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State Parks' Schedules Filled to Brim

by David Rainer
 
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

If you want to see what a busy schedule looks like, go to www.alapark.com and check out what’s happening at Alabama State Parks this spring.

“We just had the ShrimpFest at Gulf State Park, and it was a huge success,” said State Parks Director Greg Lein. “There were more than 2,000 people who came out and participated.”

The good news is there are four more Baumhower’s ShrimpFest and Bar-B-Q events scheduled during the Alabama State Parks’ 75th anniversary year. Events where park visitors can sample fresh boiled Alabama Gulf shrimp, gumbo and barbecue are scheduled for Lakepoint near Eufaula, Lake Guntersville, Joe Wheeler and Oak Mountain.

“Our seasons are starting to change,” Lein said. “We’ve got guests coming into the parks on spring break, and others starting to plan their vacation once school ends. We’ve got the typical spring festivals. We’ve got an event at Lake Lurleen in conjunction with Earth Day. And in the first part of May, DeSoto will have its annual wildflower festival.”

A number of mountain-biking events are planned throughout the state as well as fishing tournaments. Mountain biking has been one of the hottest activities in Alabama.

“The mountain biking at our parks is going really well,” Lein said. “Rob Grant (Assistant Director) and I went to the Southeastern Mountain Biking Summit, and one of the folks there said Alabama is really doing something special and other states are looking to us as we are emerging as a leader in that recreational venue. And that is tied to State Parks.”

Through grants, new trails are being built at Chewacla, Oak Mountain and Lake Lurleen state parks. Forever Wild’s Coldwater Mountain project is another highly touted mountain-biking trail, while traditional trails are available at Cheaha, DeSoto and Monte Sano.

Because a number of those parks are gated, the increased activity means an increase in revenue. Lein stressed the importance of the “Partners Pay the Way” campaign and that the parks thrive off visitor revenue.

“The more visitors we have, the more we prosper,” he said. “Anytime we can partner with a recreational group and support recreational opportunities in the parks system, we’re doing the right thing. I think we’re really doing the right thing in supporting the trail systems and trail planning in our parks.”

Lein said the trail system is not limited to mountain biking. That concept also holds for other activities, like the Alabama Bass Trail and Bartram Canoe Trail.

As this is being posted, the Alabama Trails Conference is being held at Lake Guntersville State Park. The trail summit is for people from all walks of life who love trails and collaborate on what improvements can be made to trails throughout the state. Although the summit is not specific to Alabama State Parks, the system provides a great deal of opportunity for those activities.

“We believe that the amenities that our State Parks provide set us apart from other locations where there are trails but no staff and no amenities,” Lein said. “This is one of the biggest growth areas in terms of activities in State Parks.”

A popular activity that just celebrated its first anniversary is the Hummingbird Zipline at Gulf State Parks’ Gulf Adventure Center on the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast.

“The zipline has been a very big success,” Lein said. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the activity they’ve had and the feedback from their customers. We’re pleased that it’s a new recreational activity that we can offer our guests at Gulf State Park. By partnering with a concession group, we are able to offer that at no cost to State Parks. The partner designed it, constructed it, staffs it and runs it. We share in the revenue.”

Lein said because the zipline is located at a park in a tourism destination the attraction brings customers into the park who are staying outside of the park. Many of those zipline customers have only seen the park from the highway. The activity provides a positive exposure for the park for visitors who wouldn’t stop at the park otherwise.

“While they’re on the ride, they can look across the lake (Shelby) and see the cottages,” he said. “They might say, ‘Those look really nice; are they for rent? What else is in the park?’ That sort of exposure is a very positive thing.”

Lein said the Hummingbird Zipline has been such a positive experience that State Parks is looking at doing similar projects at other parks. A contract has been awarded for a cable-skiing system at one of the lakes at Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham. This facility will pull a rider on a powered cable system designed to simulate being pulled behind a boat. The cable system pulls the rider between a series of towers at a pace that matches the rider’s skill level. Lein said he hopes construction will be finished by the end of spring. He also said the high interest in the additional recreational opportunities has prompted a consideration of similar aerial adventure systems at other parks.

There are plenty of Easter-related activities planned at many of Alabama’s 22 state parks, and Cheaha State Park is now back up and running after an ice storm closed it for a few days this winter.

Lein encourages everyone to visit www.alapark.com and look at the events planned this spring and summer.

“Figure out which one is close to you,” he said. “Go there and enjoy what our wonderful state parks have to offer. Alabama State Parks depend on visitors to maintain our system, and people don’t realize what kind of impact the State Parks system has on the economy in Alabama.”

Lein said a recent study was done by Samuel Addy and Ahmad Ijaz at the Culverhouse College of Commerce at the University of Alabama. With numbers from 2011, even with the national economy still struggling, the economists determined state parks have a substantial impact on the state economy.  

“The study basically said there is a $375 million economic impact from the State Parks system in Alabama,” Lein said. “That’s significant.”

PHOTO: (By Billy Pope and Roger Reetz) Mountain biking is one of the hottest recreational activities going right now, and Alabama State Parks, like Oak Mountain shown here, has numerous venues with trails for every skill level. New activities, like the Hummingbird Zipline at Gulf State Park, adds to the attraction for people to visit one of the 22 parks in the State Parks system, which has a $375 million economic impact in Alabama annually.

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