BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – A new addition to Oak Mountain State Park is being called a hot 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 of the department. The program was created in 1992 to take a portion of the state’s offshore oil and gas production interest income and use it to purchase property for public recreation and conservation of significant habitat.
“The premise behind this is that you take something that is a dwindling resource, oil and gas, and put the money back into a program that acquires property that will forever be protected and used by the people of Alabama,” Blankenship said. “I am so grateful that we were able to finalize this acquisition. This is an acquisition that began many years ago, working with Dell, Dixon and Nelson Brooke and the EBSCO family to cross the finish line.
State Lands Director Patti McCurdy said the council’s wise spending was crucial in the purchase of what is being called the Belcher Tract. “This would not have been possible without the Forever Wild Board of Directors not only desiring the property, but exercising stewardship to allow sufficient funds to accumulate to complete the purchase. This acquisition is probably one of the best examples of how Forever Wild provides public access for outdoor recreation and, at the same time, promotes the conservation of the unique habitats found on the property. We can do both.
Commissioner Blankenship said Forever Wild has acquired 285,000 acres statewide and more than 99% of that property has public access to outdoor activities. “Amenities and access to these lands are very important – safe parking, restrooms, good wayfinding on the trails – things that make these properties more accessible to people,” he said. “I think one of the priorities moving forward is to give them first-class access, where people can really take advantage of them and get the most out of them.”
EBSCO CEO David Walker said the company purchased the Belcher Tract 25 years ago and was pleased the transaction preserved the integrity of the land: “This project was possible because EBSCO shares Forever Wild and The Nature Conservancy’s vision of a shared ambition for conservation to protect this property and protect the environment and our collective ambition to be able to support and champion 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, professor of biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and board member of Forever Wild, said Oak Mountain State Park is a special place for him and for others. many other people who enjoy the largest park in the state. “Having hiked, biked, camped and fished in this incredible state park for three decades, I can personally speak to the value of more hiking trails and bike trails, without talk about some really great fishing lakes,” McClintock said. “We have over 150 species of fish in Alabama. We have over 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 Alabama’s state park system with its 21 state parks. However, many of these parks were built over 80 years ago, and some of the campground infrastructure will not be able to accommodate modern recreational vehicles. He said Amendment 1 on the May 24 ballot is a bond issue that will provide $85 million in funds for much-needed improvements to Alabama’s 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, Alabama State Director of The Nature Conservancy, said, “Spine pine forests once covered much of the eastern United States, but development has diminished that legacy of long leaves. . Appalachia starts here in Alabama and goes all the way to Maine. The Belcher Tract at Oak Mountain State Park is among the long sheets of the mountains that exist nowhere else on earth. It’s an Alabama story.
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