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State parks ready for $80M bond sale with list of improvements

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Expansions and renovations at Oak Mountain, Gulf State and Joe Wheeler state parks are priorities when the state sells $80 million worth of bonds to fund improvements across its park system.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is working with the Alabama Finance Department and hopes to have the bond sale completed in or around November, Commissioner Chris Blankenship told lawmakers recently at an informal budget hearing at the State House.

The constitutional amendment required to borrow the money was approved by nearly 78% of voters in May. 

“We have a lot of the engineering and design work already underway for some of these projects so that when the (bond) proceeds are realized, we’ll be able to bid them and move into construction very quickly,” Blankenship said.

The first projects to be bid are:

  • Campground renovations at Oak Mountain State Park;
  • Bathhouse renovations at Oak Mountain;
  • Campground expansion at Gulf State Park;
  • Cabins at Gulf State Park;
  • Lodge renovations at Joe Wheeler State Park;
  • Town Creek campground expansion at Lake Guntersville State Park;
  • Campground renovations at Wind Creek State Park.

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said he is thrilled about the planned work at Joe Wheeler. 

“I’ve been begging,” Greer said about needed work at the park along the Tennessee River that was badly damaged by a December 2019 tornado. 

“For the Shoals area, the park is a huge draw,” Greer said. “It brings in a lot of people.”

Exact costs for each project won’t be known until they are bid.

“We plan campground renovations at some parks and at some parks we plan new or expanded campgrounds,” Blankenship said.

One of those is Gulf State Park. Its about 500 campsites stay full nearly year round, Blankenship said. It will get 200 more sites.

Rental cottages and cabins are becoming more popular and several parks will be getting more of those.

“Several of our parks in your districts don’t have cabins … we have a lot of demand for that at certain parks,” he said. 

Another 14 projects are under review with final decisions pending cost estimates. In no particular order, those projects are:

  • Day Use Area Renovations at Joe Wheeler, Bucks Pocket State Park and Chewacla State Park;
  • Lodge renovations and replacement at Cheaha State Park;
  • New chalet/cabins at Wind Creek, Roland Cooper State Park and Lake Lurleen State Park;
  • New camper cabins at Blue Springs State Park, Bucks Pocket, Chewacla, Frank Jackson State Park, Lake Lurleen and Roland Cooper;
  • Playground renovations at Bucks Pocket, Chewacla, Roland Cooper and Rickwood State Park;
  • Campground renovations at Chewacla State Park, Lake Lurleen and Monte Sano State Park;
  • Cabin renovations at Chewacla, Oak Mountain and Monte Sano;
  • Bathhouse renovations at Blue Springs, Cathedral Caverns State Park, Chewacla, Lake Lurleen, Monte Sano and Wind Creek SP;
  • New pool at Rickwood;
  • Golf pro shop improvements at Oak Mountain and Guntersville;
  • Cart path renovations at Guntersville;
  • Lodge room renovations at Desoto;
  • Cave entrance enhancements at Rickwood and Cathedral Caverns;
  • Pool house renovations at Desoto.

Some of the planned renovations will include water, sewer and Wi-fi upgrades. 

“There are people who want to go to the parks and turn their phones off; there are people who run their businesses from our campgrounds,” Blankenship said.

If any money remains after those two lists are complete, Conservation will identify new projects.

The May amendment also allows for the department to borrow an additional $5 million to improve the state’s historical sites. The legislation specified that none of the money will be spent on the Confederate Memorial Park in Marbury.

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