CONTACT: Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association
PHONE: 256.350.3500 / 800.648.5381

AMLA Honors Three North Alabama Leaders with 2021 President’s Award 

Decatur, Ala. (September 23, 2021) - The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) has honored Yedla Management Company Chairman and Founder K.R. Yedla, Ph.D., Senator Tom Butler and Ewell Smith of Athens, Ala. with its 2021 President’s Award. The award is among 12 that comprise the 2021 PEAK Awards that were presented today during the AMLA Annual Meeting at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence, Ala.

The President’s Award is presented to any person or organization whose tourism-related project created awareness or presented a positive image for North Alabama in the past year. 

K.R. (Dr. Rao) Yedla, Ph.D. left India on a passenger ship in the 1950s and made his way to Liverpool, England. He eventually ended up in a YMCA in New York City with less than $100 in his pocket and a dream to pursue an education, build a business and raise a family in America. He pursued his passion for business and education to become a university professor and chairman of the Economics and Finance Department, as well as the head of International Admissions at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. Today, Dr. Rao serves as chairman and founder of Yedla Management Company, headquartered in Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville. With 21 properties scattered throughout Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, including 11 within north Alabama, Team Yedla provides hospitality management services for third party contracts, including all aspects of operations, sales and marketing, human resources and recruiting, engineering and accounting as well as  short term hotel consultations for site selection, design and construction projects. Under his leadership, Team Yedla recently launched Good Culture, a new charitable organization developed to support hospitality workers in Alabama, Charlotte and central Florida communities by providing short-term financial support for those who have lost their job and are in temporary need for items like groceries and gas.

As a founding board member, Sen. Tom Butler was instrumental in achieving the dream and vision of the original Alabama Veterans Museum concept. His support spans over 20 years and he continues to be influential in the Museum’s success. He was a prominent figure in the capital fundraising campaign, appearing in a video on the Museum’s behalf and securing funding to support the first phase of the Museum’s move and expansion. The Alabama Veterans Museum is the number one tourist attraction in Limestone County and the new 20,000 square-foot facility accommodates the growing historical collection and includes a library, meeting space and an area for veterans to socialize together.

Ewell Smith, of Athens, Ala., is a volunteer and honored veteran who served over six years in the United States Coast Guard during the Vietnam era. In recent years, he has served as a member of the board of directors for the Alabama Veterans Museum for over 11 years and also is a member of the fundraising and building committee. He regularly volunteers, gives tours and talks to visitors about the museum and the local area. His generosity with his time and talents proved invaluable during construction of the new facility where he arrived daily to oversee the process. He ensured contract documents were executed properly and all work was done up to code and standards. When it came time to move into the new location, he spent countless hours meticulously cleaning, packing and moving artifacts, and then setting up displays in the new museum. He has also been a member of the steering committee for one of the largest events in Limestone County for over 50 years. Known as the “Granddaddy of Midsouth Fiddlers Conventions” for its role in reviving the tradition of competition in old time music, the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention has brought in thousands of visitors over the years to Athens and Limestone County.

Representing the highest achievement in North Alabama tourism, the PEAK Awards honor individuals, events and organizations that have had a major impact on tourism in North Alabama. “The PEAK Awards recognize the best of North Alabama’s tourism and travel industry, and this year’s nominees and winners have all done an exemplary job in delivering an exceptional visitor experience,” said AMLA President/CEO Tami Reist. “With the COVID-19 pandemic still in the forefront, it continues to be challenging times for our industry and I want to take this time to celebrate our local tourism leaders, attractions, festivals and front-line workers who all work tirelessly during these unprecedented times.”  

Full list of winners:

Organization of the Year
The Organization of the Year award is presented to the AMLA member organization that has contributed significantly to the betterment and development of tourism in North Alabama in the past year.

Winner:  Athens Main Street

Event of the Year
The Event of the Year award is presented to the AMLA member special event or festival that has made a great contribution to tourism in the past year.

Winner:  Piney Chapel Farm Heritage Days

Attraction of the Year
The Attraction of the Year award is presented to the AMLA member attraction that has made a great contribution to tourism in the past year. 

Winner:  Cathedral Caverns State Park
Good Neighbor Award 
The “Good Neighbor” Friend of Tourism Award is presented to a person or organization whose body of work has had a significant impact on tourism in the past year.

Winner:  Lee Pitts, Pitts Outdoors 

Northern Star Award
The Northern Star Award is presented to an individual, such as a ranger, guide and a front line employee, who has gone “above and beyond” expectations.

Winner:  Katrina Cope, Holiday Inn Express (Gadsden)
Young Professional of the Year Award
The Young Professional of the Year “Green Apple Award” is awarded to a person who has been in the tourism business less than seven years and has exhibited extraordinary leadership skills and initiative associated with their position.

Winner:  Haley Rutland, Marshall County Tourism and Sports
Tourism Professional of the Year
The Tourism Professional of the Year award is presented to an individual or employee of an AMLA member organization who has made a great contribution to tourism in the past year.

Winner: Anna Mullican, Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center and Park

Lasting Impression Award
The Lasting Impression Award is presented to an attraction, event, person or organization that has provided a “lasting impression” on tourists thereby improving the overall image of tourism in North Alabama.  

Winner:  Lucy Orr, Downtown Turtle Trail (Decatur)
Chairman’s Cup 
The Chairman’s Cup Award is given annually to a travel writer or media person who has over time demonstrated support of AMLA, the region and its tourism activities. 

Winner:  Connie Pearson, travel writer and blogger 

President’s Award
The President’s Award is presented to any person or organization whose tourism-related project created awareness or presented a positive image for North Alabama in the past year. 

Winners:     K.R. Yedla, Ph.D., chairman and founder, Yedla Management Company
                   Senator Tom Butler
                   Ewell Smith, volunteer, Athens, Ala.
It Only Takes A Spark Award 
The award recognizes an individual or organization who is igniting change and making a positive impact on the tourism industry in North Alabama through their initiative, creativity and spirit.

Winner:  Rocket City Trash Pandas
Top North Alabama Ambassador of the Year
The award recognizes the work and achievements of the top performing North Alabama Ambassador in the past year.

Winner:  Cody Hood, Addison, Ala. (@ensaneoutdoors)

Images of award recipients are available upon request by calling AMLA at 800.648.5381 or by sending an email to 

About Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA)
AMLA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and development of the travel industry within the 16 northernmost counties of the state. It is supported by 500-plus members consisting of chambers of commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureaus, attractions, campgrounds, festivals, communities, counties, golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, vendors, financial institutions and individuals. Counties included within the AMLA region are Blount, Cherokee, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan and Winston. Additional information on North Alabama destinations, accommodations and special events is available by calling 800.648.5381 or by visiting Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @VisitNorthAL and like us at