By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The 2016 fall season has been especially fruitful for the Alabama State Parks System. Starting with the overwhelming approval of Amendment 2 on the ballot in November to encouraging visitor numbers, enthusiasm abounds at State Parks.

And to keep that momentum going, State Parks is offering a substantial discount on overnight accommodations at 11 State Parks.

The Winter Overnight Specials in most of the northern Alabama State Parks provide a 25-percent discount on all overnight accommodations from Sunday through Thursday. The special discount runs all the way through February 28. 

Those traveling during the holiday season or people who just want to get away from all the hustle and bustle, can choose among Cathedral Caverns, Cheaha, Chewacla, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville, Lake Lurleen, Lakepoint, Monte Sano, Oak Mountain and Rickwood state parks.

Obviously, accommodations vary from park to park. Campgrounds are the only available accommodations at Cathedral Caverns, Lake Lurleen and Rickwood. Cabins are available at Cheaha, Chewacla, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville, Lakepoint, Monte Sano and Oak Mountain. Cheaha, DeSoto and Lake Guntersville also have chalets, while Joe Wheeler and Lakepoint have cottages available. The state parks with lodge accommodations are Cheaha, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville and Lakepoint. Be aware that the lodge and restaurant at Cheaha will be closed Monday through Thursday from January 3, 2017, through March 1, 2017.

The online web reservations tool is not available for campground reservations for this promotion, so you’ll need to call the respective park office to make campground reservations. As usual, the Winter Overnight Specials discount can’t be combined with other discounts or packages.

If you’re a hunter who likes to explore Alabama’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), State Parks has a heck of a deal for you, too.

Hunters can rent lodge rooms at Cheaha (see note above), Lakepoint, Joe Wheeler, DeSoto and Lake Guntersville state parks for $49.95 a night. All you have to do is show your hunting license and your WMA permit to get the discounted rate.

DeSoto has an additional option with its Stay and Hunt Package, which is available through February 10, 2017, and again for turkey season from March 15 through April 30, 2017. Access to Little River WMA from DeSoto State Park is for purchasers of the package only.

The Stay and Hunt Package is available with two options. The two-person rate of $570.20 gets you three days and two nights in a log cabin or chalet with five meals included as well as three bundles of firewood. Grab a couple of extra hunting buddies and take advantage of the four-person deal for $739.79 for a log cabin or chalet for three days and two nights, six meals and three bundles of firewood.

Access to Little River WMA through DeSoto State Park is foot traffic only. Portions of the WMA are bow hunting only. 

A hunter’s special is also available at Blue Springs State Park in southeast Alabama within driving distance of one of the top WMAs in the nation for deer hunting. The Barbour County WMA has a nationwide reputation of providing quality deer hunting. Be aware that

Barbour County has a special antler restriction in force in that each buck of the three-buck limit must have at least three points on one side.

Blue Springs, which is near Clio, offers up to a 70-percent discount to hunters. Cabins 1 and 2 can accommodate up to six hunters, while Cabin 3 can sleep four. A travel trailer that sleeps five is also available. Reservations can be made through the park office at (334) 397-4875 or email bluesprings.stpk@dcnr.alabama.gov for more information. The first night’s rent is due when the reservation is made.

If you like getting some exercise and experiencing the beauty of the Alabama State Parks, then consider ringing in the new year at one of four State Parks with a First Day Hike. The hikes on January 1, 2017, will take place at Cheaha, DeSoto, Gulf, Oak Mountain and Lake Guntersville. Park staff will guide the hikes as part of a nationwide program to hike state parks throughout the nation on New Year’s Day. Last New Year’s Day, more than 55,000 people hiked more than 133,000 miles during the program, which is promoted by the National Association of State Park Directors.

Speaking of hiking, it’s common knowledge that one of the main attractions for many state parks visitors is a place to enjoy nature and get some exercise to boot. The trails system has been a cornerstone of the State Parks System’s mission to offer outdoor recreational opportunities that include hiking, trail running and mountain biking.

The State Parks System also knows a lot of people are passionate about the trails system, which led to the creation of the Dirt Pass Trails Team, which will return for 2017. Those who wish to step up and contribute a little more to the trails program in Alabama State Parks can purchase a $35 annual Dirt Pass, with the proceeds being used to support the entire State Parks trails system. The Dirt Pass bracelets will be sold at the 10 participating parks, and you can go to www.alapark.com/Dirt-Pass to access the Dirt Pass online purchasing tool.

Another way to show your support for Alabama State Parks is by purchasing the new State Parks Supporter car tag. The Alabama Legislature approved the sale of the State Parks tag, starting January 2017. When your tag is up for renewal, request an Alabama State

Parks car tag and 80 percent of the specialty tag fee will go directly to help fund the Alabama State Parks.

With the approval of Amendment 2, which passed with an 80-percent majority, the funding for Alabama State Parks is protected and cannot be diverted to any other form of state government. Amendment 2 makes the budgeting process for State Parks significantly easier. A stable funding platform also provides incentive for the many volunteers who assist State Parks staff to make the facilities attractive to visitors, who come from not only Alabama but all over the world.

If you’re absolutely stumped about what to get the nature lover in your family for Christmas, State Parks has the perfect, last-minute gift. An Alabama State Parks gift card is available at 20 State Parks and can open up recreational opportunities like the aforementioned hiking and trail riding to just taking time out of your busy schedule to relax and enjoy the natural beauty available in Alabama’s great outdoors.

Don’t have time to swing by one of the State Parks to get a gift card? Consider another Christmas gift option for the hunter or angler in the family. A lifetime hunting or fishing license is available for residents of Alabama, and the license remains valid even if the recipient moves out of state. If the gift of a lifetime license is for residents age 16 or older, the licenses can be purchased online at outdooralabama.com by clicking on the licenses link. The person's driver's license number, date of birth and demographic information must be provided to make the purchase. If the lifetime license is for someone under age 16 or who doesn't have a driver's license, you’ll have to go to the local probate office or apply by mail. Proof of residency is required.

PHOTOS: (David Rainer, mountain biking Billy Pope) Whether you enjoy vigorous activity, like mountain biking or hiking, or just chilling out in a rustic cabin to watch a beautiful sunset, Alabama State Parks has just what you desire. And, winter discounts and hunting packages are available. Go to www.alapark.com and find out.

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