sometime tonight.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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