An Alabama Story
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A new addition to Oak Mountain State Park is being called a prized acquisition by The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources thanks in part to The Forever Wild Program.
“The Forever Wild program, I think, is one of the best programs ever created in the state of Alabama for conservation,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner the Department said. The program was created in 1992 to take a portion of interest earnings from the state’s offshore oil and gas production and use it to purchase property for public recreation and important habitat conservation.
“The whole premise behind that is you’re taking something that is a depleting resource, oil and gas, and you’re putting the money back into a program that acquires property that will be forever protected and used by the people of Alabama,” Blankenship said. “I’m so thankful we were able to complete this acquisition. This is an acquisition that started many years ago, working with Dell, Dixon and Nelson Brooke and the EBSCO family to get this across the finish line.”
State Lands Director Patti McCurdy said the Board’s wise spending was crucial in the purchase of what is called the Belcher Tract. “This would not have been possible without the Forever Wild Board not only desiring the property but showing the stewardship to let enough funding accumulate to make the purchase. This acquisition is probably one of the best examples of how Forever Wild provides access to the public for outdoor recreation and, at the same time, promotes conservation of the unique habitats found on the property. We can do both.”
Commissioner Blankenship said that Forever Wild has acquired 285,000 acres around the state, and more than 99 percent of that property offers public access for outdoor activities. “Amenities and access to those lands are very important – safe parking, restroom facilities, good way-finding signage on the trails – things that make these properties more accessible to people,” he said. “I think one of the priorities moving forward is to make access to them first-class, where people can really enjoy them and get the most use out of them.”
EBSCO CEO David Walker said the company purchased the Belcher Tract 25 years ago and is happy the transaction will preserve the integrity of the land, “This project was possible because EBSCO shares the vision that Forever Wild as well as The Nature Conservancy have, that is a shared ambition for conservation to protect this property and protect the environment and our collective ambition that we can sustain and advocate future sustainability in the state of Alabama,” Walker said. “But the real benefactors of this property are you and me and our children, our grandchildren and future generations.”
Dr. James McClintock, biology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Forever Wild Board of Trustees member, said Oak Mountain State Park is a special place for him and many other people who value the state’s largest park. “Having hiked, biked, camped and fished this amazing state park for three decades, I can personally speak to the value of more hiking and biking trails, not to mention some downright great fishing lakes,” McClintock said. “We have more than 150 species of fish in Alabama. We have more than 30 species of mussels. We have more oak species than you can count. We are blessed with biodiversity. Think of this park as an island.”
Commissioner Blankenship praised the beauty and amenities of the Alabama State Parks System with its 21 state parks. However, many of those parks were built more than 80 years ago, and some of the campground infrastructure will not accommodate modern RVs. He said Amendment 1 on the May 24 ballot is a bond issue that will provide $85 million in funds for the much-needed upgrades at Alabama State Parks.
“I want to give credit where credit is due. The idea for this project came from The Nature Conservancy and started on the hood of a car under a carport in the middle of a thunderstorm.”
Mitch Reid, The Nature Conservancy’s Alabama State Director, said, “Longleaf pine forests once covered much of the eastern United States, but development has diminished that longleaf legacy. The Appalachian Mountains start here in Alabama and go all the way to Maine. The Oak Mountain State Park Belcher Tract is a part of the mountain longleafs that exist nowhere else on earth. This is an Alabama story.”
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