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Advisory Board Hears ADCNR Update, Joins Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony


The Conservation Advisory Board, State Parks personnel and local officials cut the ribbon to open the renovated campground at Oak Mountain State Park. Photo by Billy Pope

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) had a busy weekend recently.  They began their day May 18 with the second 2024 CAB meeting, where the 2024-2025 hunting and fishing regulations were approved, and then joined in the ribbon-cutting at the newly renovated Oak Mountain State Park Campground.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), provided the Board with an update on items affecting the Department at the CAB meeting.

For the red snapper private recreational season, which opened last Friday, he said private anglers received good news from NOAA Fisheries, which adjusted the calibration ratio and added a little more than 72,000 pounds to the 2024 allowable catch. Also, the vessel-for-hire (charter boats) season was set for June 1 through August 27.

“Thanks to the work of our staff, who pushed NOAA to use more recent data from Snapper Check, we were able to get a 12% increase in the recreational quota for this year,” Commissioner Blankenship said.

In hunting-related news, Commissioner Blankenship announced a significant expansion of the American alligator season in Alabama by the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division.

“We have a growing alligator population throughout the state that has allowed our staff to look at more opportunities for hunters to expand some of the areas and increase the number of tags,” he said. “The areas are larger, and we’ve added some bonus tags this year to encourage people to take more smaller alligators instead of waiting for that one big one and not being able to fill their tag at all. All in all, it will be about a 192% increase in the number of tags. It’s substantial.”

Due to the way the calendar falls this year, the gun deer season will start on November 23, 2024, which is a few days later than 2023’s starting date.

“Gun deer season always starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “That has been tradition in Alabama my whole life. In fact, I got married that day, and several people let me know they were sending gifts, but they weren’t coming to the wedding because they would be at the hunting camp.

“This year, Thanksgiving is later, on November 28, and the season ends in most of the state on February 10. The Department is not taking away any days, it’s just the way the calendar lands. With that, we still have the longest deer season and most liberal bag limit of any state in the country. There will be plenty of opportunities to hunt deer. We still have the best deer season anywhere in the country.”

The Board adopted several changes at Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), including that the entire dewatering unit operate under a limited quota system, with walk-in and boat-in only locations allocated to selected hunters for each hunt. Weekend hunt selections will be held via a computerized limited quota selection system before the waterfowl season opening. Weekday hunt selections will be held in-person on the day of each hunt at the WFF District 1 office.

Also, to reduce disturbance of the wintering waterfowl that utilize Mud Creek WMA, the Board approved a proposal to ban the use of air-cooled engines west of Highway 72 in Mud Creek WMA between the dates of the first youth/veteran waterfowl hunt of the year in mid-November and the last youth waterfowl/veteran hunt in February. Hunters will still be able to access the 2,200 acres of backwater by using outboard motors, trolling motors, paddling, or by driving vehicles in from the three roads that provide walk-in access to the backwaters of Mud Creek.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship addresses the ribbon-cutting ceremony attendees at the new meeting facility at Oak Mountain State Park Campground. Photo by Billy Pope

Commissioner Blankenship highlighted the $6 million allocation ADCNR received last year from the state’s General Fund for use on shooting ranges and work at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County.

“That was the first time in our memory that we have received any money from the General Fund,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “This year, we received an additional $6 million to use for State Lakes dam maintenance and other infrastructure improvements. So that’s two years in a row that we’ve been successful in working with the Legislature to acquire additional funds for special infrastructure projects. We appreciate their continued support.

“We also have a lot of boating access projects underway. We received $8 million from Innovate Alabama; we’re matching that with Department funds and federal funds to do some innovative projects.”

Those projects include work at Mount Vernon; McIntosh; McCarter’s Ferry in Choctaw County; a large boat ramp at Selma; Chocolatta Ramp on the Battleship Parkway; seven small ramps on Lake Guntersville; Foster’s Ferry and Riverview in Tuscaloosa; Brown’s Creek at Guntersville; Highway 77 ramp in Rainbow City; McFarland Park in Lauderdale County; Claiborne Lock and Dam Ramp; Cataco Creek in Morgan County; Weeks Bay Ramp and County Road 6 in Baldwin County; and Billy Goat Hole on Dauphin Island, pending permit approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

After the meeting, Commissioner Blankenship escorted the Board to Oak Mountain State Park for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new $13 million campground. The campgrounds went through a complete teardown and rebuild with new water and sewer lines, upgraded electrical connections, and a new and expanded playground. Many of the camping pads have been widened and modernized to accommodate today’s larger and more technologically advanced RVs. Additional updates include a dog park, improved Wi-Fi access and construction of trails leading to and from the campground.

All of the campground's electrical connections have been upgraded to 50/30-amp service, which will accommodate modern RVs. Also, several new, larger bathhouses, complete with laundry facilities, air conditioning, and heating were constructed. A new restroom facility was also added near the new playground and dog park, both of which are located near the camp store and campground entrance.

In addition to the renovations at Oak Mountain, in his CAB meeting report to the Board, Commissioner Blankenship cited continued work at Lake Guntersville’s golf course improvements and cabin renovations, DeSoto State Park’s pool house construction and hotel room upgrades, Gulf State Park’s Pier construction and Pavilion improvements, Meaher State Park’s improvements and expansion, Monte Sano State Park’s CCC cabin upgrades, Wind Creek’s new cabin construction and renovations for half of the campground, Joe Wheeler State Park’s Lodge updates, Rickwood Caverns’ pool house and ADA updates and Lakepoint State Park’s renovations. Completed projects include the cabins on Lake Shelby at Gulf State Park, campgrounds at Monte Sano, Joe Wheeler day-use area and Gulf State Park Romar Beach access.

Design work is about to be completed on the extensive renovations at Lake Lurleen State Park, the Gulf State Park campground expansion and a new hotel at Cheaha State Park.

Commissioner Blankenship also updated the Board on the $1 billion in Deepwater Horizon mitigation that includes $7 million in oyster restoration projects.

Commissioner Blankenship concluded his CAB meeting presentation by recognizing the heroic efforts of one of the WFF Division’s Conservation Enforcement Officers.

A couple was returning to a boat ramp after an outing when the husband, who had recent coronary bypass surgery, had trouble with the boat at the dock.

“With Carl’s intention to tie the boat to the dock with one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock, a strong wind blew the boat away, causing him to fall in the water,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Stacey described the situation she found herself in with Carl as ‘helpless’ as she was unable to assist him in any way. Within a matter of seconds, someone was lying on the dock and had grabbed Carl by the hood of his jacket, pulling his head above the water and gradually working him around the boat dock and out of the water to safety, thus saving Carl from drowning in 49-degree water.

“Not only was this person trying to pull a fully grown man, but he was also fighting against the current trying to pull him under the boat dock. In Stacey’s words, ‘We thought God had sent him to save Carl. He told us he believed that as well because he hadn’t intended to come to Copeland’s Ferry that day, but it seemed he just kept coming that way anyway.’ That person who saved Carl that day was Conservation Enforcement Officer Chad Nalls of Walker County. Today we want to recognize him for his heroic actions of going above and beyond the call of duty with this Department of Conservation Life Saving Award.”



Commissioner Blankenship, right, and WFF Enforcement Chief Michael Weathers present WFF CEO Chad Nalls with the Department's Life Saving Award. Photo by Billy Pope

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