Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kingsland, Georgia: Welcome Center

Nothing says welcome to a state like a torpedo.

This, oddly enough, is the big attraction of the Welcome Center in Kingsland, Georgia (although I've also seen it as Deer Run) ... unless you have to use the, um, facilities. It's on Interstate 95 northbound, just a bit north of Jacksonville.

The torpedo is a "gift" from the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base nearby. The explosive device is from the World War II era, as it was frequently used until a better model came along. There probably is some sort of marking explaining this, but I couldn't find it.

Welcome Centers are an interesting part of the road. It's an investment in tourism, of course, with plenty of maps and brochures of attractions, hotels, etc. available.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Utica, New York: Distance Running Hall of Fame

It's difficult not to see a Hall of Fame when visiting Central New York. Utica decided to get into the act when it opted to host the Distance Running Hall of Fame.

Why distance running? Utica hosts the Boilermaker race, a 15-kilometer event that attracts runners from all over the world. It's the biggest party weekend of the year for Utica, and so there's a good connection. As you can see on the sign in front of the Hall, the countdown to the next Boilermaker is already on. (The race has its offices on the third and fourth floor.)

Alas, like the Volleyball Hall in Holyoke, this facility obviously suffers from a lack of funds. We stopped in when driving by Utica on the New York State Thruway on a Friday afternoon. There is a little on-street parking in the area, but once we found a spot and walked to the Hall, we discovered it was closed. Oops. Guess the picture will have to do.

I've been in it before, though. There's the mandatory gift shop in the front, plus exhibits on inductees, Nike, and Bill Bowerman, the legendary Oregon coach. It's certainly of interest to runners, but doesn't take long to get through.

By the way, the same financial problems almost mark the website. Either there have been no inductees since 2006, or someone is asleep at the switch because that was the last update. (To be fair, in another section of the site a couple of more classes of inductees are mentioned in news releases.) The hours of operations aren't posted either.

This is a good idea, especially with the Boilermaker around, but it could use a nice big sponsor to help out. The Hall is reportedly looking for a new location, one with more space and a closer location to the big race itself.  Here's hoping the search succeeds.

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Holyoke, Massachusetts: Volleyball Hall of Fame

The Basketball Hall of Fame casts a big shadow in this part of the world. It's a magnificent structure, filled with all of the latest bells and whistles. That Hall has become a major tourist attraction for Springfield.

Just up the road in Holyoke, another game for winter exercise was invented around the same time. It too has grown popular throughout the world.

Alas, volleyball isn't quite the star that basketball is. It's Hall of Fame isn't as well known, either.

The facility is located in a park-like setting along a canal in downtown Holyoke. The volleyball hall has one large room, containing displays to honor those inducted, some other informational areas, half of a volleyball court, and a small souvenir stand (might have bought something had there been an XL's left in shirts).

The staff member seemed very nice, and all of the people you'd expect to be there are there -- that is, if you have followed volleyball at all. Obviously, the place doesn't have a great deal of money for promotion, marketing, new exhibits, etc. Plus, some of the biggest names in the sport are foreign and aren't well known to an American audience.

For those who like the sport and/or enjoy visiting Halls, it's certainly worth a short visit. It's just too bad the place didn't have the money to be bigger and better.

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Foxborough, Massachusetts: The Ocean Spray Bog

Care to guess how many football stadiums have a working cranberry farm within the borders of its property?

I can think of one.

A short hike from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is this farm, right behind Bass Pro. My guess is that the facility was around the property when the Patriots started developing it all, and someone decided to keep it.

You can take a nice half-mile walk around its perimeter, and look down and see cranberries growing. If nothing else, the contrast to the football stadium a short distance away is a large one. Plus, this seems like a good place to wait out the traffic on a nice fall day.

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Foxborough, Massachusetts, The Hall at Patriot Place

Speaking as someone who attended the second game in the history of Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro in 1971 (also remembered as the day the toilets backed up), the area sure has grown up since then.

There's no better illustration of that when visiting Patriot Place.

Not only is Gillette Stadium a huge, magnificent structure, but it comes with bonuses. Adjoining the stadium is a Hall of Fame, containing three flights of memorabilia, exhibits and interactive devices.

There is a movie theater with a film about the New England Patriots, a space to honor Hall of Famers, and a tribute to fans. You can see the team's three Super Bowl trophies, and try on a championship ring (note: it will be big).Above, you can see a display about some of the team's early history. I believe that's Gino Cappelletti's uniform on the left. The bottom floor is a large souvenir stand, with every sort of possible item available. In other words, this is the place for a Patriots' pool table.

