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Tumble to the top

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

Do your children need a place to sharpen their athletic skill set, prepare for cheering tryouts or just simply burn off some energy after a long day at school?

The Opelika Trampoline and Tumbling (OTT) program located on Denson Drive offers just that and more.

In fact, it is the only city-run program in Opelika that competes on a national and even world level (for the U.S. team in Russia, South Africa and Australia).

Valeri White, director of senior programs for Opelika Parks and Recreation, started the program 25 years ago in Opelika after being a gymnast and tumbler throughout her adolescence.

“I had always been in gymnastics and tumbling/trampoline,” White said. “I first presented the idea to Auburn Parks and Recreation (in 1988) because Auburn University already had a gymnastics program for kids, but there wasn’t anything through parks and recreation that was also affordable for a lot of kids.”

White ran the program for five years in Auburn before moving the program to Opelika Parks and Recreation in 1993.

“We needed a place where the trampolines, tumbling mats and equipment could stay in place and not have to be put together then taken down everyday before and after practices,” White said. “Plus kids need an outlet, and I wanted it to be affordable.”

OTT started at the Armory Arts Center on Denson Drive, developing a stellar reputation over the years in the area, and is now housed in the Denson Drive Recreation Center.

“We focus on proper progression, safety and each kids form because we want it to look better than anybody else so people do know where the kids come from,” White said. “Even though we try to make it fit everyone’s budget, we have had a world champion in Australia and eight kids who have competed for the U.S. team, one of whom (Beth Mowery) is currently one of our coaches and was a two-time national champion in Russia.”

The program grew and gained notoriety from White’s first year on.

“My first class had six kids in it. Now we are coaching more than 600 kids in a year’s time,” White said. “The whole purpose is for kids to gain confidence and be in the best shape they can be in while learning as many skills as possible.”

The OTT program is also sanctioned by USA Gymnastics and affords the program the opportunity for the coaches to have education, certification in safety and become registered instructors with USA Gymnastics.

There are a variety of options when it comes to skill levels at OTT, and the program runs from 3:30–7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For beginners and young participants there is level one (ages 5 and up) that focuses on the basics of trampoline and tumbling as well as a “tumble tots” (age 4) and “parent and me” (ages 2-3) courses for children learning hand-eye coordination.

Once they are confident in their skills and receive a coach’s recommendation, they are promoted to level two and three (ages 5 and up) where they have the opportunity to join “team,” which is a select group of athletes who compete around the state and nation.

OTT also offers cheer-prep tumbling for athletes looking to make cheer squads at their schools.

The sessions are broken up into winter, spring, summer and fall quarters, and the cost for these services ranges from $45-$60 for one day a week for an eight-week period. The level one, two and three courses can be taken up to four days per week for $95 to $130 per session/quarter.

For more information visit or find OTT on Facebook.


Special to the Opelika Observer

Pictured at a recent event are (top, left to right) Coaches Marco Gamble, Georgia White, Beth Mowery and (bottom right to left) Neely Stewart, MacKenzie Wadsworth, Josie Wiggins, Chelsea Rose Stroud, Barakat Crumbly and Valeri White.

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Just a call away

Master Gardeners man helpline


By Alison James

Associate Editor

Is it time to prune my hydrangeas? What’s wrong with my squash? Why are my tomatoes not producing?

Master Gardener volunteers are standing by to answer these and other questions – about pruning, fertilizer, insects and more.

“During our busy time in the year in the spring, we set up that call system so anyone could see the flyer and call,” explained Alabama Cooperative Extension coordinator. “We would like to get more publicity out there so we can have more calls coming in.”

Gene Galloway, administrator for the free service, said calls come in from all over the 14-county region. Lee County mans the line Tuesday; other counties man it their respective days.

“One day we could get lots of calls from Chambers County, maybe, if there’s something going on – some kind of fungus that’s bothering folks up there that hasn’t gotten to the other areas yet,” Galloway said. “Or Japanese beetles – the farther north you go, the more Japanese beetles you encounter, so Cleburne County might call about Japanese beetles.”

The Master Gardeners on the other end of the line might do research and call the questioners back. They might refer the call to Kelly. They might ask for a sample or recommend a soil test.

“Most of the time we’re just there to be a friendly voice on the other end of the line and say we care,” Kelly said.

The number to call is 1-877-252-GROW, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Calls made after hours will be returned the next day.


Photo by Alison James Lee County Master Gardener Jeanette Herndon puzzles through a fig problem with a caller to the helpline, which is staffed by volunteers Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Opelika icon dies on 102nd birthday

By Ann Cipperly

Opelika Observer

Eleanor Harris was a woman ahead of her time and accomplished more in her lifetime than many women combined.  She made a tremendous difference in two communities and always lived life to the fullest. Although she faced challenges, including becoming nearly completely blind, none of them prevented her from living the motto her mother taught her as a child, “Day by day in every way better and better.”

