Decatur, Alabama is the largest city within Morgan County. A large number of historic buildings are showcased throughout the city, including some of the most significant Victorian-era structures left standing in the state today. Major attractions such as Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Point Mallard Park, and the Princess Theatre also draw visitors from around the American Southeast for day trips and weekend getaways. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Decatur, Alabama
2.Point Mallard Park, Decatur, Alabama
3.Cook Natural Science Museum, Decatur, Alabama
4.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Delano Park
5.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The Old State Bank
6.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The Old Decatur Historic District
7.Carnegie Visual Arts Center, Decatur, Alabama
8.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The Princess Theatre
9.Wheeler Lake, Decatur, Alabama
10.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Morgan County Archives
11.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Alabama Jubilee
12.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The RailYard
13.Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Que, Decatur, Alabama
14.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Simp McGhee's
15.Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Whitt’s Barbecue
15 Best Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama
- Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Decatur, Alabama, Photo: Courtesy of knowlesgallery - Fotolia.com
- Point Mallard Park, Decatur, Alabama, Photo: Point Mallard Park
- Cook Natural Science Museum, Decatur, Alabama, Photo: Cook Natural Science Museum
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Delano Park, Photo: Delano Park
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The Old State Bank, Photo: The Old State Bank
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The Old Decatur Historic District, Photo: Courtesy of babaroga - Fotolia.com
- Carnegie Visual Arts Center, Decatur, Alabama, Photo: Carnegie Visual Arts Center
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The Princess Theatre, Photo: Courtesy of Sergey Nivens - Fotolia.com
- Wheeler Lake, Decatur, Alabama, Photo: Courtesy of HeKu - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Morgan County Archives, Photo: Courtesy of Guy Sagi - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Alabama Jubilee, Photo: Courtesy of William R. Gates - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: The RailYard, Photo: The RailYard
- Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Que, Decatur, Alabama, Photo: Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Que
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Simp McGhee's, Photo: Simp McGhee's
- Things to Do in Decatur, Alabama: Whitt’s Barbecue, Photo: Whitt’s Barbecue
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of knowlesgallery - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Wheeler Wildlife Refuge
Wheeler is a National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alabama, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Primarily founded as a breeding ground for migratory birds, the 35,000 acre refuge is visited by close to 300 species of birds annually, including 30 species of waterfowl.
The refuge is the first of its kind, having been established in an area impounded by a hydroelectric dam. The waterfowl refuge is home to ducks and geese, as well as a growing population of Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes. In addition, over 100 species of fish, over 70 species of reptiles and amphibians, 38 species of freshwater mussels and 26 species of freshwater snails make the swamps, embayments, deep creeks and tributaries their home. 47 species of mammals within the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge include the endangered Gray bat as well as eleven other critically threatened or endangered species.
Diverse habitat within the refuge includes bottomland hardwoods, pine uplands, agricultural fields, riparian wetlands and backwater embayments. These habitats offer important nesting, roosting and feeding sites for native and migratory birds. Thousands of acres of farmland are managed in partnership with the Wildlife Refuge. Farmers agree to leave a portion of crops left unharvested as food for the visiting birds, and during the winter months wheat is planted to serve as cover for wintering geese. Flooding is mitigated by water control structures that control water levels, ensuring riparian areas have enough water for plant growth.
A Visitor Center on the premises hosts educational exhibits on the wildlife of the Wheeler Refuge. Detailed maps, a classroom, 126-seat auditorium and birding station are all located at the Visitor Center. A Wildlife Observation building offers wildlife viewing through telescopes, from the comfort of an enclosed glass-walled structure. The Observation Building overlooks an area designed to replicate a backyard habitat, with plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies among the waterfowl. Additionally, a Wildlife Observation Tower is located on the north side of the Tennessee River on the Beaver Dam Peninsula.
Five hiking trails are located throughout the refuge. Trails wind past the rivers, through agricultural fields, woodlands and meadows. Bicycles and horses are permitted on any gravel roads. Pets on leashes are allowed in all outdoor areas. Most of the waterways are open for fishing year round. Popular catches include bass, sunfish, crappie, bluegill and catfish. The refuge has six available boat ramps, and while jetskiing and waterskiing is restricted, day-use boating is allowed. Hunting for small game, feral hogs and deer takes place seasonally.
History: President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the refuge in 1938 as an experiment to see if migratory birds could be attracted to impounded bodies of water. The mission of the refuge is to protect and preserve wildlife of northern Alabama for generations to come, both within the refuge and beyond, through partnerships with private stewards of land outside of the refuge’s borders. The refuge is one of 550 maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nationwide.
