News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists
SUNDAY, AUGUST 20, 2006
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TOM WRIGHT

Throw the book at them, judge

Regina's final words as I walked out the door to go walk on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge late Thursday was, "Don't stop in the woods by the water to look at ducks."

Ten minutes later I was thinking of her warning. Our neighborhood gym closed recently when its owner Joey Austin died, leaving us to take late walks on the road leading to the interpretive center located off Alabama 67.

She didn't go Thursday and as I was leaving she was having a verbal guilt trip about not accompanying me.

A red sports car was already parked at the locked entrance when I arrived. I thought the occupants were male and female. Wrong.

Two males appearing to be in their 20s sat in the hot, early evening sun, windows down.

I spoke, before slipping past the locked gates that keep vehicles out after hours.

One man returned my greeting and I, with hiking stick gripped firmly, started my walk.

Why were they there? I asked myself.

Were they asking themselves the same question about me? I asked, in this unspoken conversation.

I subconsciously glanced back several times and decided to cut my route short and walk the same path twice. So I headed back to the locked gates.

The men were still there, looking into the late sun as it started its descent.

Why? I asked, pestering myself with repetitive questions.

Were they wondering why I paraded up and down the road?

They eventually left, but did they go across the highway to the fishing pier area where state and federal agents last month cited people for public indecency as part of a larger operation on the Refuge?

Probably not. They most likely cranked up the AC and took that shiny car out on the road.

I hope a federal judge hands down severe penalties for the people found guilty or who plead guilty in the Refuge stings. It's not because some of them may be gay but because they've spoiled a wholesome spot, a refuge where other people are now afraid to go because of them.

Tom Wright Tom Wright
DAILY Executive Editor

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