- Erika Gilsdorf
Gulf State Park
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf State Park is an Alabama State Park located along the Gulf of Mexico. It has 2 miles of beach, a lake, cottages, a campground, and a Lodge and Conference Center. Visitors can do a wide range of activities from hiking and biking to kayaking and parasailing. The park also includes 28 miles of trails that are part of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail System that can bring visitors to different spots across the park.
The park was opened by the state of Alabama in 1939. It was the result of 1927 State Land Act, which assisted with the development and operation of state parks, and the later deeding of the land that would became Gulf State Park to the State of Alabama.
Gulf State Park Vision Statement: “Gulf State Park will be an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability demonstrating best practices for outdoor recreation, education and hospitable accommodations.”
While Gulf State Park is now a thriving outdoor recreational spot with a Learning Campus designed to encourage immersive, hands-on nature learning experiences, in 2010 it was hit by effects of the oil spill in the Gulf.
Instead of sitting by, Gulf State Park has taken an active role in restoring and bettering their park for future enjoyment through the Enhancement Project. So far, the park has taken on repairs, building, restoration projects, and educational programs as outlined in part in the Master Plan. One such project happening at Lake Shelby will renovate the picnic area and will create a playground, dog parks, a new tram stop, and a bikeshare station.
In 2008 Chandra Wright moved to the coast as a lawyer with the hopes to go scuba diving more. But, not long after she moved there, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit leaving the health of the coast and recreational activities in a precarious balance.
The oil spill happened in April 2010, right before the Gulf Coast's peak tourism season. Because of the economic effects in addition to the environmental effects that would be felt from the oil spill, BP, the company that owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig, donated millions of dollars to the state of Alabama for an early restoration project. $85.5 million of the money went to enhancing Gulf State Park. Chandra explains in more depth what projects stemmed from the money below.
Effects of the oil spill weren't immediately noticed. But, after about a month, oil began to wash up on shore. Tourists and people cleaning the oil in hazmat suits mingled on beaches as the start of the oil spill clean up efforts began.
One of the effects of the oil spill was the recognition of the need for environmental education.
The Learning Campus assists with the goal of expanding the public's knowledge on Alabama's wildlife and the importance of protecting it. A calendar of events can be found on the Learning Campus website or its Facebook page. The park also partners with many organizations in the area to help spread information about biodiversity.
"A lot of people don't realize that Alabama is the 5th most biodiverse state in the United States." -Chandra Wright
Chandra is now Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives for Gulf State Park. A major part of the park's initiative has been working on education and environmental and economic sustainability. As a result of the vision statement from the Enhancement project, care was put into the design of the new buildings for the park as well to ensure the high standards of sustainability were followed.
As Chandra explains, all the new buildings in the park have some level of LEED certification. LEED is a framework for designing and building efficient, sustainable, and cost effective green buildings. The Lodge is LEED Gold certified, while also being the first hotel in the world to get the SITES Platinum certification. SITES works on respecting the land being built on and creating ecological resiliency. The facilities at Gulf State Park are also the first fortified commercial properties, which provided resilience. Some buildings took a direct hit from Hurricane Sally, but were able to remain in operation.
Chandra also volunteers with NUISANCE, an organization that educates the public about invasive and destructive species with a twist- they emphasize how eating the invasive species can help get rid of invasive species and protect native species. Chandra discusses the group in move detail in the video below.
Chandra also works with Share the Beach and the Alabama Reef Foundation.
As Chandra explains, Share the Beach is a volunteer sea turtle monitoring program. The Alabama Reef Foundation helps create artificial reefs for scuba diving and fishing.
The best thing you can do for your environment is get involved in your community as Chandra suggests. Continue to support the efforts of your state parks and protected wildlife areas. If you can, stop by Gulf State Park to show your support! Or, if you can, check out some cool volunteer opportunities at the park to get involved.