By Frank Sargeant
The little village of Guntersville truly is the jewel of North Alabama, and Lake Guntersville creates a mosaic pattern totally permeating the community and its culture. You can’t go anywhere in town out of sight of one of the arms of the lake, and sometimes it seems there are more bass boats here than people. The Bassmaster Classic, which gets underway Friday and continues through Sunday on the lake, is a great excuse to visit if you haven’t been there before, or to renew acquaintances, if you have.
Guntersville State Park Lodge, situated on a mountain bluff overlooking the lake, is one of the most spectacular state-owned facilities in the eastern U.S. (Frank Sargeant photo)
The downtown area has preserved many of the oldest shops and converted them into smart shopping boutiques, art galleries and antique stores, and there are a few destination-type shops that you just have to experience–Fant’s Department Store on Gunter Avenue is one. You can find anything from kitchen sinks and plastic flower bouquets to business suits to rattlin’ horns and turkey calls, a lot of it at very low prices, all in a creaky old wood-floored store that looks like it was doing business in Civil War days.
And Mike’s Merchandise is worth the drive, alone: It’s a 200,000-square foot polyglot, also on Gunter Avenue, where used and new merchandise on any given day can range from collectibles, building materials, jeep paint, mattress, tarps, tools, toilet paper, name brand clothes, housewares, used books by the thousands and cleaning supplies, to the one of a kind. Customers have been able to find such crazy items over the years as F-16 airplane parts, coffins and gas pumps. Reportedly, Mike even got a live grenade in one time, pointed out by an alert customer–they had to call in the National Guard to take it away.
The whole thing is set in soaring emerald mountains, the lower end of the Appalachians, and the drive out there from Huntsville via U.S. 431, about 35 miles, is all low-traffic four-lane through the mountain valleys.
The Alabama Bass Trail is a great resource for anglers visiting any lake in the state, including Guntersville-it includes maps, ramps, places to stay, guides and lots more-visit their site at www.alabamabasstrail.org.
The Guntersville Chamber of Commerce is located at the south end of the 431 bridge just as you get into town-maps, lodging info, restaurant recommendations and lots of Southern hospitality;
www.lakeguntersville.org. Note that the site of the daily daybreak take-off for the Bassmasters Classic is right across the street at the city harbor. Parking will be a big problem-use the designated parking areas and ride the free busses.
For a complete list of boat ramps on the lake go to http://www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/where/reservoirs/guntersville/access/ All ramps will be crowded during Classic week–depend on it.
Cathedral Caverns State Park is just a few miles up the mountain from Honeycomb Creek arm near the village of Grant. The vast cave system is some 3500 feet long and has an entry over 125 feet wide. Pre-teen kids love this place, and the guided tours are interesting; http://www.alapark.com/cathedralcaverns/
Guntersville State Park has one of the more spectacular restaurant/lodge locations in the Southeast, with the glass-walled facility sitting atop a mountain that gives 20-mile views of the lake and surrounding terrain. Lots of nearly-tame white-tail deer are a bonus for morning or late evening hikers, and there are excellent launch ramps and docks as well as a huge campground, waterfront cabins and 18 holes of golf; http://www.alapark.com/lakeguntersville/
Buck’s Pocket State Park is a neat side trip, within a few miles of Guntersville State Park-it’s a spectacular canyon with a striking overlook that’s rare in the Southeast; http://www.alapark.com/buckspocket/
Weigh-Ins: Daily weigh-ins will not be at the lake. The boats are trailered to Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center at 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd in Birmingham for weigh-ins. The location is also site of the free Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo, open from noon to 8 p.m. on Feb. 21, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 22 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23. Highway 79, a two-lane road, is the most direct route from Guntersville. For details visit www.bassmaster.com.
Waterfront Restaurants in Guntersville
Lake House; www.lakehouserestaurant.com.
Wintzells Oyster House; www.wintzellsoysterhouse.com
Somewhere on the Lake www.somewhere2b.com
Outlaw’s Steakhouse; www.outlawsteakhouseguntersville.com
Top O’ the River; www.topotheriverrestaurant.com.