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Gulf State Park Adds New Attractions
June 20, 2013
By DAVID RAINER
Visitors to the Alabama Gulf Coast have been intrigued by the new structures on the north side of Beach Boulevard in Gulf State Park. Some of the incorrect guesses have been fire towers or lifeguard stations. The huge towers are actually part of the new Gulf Adventure Center’s Hummingbird Zipline, where riders can get a bird’s-eye view of the park.
Gulf State Park Superintendent Lisa Laraway said the new zipline is just one of the new features at the park that is striving to keep park visitors entertained. The new Boulder Park on the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail was recently opened for an adventure off the beaten path.
“We’ve gotten a lot of exposure from all the new attractions in the park,” said Laraway, who has been superintendent since April 2012. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve been doing things to keep ourselves ‘in the game.’ We’ve got all this acreage between these two great cities, and we want to make sure we utilize everything we can to bring people to the outdoors and not just to the beach – they’re coming to Lake Shelby, they’re ziplining, kayaking, paddle-boarding, coming to the pier with our new restaurant venue. Then we’ve got the campgrounds and cabins. We’re renovating our cabins with new pictures, curtains and paint. The structures are very well made, so we’re just updating them. I’ve also applied for a grant that would allow us to build a new primitive camping area on Little Lake. If we get the funding, we’ll have some nice campsites right on the water.
“Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have noticed what we’ve done in the past year and they’re very excited.”
“Zip lines have been around for some time, largely as canopy tours,” Schlinkert said. “I was in a contract with the Department of Conservation to remove derelict boats from Perdido Bay and got to be friendly with some of the folks in DCNR. I proposed to them the idea of putting a zipline in a state park and they liked the idea.
Schlinkert said the zipline has been a hit since the facility opened on March 9.
“During the entirety of spring break we didn’t have an empty slot,” he said. “Now we only take 12 people per trip with two guides. We intentionally limit the number of people so that only your group is on an individual tower. We do that for the quality of the experience.”
The experience starts with instruction on the ground with a small zipline. Then adventurers cross the swinging bridge to the first tower that is 48 feet tall.
“From there, you’re in the air for more than a mile,” Schlinkert said. “You’re visiting all seven towers, the highest being 93 feet and the longest run being 1,228. That longest one is a dual line where two people can go at the same time. And it’s completely over the waters of Lake Shelby.
“People love it. Our response has been excellent. We have an incredible staff of guides. We send an email to every single person who rides our zip line, and every single one has complimented our guides and staff. We’re real happy with the outcome. I tell everybody who works here that if everybody leaves here happy that we’ve accomplished our goal.”
The 12-person groups run at 45-minute intervals, starting at 8:30 a.m. The facility is now starting to add an 8 p.m. time slot that will give participants the opportunity to ride in the dark.
“We have a 6:30 slot where you can catch the sunset and then finish in the dark,” Schlinkert said. “We just finished a solar-powered LED lighting system on each tower so you can zip at night now. We’re just beginning to start an 8 p.m. zip. Then we’ll be running dark-to-dark. It is incredible to zip in the dark. It is so cool in the dark.”
The new restaurant on the Gulf State Park Pier is called Pelican Sam’s Restaurant in honor of the bird that has made the pier home since Hurricane Ivan. The menu includes dishes like barbecued shrimp, an homage to Laraway’s New Orleans heritage, oysters and steamed shrimp, to name a few.
“It just opened a couple of weeks ago, so we’re just getting the word out,” Laraway said.
Laraway said the Boulder Park fits perfectly into the added attractions concept she brought to the park.
Boulder Park was a joint project among the Backcountry Trail Foundation, the City of Orange Beach and Gulf State Park.
Phillip West, Orange Beach’s Coastal Resources Manager, said the idea for the Boulder Park came from a family outing to another Alabama state park.
“We were at Desoto State Park and my oldest son was climbing every rock we came across,” West said. “Whether we were hiking or just hanging out around the cabin, he was climbing on every rock. It’s pretty obvious we don’t have any rocks to climb on the beach. We really don’t have any good trees for climbing. I grew up in north Alabama and I loved rock climbing. Down here, if all these kids have are jungle gyms to climb on, they are not developing the skills or muscle groups to climb. It seemed like a fun idea, and it fits on the trail. It looks like a natural formation on the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail.
“I think we got great bang for the buck. Opening day, we had 40 or 50 kids waiting for us to cut the caution tape so they could start climbing. We also had a couple of people from Colorado who were hard-core climbers who tried them out and had a good time. All the response we’ve received on social media has been positive.”
Boulder Park is situated about 1½ miles from the Catman Road trail head, about 1½ miles from the Orange Beach Sportsplex trail head and about 2 miles from the Rosemary Dunes trail head.
“It’s where three trails come together,” West said. “There’s a restroom and a screened picnic area with potable water. It’s a perfect place to take the kids and have a picnic and let them climb the boulders.”
PHOTOS: (By Roger Reetz) Gulf State Park visitors have additional attractions to check out. On the north side of Beach Boulevard at Lake Shelby, Gulf Adventure Center’s Hummingbird Zipline provides a thrilling way to view a part of the park. For those who prefer not to be so far off the ground, the new Boulder Park on the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail provides a place for families to picnic and give the youngsters a place to climb.