By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
By a wide margin, Alabama voters approved the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot to provide as much as $80 million in funding for improvements and enhancements to Alabama’s 21 State Parks.
“I would like to thank the voters of Alabama for their overwhelming support of our beautiful State Parks,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). “This will give us the funds to make much-needed improvements to the campgrounds across the state, bringing them into the 21st century. A lot of our campgrounds were built when camping was a pop-up camper and a tent. We’re way past that now with the larger motorhomes with three air conditioners that need 50-amp service. We want to make sure we provide for citizens and our guests moving forward. Our day use areas need some new bathroom facilities to try to expand the day use in our parks. We want to build some accessible playgrounds so that our citizens of all ability types will have the opportunity to play at our playgrounds and enjoy our parks.
“We have parks that don’t have cabins. If people don’t have an RV or motorhome, they are not able to enjoy our parks as much as we would like. Our State Parks have been very successful the last few years under (Director) Greg Lein and our new Deputy Director Matthew Capps. Every dime we make at the parks we put back into the parks to do good work.”
During last weekend’s Alabama Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) meeting at Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula, Commissioner Blankenship welcomed Governor Kay Ivey, who won Tuesday’s Republican nomination without a runoff, to the Board meeting and highlighted her accomplishments in outdoor recreation.
“In the time that Governor Ivey has been in office, we (DCNR) have acquired 63,000 acres of property that has gone into public ownership for conservation and enjoyment of our citizens forever,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Thank you, Governor, for your leadership in allowing ADCNR to do good work for the people and natural resources of Alabama. In my 28 years at Conservation, I don’t ever remember a governor joining us at one of our CAB meetings.”
Governor Ivey highlighted the impact outdoor recreation has on Alabama’s economy as well as reiterating her support for State Parks.
“Hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoor recreation, as managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is a $14 billion, with a B, economic driver for our state,” Governor Ivey said. “That’s especially important for rural areas. I thank the men and women of the DCNR for their hard work and their passion that they display every day to ensure we have fish, wildlife and access to public lands and waters, both today and tomorrow for future generations. Conservation also manages our beautiful Alabama State Parks, many of which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. With this bond money, we can make the needed improvements and upgrades to our State Parks.
“One thing is for sure. In a state like Alabama, folks are passionate about hunting, fishing and wildlife, and they have plenty of opinions of how they should be managed. Commissioner Blankenship and his team do a wonderful job of balancing long seasons with appropriate bag limits to ensure that we don’t overharvest the bounty that God has blessed us with. Alabama is truly a great place to hunt, fish, camp, hike and spend time in the great outdoors. So, y’all keep up the good work so that we remain Alabama the beautiful. Thank you for having me today, and may God bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”
State Parks recently held ribbon cuttings at several parks, including Cathedral Caverns, where a new campground was opened. State Parks worked with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to use rubberized asphalt to pave roads and parking lots at Guntersville State Park. The Joe Wheeler State Park campgrounds that were destroyed by a tornado in 2019 have reopened, and a project at DeSoto Falls included dredging an area of the river there and a new beach for the day-use area. The rubberized asphalt will be used to pave the roads and parking lots at the day-use area. Also, all 1,300 overnight units at State Parks received new mattresses.
“We also recently celebrated an addition of 1,650 acres (Belcher Tract) at Oak Mountain State Park, the largest park in our system, right there in fast-growing Shelby County,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “That was monumental. That was purchased by the Forever Wild Land Trust, which is managed by State Lands and Director Patti McCurdy. You don’t get those opportunities very often, and I’m thankful to the Forever Wild Board for moving on that.”
Commissioner Blankenship also provided an update on the effort to rebuild the portion of Gulf State Park Pier that was demolished by Hurricane Sally in 2020. The bids to do the work far exceeded expectations from the engineers.
“We thought the bids would come in between $4 million and $6 million; that was the estimated range from the engineering firm,” he said. “The lowest bid ended up being $12.5 million, so it was more than twice what we thought would be the high bid. We’re working with FEMA to get approval for the new amount. We’re not going to be shutting the pier down this summer to do the construction that we had planned. We’ll have to bid that again in late summer or early fall once we get the FEMA approvals.”