Wheeler Wildlife Refuge has been tracking waterfowl since the 1940’s. A wood duck banding program tags ducks each year to provide information on success of breeding and the health of current populations. Studies at Wheeler have also included Whooping crane counts, bobwhite quail counts, a summer grassland bird survey, surveys of acoustic bat routes and water quality evaluations.
The National Wildlife Refuge system was established as early as 1864, with the first officially designated Wildlife Refuge in Florida in 1903. The refuges were founded in part in response to the failure of national parks to protect wildlife from unrestricted slaughter for food or commerce. The Migratory Bird Act was the first legislation specifically drafted to protect migratory birds, and was enacted in 1913, unknowingly signed by outgoing President Taft, as it was tacked on to an unrelated bill. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty was agreed upon by Canada and the United States, further protecting migratory birds.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Educational programming is available for organized groups. Presentations include guided walking tours, wildlife presentations and outdoor classroom activities. Annual events include summer camp programs and a youth fishing rodeo.
Children ages five to fifteen may join the Junior Refuge Manager Program at the Visitor Center. Children earn a badge and certificate by completing a set of age-appropriate Refuge Manager activities in a booklet designed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
3121 Visitors Center Road, Decatur, AL 35603, Phone: 256-350-6639
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Attraction Spotlight: Point Mallard Waterpark
Decatur, Alabama’s Point Mallard Waterpark is the home of America’s first wave pool and offers a variety of recreational water activities from late May to early September each year.
The waterpark includes an aquatics center which offers an Olympic sized pool surrounded by deck loungers, three Olympic-sized diving platforms and a giant wide and easy slide. A Lazy River winds around the exterior of the park, perfect for a slow float in an inner tube. A Scenic Lagoon is for pool lounging, while the Sky Pond Speed Slides, three Flume Slides and Pro Bowl Slide offer thrilling water rides. A Splash Pad for the park’s littlest visitors includes the Squirt Factory playscape, Duck Pond, and a Kiddie Pool complete with swings, a slip and slide, and giant mushroom-shaped waterfall. A Sandy Beach with lounge chairs offers swimming within a roped off area of the Tennessee River. Picnic pavilions with several umbrella-shaded tables are located throughout the park. A wooden sundeck shaded by trees offers additional lounge chairs.
A gift shop at the Waterpark provides souvenirs, sunscreen, swimwear, towels and other small necessities. Three concession stands include the Hard Duck Café, Icy Oasis and Point Pizza. Restrooms and shower facilities are located within the park.
History: Point Mallard Waterpark opened in 1970, and is officially named the J. Gilmer Blackburn Aquatics Center, for the former Mayor of Decatur, J Blackburn, who served from 1962 to 1968. While in office, Blackburn spearheaded a plan called Operation New Decatur, which called for a new city masterplan to revitalize Decatur’s downtown area, build a new city hall, and several recreational facilities to serve all residents of Decatur. Point Mallard Park was the centerpiece of the city’s recreational plan, and the Mayor was instrumental in moving the park’s development forward.
Blackburn got the idea for the waterpark after visiting Germany and seeing wave-making pools there. Thinking that wave pools could be a good tourist attraction in the United States, Blackburn worked with pool designer J Austin Smith to have the pool built. Although Decatur claims their wave pool as the first in America, Tempe, Arizona’s Big Surf pool opened in 1969, less than one year earlier.
The facility is managed by the City of Decatur Parks and Recreation Department, although it serves a much wider community with its location between Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama, and its appeal to tourists.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Birthday party packages include admission for ten children and four adults, plus ice cream, drinks, plates and napkins. Corporate event packages can be customized for any sized team to enjoy a day at the waterpark.
Annual events within the Point Mallard Park complex include the Wet Dog Triathlon, Balloon Festival, Soul Stock, Memorial Day weekend’s Alabama Jubilee, a Fourth of July Festival and a Civil War re-enactment that takes place each year on Labor Day Weekend. The Battle of Decatur was a four-day battle that took place on the park grounds and is replayed each year at the September Skirmish Reenactment.
What’s Nearby: In addition to the waterpark, there are several recreational facilities within Point Mallard Park, a 750-acre complex on the banks of Flint Creek, a major tributary of the Tennessee River. A championship golf course is open year round, offering 200 acres surrounded by wooded flatlands. Facilities at the golf course include restrooms, a clubhouse and pro shop. The Point Mallard Ice Complex is an indoor skating rink offering free skating, figure skating lessons, hockey leagues and curling year round. The Strike Zone is open year round, weather permitting, and includes baseball and softball batting cages, a golf driving range and putting green.
