By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) provided good news at the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting last weekend in Montgomery.
Commissioner Blankenship started his assessment of the ADCNR’s four Divisions – Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), Marine Resources (MRD), State Parks and State Lands – with news from State Parks and the fact that all but one of the 21 State Parks showed a profit in 2022.
“In that park, we had cabins closed for renovations, and that impacted the profitability of that one park,” he said. “I’m very pleased with how our parks are operated and how many people are using our parks, which started during COVID, and how many people are participating in a day-use facilities and golf courses.”
State Parks has also hired a firm to handle all the electronic reservation systems, which will integrate reservations, check-in, golf courses, point-of-sale and food and beverage into one system.
“That integration will make the system more efficient, and we’ll be able to track the use and increase the profitability of our parks,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We’ll put that money right back into operations and maintenance.”
Last May, voters in Alabama overwhelmingly approved an $80 million bond issue for State Parks. The funds became available last November, and work has already started.
“We have three years to use those funds, so you will see a lot of work happening in all our parks over the next three years,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We’re also partnering with ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) on water and sewer projects in our State Parks through their Clean Water Fund. I appreciate that partnership. Last year, ADCNR and ADEM teamed up on paving projects with a new rubber-enhanced asphalt material at Lake Guntersville State Park and DeSoto State Park. This year, the same material will be used for paving at Joe Wheeler State Park.”
At Gulf State Park, the cabins on Lake Shelby that were destroyed by Hurricane Sally in the fall of 2020 are being rebuilt.
“That construction is well underway, and we hope to have those cabins back open by this fall,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We’re building back what was there, and we’re adding some additional cabins. I’m really excited about those. They are going to be really nice.”
More good news in the aftermath of Sally is progress has been made on the start of repairs to the Gulf State Park Pier, which suffered significant damage to the octagon and outer third of the pier structure.
“We have the designs for the pier repair,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have permits we need from the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers and NOAA Fisheries, and that is out for bids through the end of the month. We hope to be awarding a contract for construction and pier repair that will get started later this fall as well.”
Commissioner Blankenship said the Department’s State Lands Division is upgrading the facilities at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County.
“We hold about 35 big dog trials there every year,” he said. “The trails and landscape are first-class. We’re going to try to bring the facilities there up to the same class as the trail system. Forever Wild and State Lands purchased that several years ago. It was old Department of Corrections facilities that were in great need of improvements. We’re making those improvements now.
“We’re also making improvements to our trail system amenities on Forever Wild property with signage, parking lots and all the things that make those tracts more accessible to the public.”