May 2016
In the News

Alabama State Parks

Efforts to protect funding are going strong in the legislature and with the public.

For those who want more rustic camping, Joe Wheeler State Park features campsites for RVs in addition to the Lodge.

This November, Alabama voters may have the chance to ensure consistent funding for the state’s 22 parks.

Five parks closed in 2015 after money was moved to the general fund to help avert a crisis.

The Alabama Senate has passed a bill on a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the transfer of parks funding to other state accounts.

 

A similar measure is under consideration by the state house.

"I think it has some pretty good traction," said Philip Darden, head of Alabama State Parks Partners. "It has a high chance of passing."

He said the group was formed about a year ago to help promote permanent funding for the parks.

One park, Paul Grist State Park, that closed and reopened was featured in the March Cooperative Farming News.

At a public meeting in March at Guntersville State Lodge, an official from the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association encouraged members of the audience to call their legislators.

"Social media is the key," said Sandra Burroughs in spreading the word about the park crisis.

   
 
   

Besides their recreational value, Alabama’s parks have a significant economic impact on the state economy of $375 million annually.

Burroughs said the parks draw over 4.6 million guests per year. Fifty percent of the visitors travel here from outside Alabama.

With 48,000 acres of land and water and a wide variation of terrain, Alabama parks, from the Appalachian Mountains in the north to the beaches in the south, offer everything from basic camping areas to resort facilities. For example, Bucks Pocket features a 6-mile long horseback riding trail, while Cheaha park has a competitive 8-mile mountain biking trail.

At Oak Mountain State Park the 52 miles of trails appeal to hikers, horseback riders, and on-road and mountain bikers. Meaher State Park features an elevated boardwalk highlighting the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.

 

Cathedral Caverns State Park is a treasure found near Grant. The area open to the public extends 3,500 feet inward. Visitors can see a three-acre stalagmite forest as they tour the caverns.

Cathedral Caverns near Grant became part of the state park system in 2000. Rangers lead visitors on tours. They were originally called Bat Cave and opened to the public by Jacob Gurley in the 1950s. The cave was renamed because of its cathedral-like appearance.

Some parks, like the one on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A few covered pavilions are available to house larger groups, while a number of individual picnic tables can accommodate families and couples. Among the other features are camping facilities and a playground.

For more information on the parks themselves or for funding updates, visit www.alapark.com or the Facebook page of Alabama Park Partners.

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer who lives in Huntsville. She was a career journalist for The Decatur Daily and The Huntsville Times.