The T.C. Almon Center, operated by Decatur Parks and Recreation offers indoor basketball and volleyball courts, racquetball courts, a weight room, game room, craft room and shower and locker room facilities. The Center is surrounded by sixteen outdoor tennis courts, twelve championship hard surfaced courts, and four clay courts.
The Point Mallard Campsite offers 233 RV campsites with full hookups, free wifi and 6 tent sites on twenty-five wooded acres. Campsite facilities include laundry, restrooms and showers, as well as a dump station. The campsite is within walking distance to all recreational activities within Point Mallard Park. The Point Mallard Park campsite and recreational facilities are surrounded by a picnic pavilion suitable for up to 500 guests, a 3-mile bicycling trail, three baseball fields, sand volleyball courts, and an open-air chapel with seating for up to 80 people. Fishing along the banks of the Tennessee River is a popular activity.
2901 Point Mallard Drive, Decatur, AL 35602, Phone: 256-341-4900
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Attraction Spotlight: Cook's Natural Science Museum
The Cook Museum of Natural Science is located in Decatur, Alabama and serves northern Alabama as an educational and cultural destination. The museum exhibits focus on STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, with a mission to promote the biodiversity of the Tennessee River Valley of northern Alabama, and inspire stewardship of the area’s natural resources.
The museum’s first floor hosts the natural science exhibits. Galleries include the Wonderful World of Insects, with a specially highlighted section on Little Larvae. Forests of the Southeast focuses on the local flora and fauna of northern Alabama and the southeastern United States, and includes over 50 species of native insects. Additional first floor galleries include a Cave Exhibit, an Arctic/Desert Exhibit and an exhibit on Rivers and Streams. The Oceans Exhibit includes a 15,000 gallon salt-water aquarium, and the museum is the only in Alabama to exhibit an endangered green sea turtle. The museum is one of just a few in the United States authorized by the government to display both a bald eagle and a golden eagle.
The museum’s second floor is home to interactive play stations designed to inspire an interest in STEAM and the natural world, and includes the Adventure Lab and the Maker’s Space. Exhibits are designed to be touchable, talking, and interactive. Second floor galleries also include a Salamander Room and a space for temporary exhibits.
Many of the exhibits at the museum contains mounted animals from Cook Pest Control’s founder John L. Cook’s private collection. The collection was originally used to supplement the training of his employees, and has been housed in a small facility open to the public since 1980. This space received over 30,000 visitors per year. Consultants expect 200,000 annually in the new museum, which supplements these taxidermied specimens with over 50 species of live animals.
Additional facilities at the 62,000 square foot Museum of Natural Science includes a gift shop, café, auditorium, and event space and conference room.
History: Cook’s Pest Control was founded in 1928 by John L. Cook, who responded to an increasing need to defend businesses and residences from a growing termite problem in northern Alabama. Cook was a pioneer in the pest control industry, and the first to offer a five-year guarantee that a home would be termite free after service. He offered extensive courses in entomology and natural science to his employees, and kept a collection of mounted birds and animals, coral and shells, reptiles and geological specimens out of personal interest and to help train his workers.
In 1950, when Cook Sr. passed, his oldest son, John R. Cook took control of the company, giving up a dream to become an architect in favor of returning to Decatur. Under Cook Jr’s leadership, the company grew from having one full-time employee, to the eighth largest pest control service in the United States.
The Cook family founded the museum in 2018 with a capital investment of nearly $35 million, $16 million of which came through fundraising. The museum is a project of the Cook Family Foundation, a non-profit organization, which was founded as a way for the Cooks to give back to the community and encourage tourism in Decatur. The Cook Museum of Natural Science is currently under construction and opens to the public in 2019. No opening date has yet been announced.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Educational programming at the museum supports the state of Alabama’s science curriculum requirements. Goals of the educational programming include the promotion of conservation and ethical stewardship of natural resources, as well as inspiring collegiate studies and careers in science, technology, engineering, art or math, the foundations of STEAM.
Guided group tours are available. The museum’s auditorium hosts natural science videos. Volunteer opportunities are available in animal care for marine species and insects. The museum is also seeking volunteers for its live animal educational programs, retail shop and events.
What’s Nearby: The Cook Museum of Natural Science is located in downtown Decatur among several other points of interest. Nearby are the Decatur Public Library, post office and City Hall. The Alabama Center for the Arts, a 44,000 square foot arts education facility, and the Princess Theater, a historic art-deco theater built in 1919 are also nearby.
133 Fourth Avenue NE, Decatur, Alabama 35601, Phone: 256-351-4505
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