She passed away April 4, a few minutes into her 102nd birthday.

As an accomplished violinist at age 18, she had no fear of leaving a small Nebraska town by train to go to New York City to explore her love of music at Julliard. After returning to Nebraska to teach, she decided to return to New York for a master’s degree at Columbia.

Meeting John T. Harris would be aided by serendipity. A chance meeting with a stranded passenger led her to choose an apartment in a building next to a restaurant that specialized in southern food. The restaurant was a magnet for transplanted southerners, including John T. from Opelika.

Eleanor and John T. had an amazing life filled with adventures and successes.

While Eleanor was raising six sons, she had also been working in preservation and the arts. In McCook, Neb., she started a historical society, the High Plains Museum and a community orchestra, in which she played the violin. Eleanor had been involved in state art councils and Mid States Arts Alliance covering eight Midwest states.

The Harrises had the vision and determination to build a museum in Opelika, although too many others could not see it happening. Although they were near 80 years of age, neither John T. nor Eleanor would be derailed from their goal of starting a museum.

After a few years of planning, the Harrises founded the Museum of East Alabama on 9th Street in downtown Opelika to preserve local history and artifacts.

Though nearly blind, Eleanor was not deterred from enjoying life and still making the best of every day. After her beloved John T. passed away, she would manage to walk along the wall at Azalea Place to go to the lobby to hear a music program. Eleanor herself could still play the piano beautifully.

Life had not always been easy, but she found comfort and joy in being with her family. John T and her boys were the love of her life, and then came grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

When she became ill, Eleanor’s presence was missed on the museum board, as the board proceeded with the projects she had desired the museum to accomplish.  She would have been thrilled at the number of people at the museum for the recent Taste of East Alabama event two days before she passed away.

A picture of Eleanor and John T.  hangs on a wall in the museum, as a reminder to keep the dream going and make the best “Day by day in every way better and better.”

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City, state continue work on Frederick Road

By Cliff McCollum

News Editor

The Alabama Department of Transportation started placing asphalt pavement on the new lanes constructed on Frederick Road this week, making another benchmark in the long-awaited road update.

Opelika City Engineer Scott Parker said travel on Frederick Road would not be blocked or detoured during the paving process, which ALDOT officials estimate will take one week, weather permitting.

Motorists on the road should expect possible delays as asphalt trucks and pavers enter and exit the affected area.

Roads crossing the areas being paved include Cunningham Drive, Old Opelika Road and Bradford Drive.

Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller recently said he and many other local citizens were anxiously awaiting the completion of the Frederick Road project.

“We’re expecting everything to be finished by the end of this calendar year or by early 2015, if everything goes as we expect it to,” Fuller said. “This has been a long process, and we are all ready to have it come to an end.”

Fuller said a number of reasons have added time to the project, namely the relocation of a number of utility features along Frederick Road.

“We’ve had to move power lines, fiber lines, sewer lines and water mains,” Fuller said. “There have been a number of things we’ve had to do with our utilities before we could even start to address the road itself, and it has taken some time.”

Fuller said the Frederick Road project remains a “work in progress,” but he and other city officials feel confidant that ALDOT and the contractors can finish the job in a timely fashion.

“As long as the weather cooperates, we feel good about Frederick Road possibly being finished this year,” Fuller said. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally seeing the end of this long-awaited project.”

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Hitting the dusty trail

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

Check the tires’ air pressure and lube up the chains because the weather is warming up and Chewacla State Park will soon open new mountain biking trails.

The Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers, or CAMP, is a local mountain biking organization that recently secured a $100,000 loan in repaid Urban Development Action Grants from the City of Auburn to build additional trails in the park.

“It was originally a state grant through the Recreational Trail Program (RTP grant), and we received that grant in 2012,” said Philip Darden, president of CAMP. “The city’s involvement in the project is simply an interim financing of this grant because we have to spend the money before being reimbursed by the state.

“Those funds are now helping us to make additions to Chewacla State Park including five to six miles of professionally designed and built trails.”

CAMP contracted a professional trail designer and builder, Preston York, who was involved in the design of the Cold Water Mountain Trail in Anniston to design these new trails in Chewacla.

“The design process is happening right now, and then we have to bid out the construction process, which will start in about a month,” Darden said. “Best case scenario, the new trails will be completed before the fall, and the worst case is that it will be done before the end of 2014.”

The design process is set to be complete in the next week or two, according to Darden.

“When these trails are completed, Chewacla will feature right at 25 miles of mountain biking accessible trails,” Darden said. “These new trails are going to be built in an area of the park that we have not yet built trails on and has the most elevation, so there will be a lot more gravity-oriented trails rather than the current cross-country trails.”

The trails will all be designed and built with the intermediate rider in mind, with some offshoots for the more experienced rider, complete with jumps and various features that should challenge even the most advanced mountain biker.

