Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Alabama State Parks Analysis

From my previous essay over Alabama State Parks on a closure list, there's some interesting history to the ones listed on the closure list.

Cheaha State Park: Carved out by the Roosevelt CCC-gang in 1933.  It's on the highest point of Alabama, and for the first forty years.....had just a couple of stone cabins and one small lodge.  In the late 70's, they added another lodge and a restaurant to the operation.  Basically, there's a campground, some minor fishing, a swimming pool, an area for conferences/weddings/events, and a fair amount of hiking.

Bladon Springs used to be a health spa in the 1800s.  The local area had gone down hill and the state acquired the property in the 1930s....again, in the middle of the depression.  There's only ten spots for camping and a couple of pavilions for picnics.  It is a bare-bones state park and it's questionable why anyone ever put money into it.  Minimal profit operation and nothing really to add on it.

Blue Springs State Park is an operation which is bare bones.  Beyond some swimming in the local springs and a picnic pavilion, there's nothing much there (barely 100 acres of state property).  Zero potential for any profit.

Chickasaw State Park.  It's a 500-acre plot of land with some picnic tables and a kid's wading pool.  Toss in a couple of hiking trails and several pavilions, and that's it.  Zero potential for any profit.

Buck's Pocket State Park.  Twenty-odd miles of hiking trails, some picnic tables, a boat launch point, and a couple of primitive camping spots. Zero potential for any profit.

Paul M. Grist State Park.  Minor-league park with eleven RV spots.  Some Pavilions with picnic tables, and a 100-acre pond for fishing.  Very minimum potential for profit.  Maybe if they had forty RV spots and some cabins for rent....but it's nearest town is Selma and folks just don't go there for recreation.

Florala State Park.  Good location on Ala-Florida border, but only forty acres.  A couple of camping spots, some swimming in the local lake (500 acre lake).  Some picnic pavilions. Zero potential for any profit.

Roland Cooper State Park.  A curious has a nine-hole golf plans to expand to eighteen holes.  Built on the side of a reservoir with plenty of fishing opporunties.  There's a couple vacation cabins, a bait and tackle shop, and a couple of picnic pavilions.  With infrastructure money and expansion (toss in another forty cabins, some advertising, and a lodge) might have potential.  Issue?  It's in the middle of nowhere.....twenty miles south of Selma.  Again, I'll ask....who the heck goes to Selma for recreation?

Rickwood Caverns.  Basically, you've got a four-star cave, an Olympic-sized pool, some hiking, zero cabins, no lodge, a minor campground, three hundred acres which they advertise as a 'wilderness' but it's really just a heavily wooded area about twenty-five miles north of Birmingham.  Has potential but you'd have to put in a real it for the caverns adventure up forty cabins and run the operation in a totally different manner.

Lake Lurleen State Park.  It offers around a hundred RV camping spots on a fairly big chunk of property (1,600 acres).  Lake front view, with more picnic pavilions, and roughly twenty miles of hiking trails.  Big selling point?  Mountain biking.  No lodge, no cabins.  Within twenty miles of Tuscaloosa.  With development and more infrastructure for mountain might attract a unique crowd.....but you'd need to bring forty cabins and remarket the operation.

DeSoto State Park.  Another 1930s Roosevelt CCC-project.  Three thousand acres of property.....all in high terrain areas, with mountain streams.  Oddly, just twenty-five miles of walking trails and barely eleven miles of mountain biking trails.  There is a lodge, a couple of cabins, a restaurant, and a decent camping area.  It's a park which need it as a mountain paradise with adventure trails and triple the mountain bike trails.  Close enough to Huntsville that you could advertise around the nation for a 'rough adventure' and have several hundred people a week fly in and want to have some type of bold experience.

Lakepoint State Park.  This is one of those odd parks which ought to make it.  It's hidden away on a 45,000 acre site near Lake Eufala.  Sadly, it's in the middle of nowhere in central Alabama....far east side.  They've got a convention center, a eighteen-hole golf course, 100-room lodge, and a huge 192-site campground.  They've actually got almost forty cabins, and a boat marina area.  More picnic pavilions, and a couple of minor hiking trails.  It has success written all over the potential but has never been really marketed the right way.  Everybody in Atlanta and Nashville ought to know about the golf course and marina.  The convention center?  It ought to work better but with only a hundred rooms in the lodge.....I'm not sure they have adequate rooms for the bigger conventions.

