Alabama State Parks have long served as Alabama’s backyard.
That’s been more evident than ever in recent months, as Alabama’s 21 state parks remained open thanks to the wisdom of Gov. Kay Ivey, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship and other state leaders. The number of day-use and camping visitors soared this summer, drawn by the variety of family-friendly activities and wide-open spaces that made it easy to practice social distancing.
Alabamians have always supported and visited state parks in high numbers, but plenty of new visitors have discovered the parks in recent months. “We don’t know why we didn’t come before, but we’re glad we did, and we’ll be back” has become a popular comment from many new guests.
The global COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives dramatically. Concerts and athletic events were cancelled. Schools abruptly closed as instruction moved online. Church services were curtailed and became a virtual experience.
Alabama State Parks, however, remained open and became a safe oasis for thousands of citizens across the state. Like a devoted friend, the parks came to the rescue during a time when people desperately needed a healthy outlet for recreation, fresh air and beautiful scenery.
The new COVID-19 reality also revealed new opportunities, including park naturalists creating virtual visits to the parks. Whether as a resource for students looking for an adventurous lesson or a senior citizen looking for a virtual visit, the innovative naturalists’ program took the parks to the people.
It’s easy to understand why so many people have begun visiting the parks and why the virtual programs have enjoyed online popularity. The parks – stretching from the white sand beaches along Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast to spectacular mountain vistas in the Appalachian foothills of northeast Alabama – offer something for just about everyone.
Looking for fishing? Check out Guntersville State Park – the same fishery that hosted the 2020 Bassmaster Classic and was recently ranked as the nation’s No. 2 lake for bass anglers for the last decade – or Joe Wheeler State Park in the Shoals or Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula.
Want something truly unique? Check out cave tours at Rickwood Caverns State Park, just north of Birmingham, and Cathedral Caverns State Park, just east of Huntsville. Don’t forget about new zipline adventures available at Lake Guntersville, Wind Creek and DeSoto state parks.
Visitors to Alabama State Parks can also explore the Mobile-Tensaw Delta – known as American’s Amazon – at Meaher State Park near Spanish Fort, visit pristine white sand beaches at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores or visit one of America’s most majestic waterfalls at DeSoto State Park near Fort Payne.
State parks like Monte Sano, Meaher and Oak Mountain offer an easy escape from the state’s largest urban areas for a quick visit into wild, undisturbed nature, and smaller parks in places like Clio and Gallion showcase the state’s rural areas.
With 21 parks covering about 48,000 acres of land and water in Alabama, there’s a state park within driving distance for virtually every Alabamian to safely enjoy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed American life, but it hasn’t changed the Alabama State Parks’ commitment to preserving some of the state’s most beautiful land and water, enhancing public knowledge of the environment and developing top-notch recreational facilities.
Alabama’s backyard serves as a playground for some, a schoolroom for others and a sanctuary for all – now more than ever.
That’s a success story, and we’re proud to be part of it.
Dan Hendricks serves as the president of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. He holds a doctorate degree from Duke University and served in several prominent roles in higher education, including vice president or vice chancellor at Western Illinois, Purdue the LSU Foundation and the University of North Alabama.
Matthew Dent is a member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board of Directors and also serves as the president and chief operating officer of the Buffalo Rock Company. In that role he leads the company’s overall operations in Alabama, western Georgia and the Florida panhandle.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama State Parks a safe oasis of activity during COVID-19 pandemic