GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – The Alabama State Parks Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources presented its fourth annual Eagle Awards on Saturday at Lake Guntersville State Park.
The Eagle Award is presented to recognize outstanding efforts to support Alabama state parks, and for 2020, eight individuals and organizations were honored based on nominations submitted.
The winners are Alabama state Rep. Lynn Greer of Rogersville in the Elected Official category; the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau, represented by president Katy Norton (Community Partner); the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, represented by director Pam Swanner (Community Partner); Will Rodgers of Huntsville’s RunningLane (Park Partner); Ted Dunham, Al LaPierre and Jim Urke (Volunteer in Parks); and Bennett Reetz (Youth).
“It is always wonderful to recognize the great friends that our Alabama state parks have and to celebrate the work they do to help keep our parks first-rate,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “These Eagle Award winners are being honored for their above-and-beyond contributions to our parks.”
Alabama State Parks Division Director Greg Lein echoed Blankenship’s thoughts. “‘Partners Pay the Way’ is more than just a slogan for us,” he said. “These Eagle Award winners are partners in every sense of the word. They work – for no compensation – to make their favorite parks better and to provide amenities that all visitors can share. In some cases they have provided actual physical labor in service of the parks. Our parks are better places to visit because of these Eagle Award winners.”
Rep. Greer has often provided assistance to Joe Wheeler State Park in his district and is dedicated to continued service to his constituents by making sure their quality of life is enhanced by the park. He also has been a strong advocate for the park following the devastating tornado that struck in December.
Norton, as president of the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau, has worked to keep Lake Guntersville State Park a premier destination for tourists. She has spearheaded special promotions and sponsorships for the park. She not only helps market and advertise special events in the park, such as Eagle Awareness Weekends, she also volunteers her time at these events.
Swanner and the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association work to promote outdoor tourism in 23 counties across the Black Belt region. She worked to win a grant that provided funding for new boats at Roland Cooper and Lakepoint state parks that will ensure many more guests will be able to more fully enjoy the Alabama River and Lake Eufaula that are the main attractions at those parks.
Rodgers is co-founder of RunningLane in Huntsville who has organized several running events at Alabama state parks. The events he has organized at Lake Guntersville, Monte Sano and Cathedral Caverns have attracted thousands of people, helping the parks generate additional revenue and exposing many first-time visitors to those quality attractions.
Dunham, LaPierre and Urke have undertaken dozens of construction projects at Gulf State Park over the past 11 years. They have helped build bridges and overlooks, repaired staff housing, done electrical work and worked on a large bird enclosure at the Nature Center. The volunteer trio has also provided assistance in dune restoration and relocated pine saplings.
Reetz’s Eagle Scout project, also at Gulf State Park, was the construction of a 24-foot observation deck located within a safe viewing distance of an established eagle nest. The 16-year-old planned, developed and constructed the deck and raised more than $5,400 in donations to get the job done. The deck also includes two spotting scopes – one that is ADA-compliant – that serve as educational tools helping park guests connect with nature and safely interact with wildlife.
About Alabama’s State Parks System
The Alabama State Parks is a division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The division maintains 21 parks encompassing approximately 48,000 acres of land and water. These parks rely on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. Download the State Parks app at pocketranger.com. For more information about Alabama State Parks, go online to www.alapark.com. Partners Pay the Way.
Photo (Left to Right): ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Blake LeCroy (representing 2019 recipient Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers), Youth winner Bennett Reetz, Community Partner winner Katy Norton (representing the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau) and Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein.
Winners unable to attend were state Rep. Lynn Greer, Elected Official winner; Pam Swanner, Community Partner winner representing the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association; Will Rodgers, Park Partner winner; and Ted Dunham, Al LaPierre and Jim Urke, Volunteer in Parks winners.