“These trails are going to be fun for a wide range of riders,” Darden said. “We would like to expand on the events we have currently, such as mountain bike races and trail runs, and start to do endurance-style races or some downhill races.”

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. CAMP has a kid’s ride called Base Camp that is geared toward getting kids involved in cycling and outdoor activity with an age range of 2–12 years old.

“It is really beginner friendly, and we have a fleet of bicycles in case a kid does not have a bike – he or she can still learn to ride,” Darden said. “It is a weekly event that we do for free, and all you have to do is pay your way into the park, which is $3 for adults (on the weekend and $2 during the week) and for ages 6–11 it is $1 (ages 5 and under are free).”

Chewacla is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

When the trails are complete, CAMP plans on having a grand opening ceremony and a big celebration of all the work and volunteering that went into making this possible, according to Darden.

“When this project is complete we (CAMP) will have accomplished every goal we set out to accomplish at Chewacla,” Darden said.

For more information visit or


Xterra Tiger – April 12

9 a.m. Off-Road Triathlon

Trek Demo Day – April 16

1–6 p.m.
Our Friends and James Bros. Bikes and Trek will be bringing out the Trek demo fleet to Chewacla State Park. Come test out the road or Mountain Bike of your Dreams! Demos are free, but normal park entrance fees apply.

Alabama GOAL Fest – May 24-26

Specific Opelika events are –

May 24: 9 a.m. CrossFit competition at CrossFit Opelika; 11 a.m. Criterium and outdoor expo at the Courthouse Square


Special to the Opelika Observer, Philip Darden

The Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers, or CAMP, has been instrumental in getting more mountain biking trails built at Chewacla State Park, where novices and more advanced bikers alike can get out and enjoy the thrill of the ride.

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Paper jewelry for a paycheck

Four Corners Ministries helps Ugandan women sell handmade beads


By Alison James

Associate Editor

Paper can be used for many things – teaching, cleaning and entertaining, for starters. But Four Corners Ministries is using paper to change lives in Gulu, Uganda – in the form of handcrafted paper beaded jewelry.

At Abaana’s Hope, the village Four Corners is helping to institute in Gulu, the men have been put to work building the village’s school, orphanage, women’s refuge, corn mill and more. But up until a couple of years ago, their wives along with women from the refuge had no way to be involved. That changed when Four Corners realized they could employ the women in creation of paper jewelry.

“We’re trying to restore life to these people and empower them,” explained Martha Ellen Johnson, head of donor development and event planning with Four Corners. “Two days are bead-making days, and one day is a jewelry making day. The women are in community with each other, and they have a strong support of women around them.”

The Gulu women cut the colored paper into long, thin strips with paper cutters. Then the bead making begins.

“They put it on bike spokes, and they spin it,” Johnson said. “Then they put a shellack on it and let it sit in the sun.”

The women make several thousand beads a day from all colors of paper, creating necklaces, jewelry and earrings that are modern and fashionable. The jewelry is then transported to Four Corners and sold throughout the area.

“Our main source of revenue for the income is jewelry parties, like Thirty-One and Pampered Chef,” Johnson said. “It’s also in Resurrect Antiques, Southern Crossings and Sprout Children’s Boutique in Auburn.”

They also take the jewelry to local festivals and event like CityFest in Auburn.

“They make the jewelry, and then they get a paycheck – all of the proceeds go back to them,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal – to employ these women. We want them to be proud of something. We want them to take pride in their job and their handiwork.”

The bulk of their stock is in the $35-40 range – mostly bundled into jewelry sets, like a necklace and bracelet combo. Some are more ornate and more expensive. Simple bracelets or earrings cost $5-15.

“They are all so unique ... If you see something you like, you’d better get it, because it might not be here next time,” Johnson said.

Four Corners has recently rebranded the jewelry line and will soon officially launch it as Life Beads. Johnson said a new website is in development, and they hope someday to soon to be able to host “flash sales” online – offering a limited number of items, potentially at a discount, online for a limited period of time in a pop-up shop.

“I want it to grow – not for me, to say, ‘Look at what I have done,’ – but I want these women to say, ‘I have a business,’ and be really proud of something,’” said Johnson, whose goal is to plan at least two parties a month and progress into more local shops and festivals or craft shows.

As jewelry sales flourish, Four Corners is continuing the mission to build Abaana’s Hope and change the economic and social atmosphere in Gulu.

Jewelry can be purchased at Four Corners, 715 Ave. A, Opelika, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. To plan a jewelry party or learn more, visit or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Photo by

Alison James

Martha Ellen Johnson displays the jewelry available through Four Corners Ministries, handcrafted with paper by women at Abaana’s Hope in Gulu, Uganda – a village Four Corners is building. All proceeds from jewelry sales go to the women to help them support their families.

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