Guntersville State Park.  A six-thousand acre park on Lake Guntersville.  Has a lodge area, boat ramp, eighteen hole golf course, and convention center.  Has a decent campground and beach area to the lake.  Has a fair amount of potential.  Advertised right?  No.  If the local community ran the operation....they'd have fishing derby situations all year-round, and probably add another hotel to the complex.  It's near Huntsville and they could easily attract people to fly in for weekends and get a recreation blast from the lake.

Frank Jackson State Park.  Another park in the middle of nowhere.  Ninety minute drive northeast from Mobile.  Underdeveloped.  Basically a fishing and boating park, with some picnic pavilions.  Limited RV and camping possible.  Even if you added more money and structure to the's out away from the interstate and bigger cities.

Finally, Joe Wheeler State Park.  Structured around a golf course, a boating marina, a significant convention center, a lodge and within three miles of highway 72.  With 2,500 acres, they've got plenty of possible expansion situations.  Advertised right?  No.  Toss in sixty cabins and another lodge, and upgrade the golf might triple the current income levels of the park.  Barely a 2.5 mile looped area for mountain biking.  Turn that into a twenty-mile mountain bike trail and you'd get some heavy interest throughout the south.

Here's the least six of these state parks are dead in the water.  No matter what you do......they can't achieve any profits.  The dimwits in the 1930s and all the way to the 1970s....never cared about profits.  Now?  It's important.

At least three of the sites ought to be turned over to local municipal communities and let them manage it better.  Five or six of these could be turned in mega visitor sites.....if they were managed by a business operation.....built up more hotel space....went heavily on mountain biking potential.....and were advertised as adventure centers.

Sadly, the Alabama conservation folks are not the ones who ought to be managing this operation.  And the state just refuses to get smart and realize the potential here if they were managed right (add one million more tourists a year if half of these were run the right way).

Joe Wheeler State Park?

It's hard to believe.  Alabama, the state, runs twenty-one state parks.  They are actually run by  the state conservation department.

They come to realize that over the parks provide a profit and some don't.  With a federal grant, they've somehow managed to survive.  Well....up until now.  The state is drawing up a plan for close down fifteen of the state parks.

Some Bladon Springs, have been around since 1938.

The parks remaining?  Well, you had to guess right on Gulf State Park, which is a four-star resort on the Gulf Coast.  Wind Creek State Park?  It'll be around as well, and is fairly well known for fishing competitions in the summer. Oak Mountain State Park has been around since the late 1920s and is just minutes away from Birmingham.

Some of the parks on the closure list?  Guntersville State Park made it on the list .  They actually had horseback riding potential, a championship golf course, and a fishing center.

Joe Wheeler State Park, from where I grew up.....made it on the closure list.  It has a major boating center and a championship golf course.  It also has a major hotel resort.....right on the water.

I admit five or six of the parks on the closure list.....just aren't pulling in enough customers to make them worth the effort of saving.

The closure business is not a guaranteed's simply the first step and the state will go through the motions.  My humble guess is that by December of this least three parks will go final and shut down.  Maybe another three or four will shut down by the end of 2016.

My general view of the Joe Wheeler complex is that it's got all the dynamics to be a mega recreation center.  The complex has been on plan A since it's beginnings in the early 1980s with the hotel and golf course.  A few additions occurred over the last decade.....but they really haven't been forward-thinking or aggressive about visitors or use.

With the right advertising, a few added features, and some figure (TV star or entertainer) as a 'host'.....they could probably double the business that they currently achieve....all within three years.  They could easily add more cabins and cottages.  Another hotel could be put up on the property with more revenue potential.  Advertising via national magazines would attract more RV visitors.

So, my suggestion is for the city of Rogersville (their next door municipality) to ask for the property and hire up a couple of smart folks to rebuild the image of the park.

I admit.....some of these state parks are practically dead and there's just not much you can save.  These are parks that never should have been made into state parks.

Bottom line?  This might be the best thing to happen to Joe Wheeler State Park....ever.  And they might take the park to a whole new level within the next decade.