Trail lovers will soon have a new way to financially support hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails within Alabama’s state parks. In June, Alabama State Parks will begin offering an annual Dirt Pass Trails Team membership. The new voluntary “Dirt Pass” will initially be available at 10 parks and 100 percent of the funds raised through the program will be used to build new trails and maintain existing trails throughout the state parks system.

The Dirt Pass will be available in time for the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day on June 4 and can be purchased at these parks: Cheaha, Chewacla, DeSoto, Frank Jackson, Gulf, Lake Guntersville, Lake Lurleen, Monte Sano, Oak Mountain, and Wind Creek.

For the remainder of 2016, a Dirt Pass will be offered at a discounted rate of $25. In 2017, the pass will sell for $35 with proceeds benefiting the parks trails program. Dirt Pass Trails Team members will receive a trails packet complete with a custom wristband, a trails program brochure, and a “trails gift.” Additional benefits and incentives will be added to the trails pack as membership grows.

Recently, State Parks announced the revitalization of its trails program under the leadership of Ken Thomas, DeSoto State Park Superintendent and newly appointed Trails Coordinator. The Dirt Pass will help fund that revitalization.

“One of the best ways a trail user can help us create the best trail system in the Southeast is by investing in the program through the purchase of a Dirt Pass,” Thomas said. “In the future, we hope to add a dedicated trail crew responsible for building and maintaining trails. Buying this pass will help make that happen.”

In the coming months, Thomas will begin setting priorities for existing trail maintenance and the development of new trails that will benefit hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts in select locations.

“We’ll begin that process with a thorough survey of our trails to determine where we should focus our efforts,” Thomas said. “We’ll also be surveying our trail users to better understand what their interests are, and studying the best trail-building techniques and technologies in order to build trails that will last a lifetime.”

In addition to the new voluntary Dirt Pass, Alabama State Parks is engaged in a robust grant-writing program aimed at enhancing the day-use aspects at its parks.

“We are currently working on several grants that deal with trails in some way,” said Greg Lein, State Parks Director. “Since the last budget crisis, people want to know how they can help. Not everyone can volunteer so we are developing ways for them to help financially. The new Dirt Pass is just one piece of the funding puzzle.”

Additionally, voters will have the opportunity to vote in November on an amendment to the state constitution that protects state park funding from legislative transfers that have plagued recent budgets. With its funding more secure, Alabama State Parks can continue to provide its visitors with improved recreational opportunities including trails.

“Trail use improves quality of life and serves as a gateway activity to the outdoors,” Lein said. “We’ll always be dedicated to this user group.”

Since the opening of the first state parks in Alabama, trails have been a fundamental part of the park system’s mission to provide and maintain outdoor recreational opportunities. In addition to promoting a variety of health benefits, one of the best ways to protect and preserve state parks is to have visitors engaging with the trails.

While the new trails program is in development, Alabama State Parks encourages new and experienced trail users to purchase a Dirt Pass and explore its existing 285-plus miles of trails highlighted on the park system’s website at www.alapark.com/Trails. Many of those trails can also be found on the newly launched Alabama Recreation Trails website, www.alabamarecreationtrails.org.

To learn more about the Dirt Pass Trails Team, call or visit one of the 10 state parks listed above or visit www.alapark.com/Dirt-Pass. For State Parks contact information, visit www.alapark.com/alabama-state-parks-contacts.

The Alabama State Parks Division relies on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit www.alapark.com.

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