I'd still rank this a notch below the Packers' Hall of Fame, as Green Bay has a little more history on display. But it's a first-class effort, and worth a stop for football fans in the area ... even for those from Buffalo.

By the way, Patriot Place refers to the entire complex, which includes many stores, a movie theater and a health care facility. It's huge, it's upscale, and it's very well done. Somebody did some good thinking in the Patriots' organization.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Buffalo, New York: Offermann Stadium Plaque

Cue up Frank Sinatra: There used to be a ballpark here.

The ballpark in question is Offermann Stadium. The structure was on the corner of Michigan and East Ferry, going through a few changes along the way, and served the area's baseball fans from 1889 to 1960.

Local sports historian John Boutet worked hard to get a plaque up on the site for a couple of years, and in August 2012 that item came off his to-do list. A nice little ceremony was held at the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, and the plaque pictured here was unveiled. (Click on the picture for a larger look at it.)

It's tough to hear a definitive story on why the old stadium was torn down after the 1960 season. There was talk that an expansion team might come to Buffalo at some point (local people were involved in the Continental League), and that people in this particular neighborhood wanted a new school in their midst instead of an old ballpark. Whatever the right reason, the Buffalo Bisons moved to War Memorial Stadium, where they only lasted until 1970 before folding. Luckily, the team came back in 1979, and now is in a downtown location.

If you are so inclined, you can drive over to Summer and Richmond and see where the Bisons' stadium before Offermann was located. Buffalo was in the National League in the early 1880's. The team used to practice at Riverside Park way back when.

Or, you can just look for the spirits of Ollie Carnegie and Luke Easter around the sign. It's about where the pitcher's mound was located.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mount Morris, N.Y.: Mount Morris Dam


It's easy to make puns about this sort of structure. It's easy not to do so as well. Guess we're dammed if we do and dammed if we don't.

This particular dam is located on the northern edge of Letchworth State Park, located in Mount Morris in Livingston County somewhat south of Rochester.

This particular facility was built from 1948 to 1952 to help control floods by the Genesee River, which runs south to north through Rochester. Before the dam, Rochester would get pounded by flood waters every few years. Since this went up, it's been perfect in its effectiveness. It even held all the water in 1972 from Hurricane Agnes, which caused all sorts of flooding in the region. It was close though, as flood waters came a few feet from spilling over the top of the 760-foot structure.

Flooding is not a problem for most of the year. In fact, this picture, taken in July, shows the Genesee as something of a trickle. Even a little water makes the falls upstream in the park look nice, but most of the time there's no danger of the gorge overflowing.

What's nice about this particular dam is that you can tour it. There's a visitors center, and a friendly, upbeat guide takes people around once or twice a day in the summer. It's even free. Guest actually go inside of the dam, as they walk along the top right side of the area shown above, and then take an elevator down almost to the water level. The temperature inside the dam is less than 60 degrees all the time, which adds to the cave-like conditions.

If the Mount Morris dam were used for electricity, it would need a backup reservoir of water behind it to power the turbines. Since it isn't, the water just flows through it most of the time, although they sometimes back it up a bit in the late summer and fall to add to the scenery.. When the rains come, the nine conduits are closed to prevent water from rushing too fast through the area. Then they are slowly opened when conditions permit. The engineers can back up the river for 17 miles, if necessary so that it stores 301,853 acre-feet of water (one acre of water covered by one foot of water)..

By the way, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the dam has saved more than $1 billion in property damage over the years. So it was a good investment of $25 million by the government.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Clarence, New York: Flight 3407 Memorial

Western New York won't soon forget the night of February 12, 2009. That was the evening when Flight 3407 crashed into a residential street in the quiet village of Clarence Center. All of the passengers and crew on the plane were killed, as were two people in the struck house on the ground. The total was 50.

It's somewhat amazing to think that a plane could fall out of the sky at such a steep angle that only one house would be hit. Yet that's what happened on Long Street that night. An adjoining house was damaged as well and had to be torn down.

Discussions about what to do with vacant land began almost immediately after the clean-up operation began. After three years, a small memorial park was finished and then dedicated on June 2, 2012.

You can see the area above. The outline of a plane's wing is on the ground and serves a walkway to a memorial plaque that lists all the victims. There are markings to show where the struck house was located as well.

Since the crash, some new regulations have been put into effect that hopefully will make air travel safer.

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