FOLEY - Commissioner of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Chris Blankenship visited Coastal Alabama on Tuesday, Nov. 19 to speak at a South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce …
FOLEY - Commissioner of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Chris Blankenship visited Coastal Alabama on Tuesday, Nov. 19 to speak at a South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce Leadership Series. Originally from the Dauphin Island area, he’s had a lot of opportunities to get out and travel the entire state of Alabama since taking on his new role back in 2017, something he greatly encourages others to do as well.
“We live in a beautiful state, an absolutely spectacular state, and I am honored and blessed beyond words to be commissioner of the Department of Conservation and get to go out and see a lot of this state,” he said. “Outdoor recreation is over a $14 billion industry in Alabama and it supports over 135,000 jobs. It’s a huge industry for us.”
There are 21 state parks in Alabama, including our very own Gulf State Park, covering a total of 45,000 acres for all parks combined. Alabama recreation draws in five million visitors annually, accommodating them with 700 total hotel rooms offered in state parks, three golf courses, over 200 miles of trails, over 2,200 campsites, and two caves.
One of the most recent additions to the state parks is the Gulf State Park Lodge and Conference Center. Aside from The Lodge, the project also included dune restoration, an interpretive center, a learning campus, trail enhancements, and a pedestrian bridge.
“One of the things that I’m most encouraged about that we’ve done at the Gulf State Park is that the Eagle Cottages on Lake Shelby have been named one of National Geographic’s unique lodges of the world,” Blankenship said. “There are only 55 properties in the entire world that have that designation. It really opens us up in Alabama to a whole new demographic of people around the world who probably didn’t even know Alabama was a state, let alone that we have a beach or all the other things our state has to offer.”
For those interested in outdoor recreation around our state, there are two canoe trails, 23 public fishing lakes, three Wildlife Management areas, and 17 community archery parks, like the one at Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley. Blankenship stated Alabama leads the nation in community archery parks, and the next closest state only offers six. His department maintains many boat ramps throughout Alabama, three freshwater hatcheries, an Aquatic Biodiversity Center, and Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores. Alabama also maintains the largest artificial reef program in the world.
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Division was created approximately a year ago to coordinate all the funding streams and the work being done towards the recovery from the 2010 oil spill.
“Before, that work was being done through the commissioner’s office, but I wanted to set up a section that would have continuity no matter who the governor and commissioner were to continue that work for the next 20 years or more,” said Blankenship.
He stated there have been approximately 130 projects and nearly $740 million dollars-worth of investments that have been made in Coastal Alabama from oil spill funds. Projects include conserving water, conserving habitat, and restoring water quality, with plans in the future to continue to provide for the environment.
“If you haven’t yet, you need to get out and see your state,” Blankenship said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, and I love it here. This is where I lived for most of my life until a couple of years ago when I moved to Montgomery to be Commissioner of Conversation, and it has opened opportunities for me to go see different parts of Alabama that I didn’t know were there. We have a beautiful place here in Coastal Alabama, but I hope everyone will get out and visit the other state parks and Wildlife Management areas around the state and just see what else our state has to offer. I think you’ll be very happy that you did.”
To learn more about the South Baldwin Chamber and upcoming events, check out their website at www.southbaldwinchamber.com.