GULF SHORES – Governor Robert Bentley on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 231, which will lead to improvements at Gulf State Park, including a lodge and meeting facility that will help attract more visitors.
“My vision is for a lodge that everyone can visit and enjoy,” Governor Bentley said. “I want more families to come to the Gulf State Park and explore our natural resources. I want the Alabama Gulf Coast to have a facility that can host meetings and gatherings that currently have to be held in other states. This lodge will help us share the natural beauty of the Alabama Gulf Coast with more people while also supporting more jobs and strengthening the coastal economy.”
Improvements to Gulf State Park are part of a series of proposed Gulf Coast restoration projects announced by Governor Bentley earlier this month. Funding for the projects will come from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration process. The projects were negotiated with BP and Alabama’s federal and state partners as part of the ongoing recovery from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The projects were approved by the NRDA Trustee Council and BP.
Approximately $85.5 million in NRDA funding is allocated for Gulf State Park enhancements. From that total, roughly $58 million is set aside for the lodge and meeting facility. More than $27 million is allocated for a series of environmental improvements throughout the park.
Those environmental improvements include an environmental research and education facility for Alabama students, trail development and enhancement in the park, dune restoration along the park’s beachfront and the establishment of a coastal ecosystems interpretive center.
In addition to the Gulf State Park improvements, other recently-announced early restoration projects include a living shoreline project in Baldwin County as well as oyster reef restoration in Mobile County. Additional early restoration projects include the Marsh Island Restoration Project, the Alabama Dune Restoration Cooperative Project and “Restoring the Night Sky” – a project that will reduce artificial lighting impacts on nesting habitats for sea turtles. Many of the environmental injuries from the spill are still being assessed. Based on those assessments, future projects are expected to continue the ongoing environmental restoration of the Coast.
Senator Trip Pittman and Representative Steve McMillan sponsored the legislation that establishes a framework for the lodge and meeting facility.
“This bill establishes a transparent system of developing a good project for the Gulf State Park, a project that will support tourism and allow us to share this wonderful resource with more visitors,” Senator Pittman said. “I am excited about what this project will mean, not only for the Gulf Coast but also for all of Alabama.”
The lodge itself is still in the conceptual stage. It will be designed in an environmentally-friendly manner in order to compliment the coast and the surrounding park. The lodge is expected to include visitor orientation and interpretive exhibits in public spaces in order to share the history of the Alabama Gulf Coast with visitors.
“This will be a tremendous benefit to the Gulf Coast and to the entire state,” Representative McMillan said. “That will be a facility that so many Alabamians will enjoy. I am pleased with the provisions that assure the public’s right-to-know and a transparent process as we continue with this vital project. I’m thrilled to see this project moving forward.”
Any net revenues generated by the lodge and meeting facility will support the work of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The department manages the Alabama State Parks system. The system is a network of more than 20 parks designed to provide quality recreation services and resources to the public throughout the state.