Portrait photography provided by White Rabbit Studios     Portrait photography provided by White Rabbit Studios     Portrait photography provided by White Rabbit Studios

Voices of Huntsville is awarded once a month to a local resident of Huntsville, Madison County, Madison City, Decatur, and surrounding areas to share their personal perspective of our community. Our Voice of Huntsville will share their creative passion and unique perspective about what they absolutely love about Huntsville in a format that best speaks to their own creativity, vlog, blog, photo essay. Interested in becoming a TSG Huntsville Voice of Huntsville? Apply here!


Gerrit Burke, February 2021, Voices of Huntsville

Love Letter to Our City from Above

When I moved to the Huntsville area on the trailing edge of my dad’s transition to civilian life in January 1996, there were three major events going on that my elementary school-aged brain retained: 1. The Ice Storm – and walking down University Drive with the world draped in white, 2. the imminent Atlanta Olympics – and getting to see Izzy as the torch passed through Huntsville, and 3. the Madison Elementary School production of “The Wizard of Oz” – and perfecting the delivery of my two lines as the titular role in what turned out to be a very brief acting career. At that time, the population of the Huntsville metro area was nearly half what it is now, traffic was lighter, Dan Satterfield’s weather forecasts ruled the airwaves, and people were wondering how long this fad called the internet would last.

The Garage at Clinton Row is home to some awesome local Huntsville shops and is lit up beautifully at night. (Copyright © Sparrow Digital Media)

As a military kid, I was used to moving, as was my father before that, and his father before that. But as I got involved in school, sports, church, and other activities, Huntsville started to feel like home in a new way – a more settled way. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses growing up here, though: Big Spring Jam, Stars and Channel Cats games, Southern Adventures, and Panoply (though it was probably raining that weekend) were some of the only things to do as a teenager, it felt at the time. Honestly, I never saw myself staying as an adult, but it took leaving to go to school and start my career to make me realize something:

I love this city. 

  Burritt On the Mountain offers some of the best views in Huntsville and one of the best Christmas events in the area. Its also where Gerrit intended to propose to his wife, but they got there just as it was closing and he had to quickly improvise a  Sunrise in Downtown Huntsville, highlighting the mix of old and new buildings that make our downtown area distinctive (Copyright © Sparrow Digital Media)     Milton Frank Stadium, where Gerrit has spent two decades playing, watching, and even officiating local football games. (Copyright © Sparrow Digital Media)

At its heart, Huntsville is a Renaissance City—a growing town that thrives at the intersection of Bible belt origins, a science and engineering-driven economy, and a burgeoning artistic groove. If you think about it, you might seriously not have enough fingers to count the people you know who engineer next-generation technology for NASA or the military Monday through Friday, work creative gigs or hobbies on evenings and Saturdays, and then teach or attend services on Sunday. We are a town that converted a factory that made boots for Vietnam-era troops into an art hub, where senior business leaders with technical degrees tutor kids in STEM at Lincoln Village because that’s really the stuff they like anyway, and where you could conceivably run into a General with more stars than shoulders while picking up your pre-snowfall milk and bread. 

The Von Braun Center, which objectively looks like a UFO, overlooks Big Spring Park in the pre-dawn stillness. (Copyright © Sparrow Digital Media)

Not long ago, Huntsville ranked 7th on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Places to Live in the United States. We’ve made a habit of appearing on notable lists and receiving state and national recognition, too. We exceed expectations, attract new talent, and grow not because of some arbitrary goal or desire to appear on a list, but because expanding horizons and shattering barriers is part of our ethos. And yet, to many of us, such accolades are less important than the fact that we’re soon going to get a Trader Joe’s and a Cheesecake Factory. If we ever add an Ikea, nothing will stop us.

We don’t wait around for others to invest in our community though. We invest in ourselves, with a fantastic Community Foundation that itself has raised more than $30 million to boost local community organizations, with small business startups built around big ideas, and with schools that regularly achieve national recognition. 

  DeSoto Falls is a majestic 104’ waterfall just 90 minutes from Huntsville in DeSoto State Park, near Mentone. It’s surrounded by some great hiking and exploring that’s a good fit for families looking to explore some North Alabama natural treasures.  Camp Maranatha, on Lake Guntersville, is a lovely locally owned and operated Summer Camp that’s served our area for nearly 60 years. Gerrit met his wife here working together as Camp Counselors, and he’s still involved with camp even today. It offe  High Falls Park in Grove Oak, AL. A gorgeous 35’ waterfall with a 300’ span just an hour’s drive from Huntsville. Just one of the dozens of amazing natural sights a short drive from town! (Copyright © Sparrow Digital Media)

We have a
Land Trust that works tirelessly to preserve some of the amazing natural beauty within and around our city, and avid groups of outdoor-types that run, bike, hike, and explore the more than 73 miles of trails within a short drive of downtown. 

  The US Space & Rocket Center’s stunning Saturn V rocket is the crown jewel of Huntsville. Some might think this rocket is how Huntsville came by the nickname “Rocket City”, but the Saturn V wasn’t constructed until 1999. (Copyright © Sparrow Di  With a fresh coat of paint just last year, the Saturn V gleams in the morning sunlight. Other exhibits at the Space Center are getting fixed up too, with the recent announcement that the Pathfinder Shuttle will soon begin a multi-year refurbishment

We have a rocket in our skyline. Actually, we have two. And if that’s not enough for you, we have very driveable access to some sights people travel from across the world to see, like Lookout Mountain (which has awesome Hang Gliding and Paragliding), Bankhead National Forest (which houses many of the 44 named waterfalls in a ~2hr drive from Huntsville), and Harmony Park Safari (which, ok, is maybe not world-renowned but is definitely an area must-visit).

I love this city, and I’m not alone. 

Big Spring Park’s iconic red bridge was a gift from Japanese Major General Mikio Kimata for the United States bicentennial as a thank you for Huntsville’s hospitality. (Copyright © Sparrow Digital Media)

Thanks to my day job, I get to spend a lot of time with business-people that are deliberately and strategically trying to grow their footprint here. This complements my off-hours gig as a photographer and videographer, where I get to share the stories and images of Huntsville’s small business owners, organizations, and beautiful places with other Huntsvillians and the world through social media. But when it comes to growth, my favorite gig is my 24/7 one: Dad. Exploring this city with my daughter is something I always look forward to, discovering the surrounding natural beauty together, and showing her first-hand how much our community has to offer her. 

I love this city, and I hope she’ll fall in love with it, too. 

One way to know how long someone has lived in Huntsville is to ask them what this building (the tallest in Huntsville) is called. If they say “The Regions Building” they may be newer to town; if they say “The Amsouth Building” they’ve been here awhi…

Gerrit is a Huntsville husband, dad, and Business Developer that runs Sparrow Digital Media in his borderline imaginary free time. A self-professed aviation nerd, he satisfies his childhood obsession with flying things as an FAA certified commercial drone pilot and shares his photography on Instagram as @sparrowdronehsv. He loves watching movies with sword fights, reading fiction and non-fiction books about space, and pretending he drinks less coffee than he actually does. 

Thank you so much Gerrit for sharing your voice and vision of Huntsville from above with us. We hope that you love Huntsville as much as Gerrit does!

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