Locals driving along Beach Boulevard may have noticed the Gulf State Park buzzing with construction activity. Alabama's governor, Kay Ivey, has just announced the Gulf State Park Lodge is on track to open in the fall of 2018. The original lodge was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and to the dismay of locals and tourists, has fallen in a state of disrepair for over a decade. Using funds from the Deepwater Horizon BP settlement, the new complex will offer a gulf-front hotel, conference room, interpretative center, and a learning campus.
The Lodge is home to the renown Gulf State Park which preserves over 6,000 acres of longleaf pine and palmetto forests, freshwater lakes, wetlands, and miles of beaches. Drawing in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, the park offers a vast array of exciting outdoor attractions. The area has become a popular campground with 496 full hook-up campsites and 11 primitive sites. The reserve also offers numerous bike and hiking trails, boat launches, an 18-hole championship golf course, and a fishing pier extending a quarter-mile over the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf State Park stretches for several miles between Hwy 59 and Highway 161, and is a short drive to Orange Beach condos and Gulf Shores condos, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The Lodge will have a smaller footprint than the former and will be set back further from the beach to prevent any interference with the ongoing dune restoration project. Restoring and protecting the dunes is important as they serve as a natural barrier against storm surges brought in from tropical storms and hurricanes. The facility will feature many amenities including a grand ballroom seating up to 1,500 people, flexible meeting rooms, a family-friendly restaurant, learning centers, and two pedestrian bridges connecting the campgrounds to the beach. The beachfront hotel will hold 350 rooms and has teamed up with Hilton to manage reservations and promote sustainability initiatives. Improvements will be made to the park's trail network including new signage and adding 9 miles of new trails and wetland walkovers. Gulf State Park has been a treasured landmark for many decades, these long-awaited enhancements will greatly improve the overall experience for visitors to connect with nature while increasing revenue to maintain the park for future generations.