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State Parks Ready for Spring-Break Visitors
February 28, 2013
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Spring break is right around the corner, and the Alabama State Parks system is gearing up with a big “Welcome” sign.
Greg Lein, who was named State Parks Director in July 2012, said the 22 state parks scattered across Alabama will be prepared for the influx of visitors when students and educators get a week-long respite from classes. Lein said the spring-break crowd has a significant economic impact on the state parks system, which depends on visitor revenues to cover about 90 percent of the system’s annual operational expenses.
Lein said there is good news at Guntersville State Park, which suffered direct hits during the horrific tornado outbreak in April 2011. The park suffered extensive damage, but repairs to the campground should be finished by the time spring break arrives. Guntersville had 321 campsites, 15 lakeside cabins, 20 chalets and a 112-room hotel, not to mention an 18-hole golf course and 36 miles of trails.
“We expect that the Guntersville campground will be almost fully operational by spring break,” Lein said. “The lodge is up and running, and cabins and chalets are up and running. The last element was finishing the main components of the main campground. Then they will transition over to our primitive camping over at Town Creek.
“We had to go in and redo the utilities in the main campground. The downed trees’ root systems uprooted the water lines and sewer lines. And we wanted to upgrade the electrical service while we were doing the repairs. And all the bathhouses were damaged to some extent. Basically, it was a reworking of the whole campground. What we can’t replace are those 80- and 90-year-old trees, but we are doing some tree planting in there. The campground is going to look a little different until we get a few years on the new trees. But there’s a great view of the lodge and the lake.”
The nature center at Guntersville, where eagle viewing is a favorite adventure during late winter and bass fishing is excellent year-round, was also destroyed during the storm.
“The nature center is still in the design phase,” Lein said. “We’ve got a grant award to help us with that. We’re trying to make some decisions on what design we’re going to go with. This is one of those projects that is subject to funding.
“There are people out there who don’t know that Guntersville is back up and running. We know the park doesn’t look the same after the tornadoes, but we need people to come check out how we’ve adapted. The view of the lake is outstanding, especially at sunset.”
Just to the northeast of Guntersville is DeSoto State Park, which is located atop beautiful Lookout Mountain and illustrates the diversity that visitors can find in Alabama. DeSoto has 94 improved campsites, mountain biking and hiking trails and a nature center.
“DeSoto is one of the two parks that consistently get rave reviews,” Lein said. “We get comments from people who say that Desoto is one of the nicest campgrounds they’ve ever stayed at in the United States. We also get that comment from Gulf State Park. DeSoto is more of a mountain park with different recreation like hiking, mountain biking, waterfalls and Little River Canyon is close by. They do a little bit of fly fishing up there, but it’s a different market.”
Staying in north Alabama, Joe Wheeler State Park near Decatur sits alongside the Tennessee River on Wheeler Lake, home of some of the best fishing opportunities in Alabama. Joe Wheeler has 116 improved campsites, 24 lakeside cabins, a 75-room lodge and 10 luxurious cottages that are only a few years old.
“Joe Wheeler is another park where we get a great many positive comments,” Lein said. “Obviously, it’s a different kind of park in that it’s a bigger resort park with a larger hotel and resort facility. And it’s situated on the Tennessee River, which is different from Desoto’s setting. Joe Wheeler and Guntersville are similar in that they’re in the Tennessee River Valley.
“The cottages that were renovated several years ago with the bond money are really, really nice. And there are some less expensive cabins on the other side of the river. Those are good for spring break and fishing-type adventures.”
On the other end of the state, a great deal of work was also done to the Gulf State Park campground in 2010. A huge pool and splash pad was built as well as dressing areas and restrooms in the swimming facility. Both the swimming facility and new nature center were raised above the flood plain. The campground store and laundry facility were renovated and a large roof added to cover both, which forms a pavilion area between the buildings. Boat docks and boat slips were also renovated on Middle Lake.
I wrote back then that the new facilities rival anything available on the Gulf Coast. Lein goes even further in his praise of the multi-million-dollar project at Gulf State Park.
“These facilities are some of the finest in the country,” he said. “We’ve got retired campers who travel all over the country, and they literally say, ‘We travel all over the country, and this is the nicest state park campground we’ve ever stayed in.’ I’m thrilled for the parks system that we get those kinds of comments about Gulf and Desoto.
The snowbirds (those folks from up north who escape winter by camping on the Gulf Coast) regularly fill many of the 496 improved campsites at Gulf State Park. The campground also has 11 modern bathhouses.
“They’re full until the first of March,” Lein said. “And they’re booked for next winter, too.”
Gulf State Park also has 11 modern cottages on the banks of Lake Shelby and nine rustic cabins as well as an 18-hole golf course and the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trails.
Alabama boasts two other resort parks – Cheaha and Lakepoint. Cheaha State Park sits atop Cheaha Mountain within sight of the Talladega National Speedway on a clear day. Cheaha has 73 improved campsites, a 30-room hotel, 16 cabins and chalets and the Bald Rock Lodge/Conference Center. Lakepoint is located on the banks of Lake Eufaula on the Chattahoochee River in southeast Alabama. Lakepoint underwent extensive renovations to the lodge and hotel rooms that were completed in August 2011. Lakepoint also has eight modern cottages, 29 cabins, 192 improved campsites, 18-hole golf course and a marina complete with launch facilities and boat slips.
“The thing is, we are always offering the public a heck of a deal at Alabama’s state parks,” Lein said.
Visit www.alapark.com for information on facilities and reservations.
PHOTOS: (ADCNR) Watching the sun set from the deck at Guntersville State Park Lodge is an awe-inspiring vista along the Tennessee River. Illustrating the diversity of activities available at state parks in Alabama, the new pool facilities at the Gulf State Park campground rivals any in the nation, while visitors to DeSoto State Park can view and photograph numerous waterfalls in the park and nearby Little River Canyon.