I am sure most of you reading this already appreciate the great outdoors. I do as well. However, even though I am the Commissioner of Conservation in Alabama and my life’s work has been to protect, provide and enhance outdoor recreation, I had taken some of what we have in Alabama for granted. If there is one good thing to come from the crazy COVID-19-dominated spring of 2020, it is that so many people have rediscovered the value of having quality, diversified outdoor recreational opportunities. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has worked diligently for decades to provide and enhance outdoor recreational access in Alabama for our citizens and visitors to use and enjoy. Having the beaches closed for the month of April was a blow to many, including my wife. However, I believe it showed that Coastal Alabama is not a one-trick pony. The beach is the big draw and what most people associate with Baldwin County, but we have so much more to offer in the outdoors. Guests greatly enjoyed the 28 miles of trails at Gulf State Park during the time the beach was closed. Those trails and the rest of the thousands of acres of park on the north side of Highway 180 are spectacular! The maritime forests, freshwater coastal lakes, oak-covered dunes and other unique habitats are found in only a few places on earth. The boardwalks and trails in the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge around Little Lagoon and the Islands of Perdido were also well utilized during the time the beaches were not accessible. All these areas, along with the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the Perdido Wildlife Management Area, the pristine waterways and great inshore and offshore fishing, were much-appreciated respites during this uneasy and uncertain time. We worked cooperatively with Governor Ivey and State Health Officer Scott Harris to keep as much open in the outdoors as possible during the Safer at Home and Stay at Home orders. Our Alabama State Parks around the state never closed. Our dedicated staff were there every day managing the campgrounds, cleaning and sanitizing bathhouses and restrooms, keeping trail parking lots open, and ensuring that boat ramps and marinas in the parks and along our waterways remained open. Medical and mental health professionals continually tout the benefits of spending time in the outdoors. That has never been more true than during this difficult time. The time we’ve spent as a family hiking on state park and Forever Wild trails has been priceless. The afternoons in the boat watching the dolphins frolic and the birds search for that last meal of the day just as the sun was taking its place below the horizon was just the prescription I needed to get through some of these days. I am so thankful for the blessing to have grown up and worked most of my life in Coastal Alabama, and I appreciate the work of ADCNR employees who continue to protect and enhance these natural wonders that so enrich our lives. It is more than the beach that is the siren calling us back to the coast when our time in Montgomery has passed. It is the beauty of all that God has created in Mobile and Baldwin counties and the fine people who have chosen to call that area home.
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