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SUNDAY, APRIL 15, 2007
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Say uncle!
You’ve (supposedly) paid your taxes — so stick it to Sam by having government-funded fun

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

After logging hours at your computer filing your income taxes online, you’re probably not feeling that friendly toward the U.S. government.

But vengeance can be yours.

In exchange for all the time and anguish (and missed episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy”) you’ve endured trying to find old receipts and records that simply don’t exist, it’s time to take back a little of what you pay in taxes. Why not have some fun on Uncle Sam’s tab?

So this April, we have some suggestions for outings that our tax dollars already paid for, in the spirit of sticking it to the man.

LOCAL

If you get a headache just thinking about piling the family in your Toyota Sienna for a few hours, don’t worry! Within an hour’s drive you can enjoy plenty of great tax-subsidized sites.

For biking and hiking enthusiasts, hit the more than 150 miles of trails in “the land of a thousand waterfalls” in Bankhead National Forest in Lawrence County. Native American relics abound in Bankhead, one of the Southern United States’ premier sites for petroglyphs, prehistoric drawings and rock carvings. Some areas of the Bankhead charge a few dollars for parking. Call the Bankhead Ranger District at (205) 489-5111.

For other beautiful trails and stunning views, venture a little farther out (or actually, up) to Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, which rises more than 1,600 feet above sea level. For serious hikers and bikers, the “Mountain Mist” and “McKay Hollow” trails offer views of wild roses and ginseng and wildlife such as whitetail deer and even feral goats. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children and seniors. Go online at www.alapark.com/parks/park.cfm?parkid=6.

FORT PAYNE

If the sun is beating down on you and you’re ready for a dip, head to Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne. There, not only can you see the beautiful Little River Falls, but you can also enjoy swimming in the popular swimming holes created by the falls. And here’s some good news: It’s free! Picnic tables and restrooms available. Go online at www.nps.gov/liri.

DECATUR

If you’ve never understood why people refer to the outdoors as “The Great Outdoors” yet you understand why happy hour is called happy hour, make a beeline for Café 113 on Grant Street in Decatur. There, you can enjoy a glass of Alexander Valley Vineyards cabernet, one of the restaurant’s more popular wines. Call 351-1400.

Or, plunk down $3.75 at Mi Hacienda in Decatur for one of the Mexican restaurant’s sweet and salty margaritas served in a cactus-stemmed glass. Call 353-3233.

Thanks to your tax dollars, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is able to regulate places like Café 113 and Mi Hacienda so the businesses can sell your favorite alcoholic beverages. Now, that’s a tax that everyone can toast!

BIRMINGHAM

For something unique, hit Interstate 65 South (And hey, your tax dollars are hard at work for this roadway, as well.) to Birmingham and scope out Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

The park features two 400-ton blast furnaces and some 40 other buildings that were used by an estimated 500 workers and produced 400 tons of pig iron daily.

Sloss is the only 20th-century blast furnace in the U.S. preserved and interpreted as a historic industrial site. The landmark is free for visitors, though donations are accepted. To schedule a tour, call (205) 324-1911 two weeks ahead of time. Go online at www.slossfurnaces.com.

MONTGOMERY

If you’re really into this whole tax idea, travel farther south to Montgomery to check out the Alabama State Capitol Building and the Alabama Statehouse that your hard-earned money built and keeps running. Call (334) 242-2441 for Capitol tour information and (334) 242-7096 for Statehouse tour information.

At the state Capitol, built in 1851 and the first capitol of the Confederacy, you can admire the beauty of the rotunda and its murals and the lobby’s cantilever twin staircases, as well as check out the governor’s office and the old Supreme Court chamber.

In the Statehouse, watch your lawmakers in action from the public gallery (no heckling, please!) on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday mornings and afternoons. And it’s all free! (If you don’t count the fact that technically you already paid for it.)

While you’re at the Capitol complex, walk a few extra steps to the Alabama Department of Archives & History where you can peruse every kind of record imaginable, including Alabama state records such as Confederate veterans’ militia, Revolutionary War, Spanish-American War and World War I records. If you’re a history buff or are just curious to find out more about your ancestors, this is the (free) place for you. Go online at www.archives.state.al.us.

And last, but not least, if you need any help in your travels, call the Alabama Bureau of Tourism & Travel in Montgomery. Your tax dollars paid for this service, so you might as well use it! Call (800) ALABAMA or visit www.touralabama.org.

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