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David Rainer: Gulf State Park pier repairs reach milestone

The reconstruction of the Gulf State Park Pier reached a milestone recently when the walkway to the octagon on the end was partially completed.

Lamar Pendergrass, the South Region Operations Supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Parks Division, said missing pilings and decking components have been replaced all the way to the octagon, which will allow construction workers much easier access to the entire 1,544-foot pier.

“You can actually make it out to the octagon now,” Pendergrass said. “I saw the barge parked at Alabama Point, which means the workers can get to the octagon without having to use the barge. That’s really a plus for us right now. Some of the girders had to have repair work done with the grout material to give them strength and stability. Getting that decking back down will allow them to start working on the handrails and things of that nature. That will expedite the process.”

Construction crews have replaced the decking all the way to the octagon. (David Rainer/Chris Blankenship Photo)

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship is pleased with recent developments at Gulf State Park.

“There is a tremendous amount of work underway in our State Parks, especially at Gulf State Park,” he said. “I am glad to see the pier repair progressing along. It was exciting to reopen the 20 Lakeside Cabins and expand the offerings at Romar Beach Access last week. All of us will be so glad to reopen the pier later this summer. It will be fabulous!”

Plumbers were assessing what work would need to be done to replace and update components from the middle section, called the T, to the octagon. Electricians were also on-site to determine the extent of the repairs needed.

“We hope the turtle-friendly lights are on order, because they are sometimes hard to get,” Pendergrass said. “The plumbing and electrical work should begin soon because those components will all be under the deck panels.”

The light poles for the turtle-friendly lights are about 10 feet tall. The lights will be LED lights that have six-inch shields to block portions of the light beam. A dimmer will be used during turtle nesting season so the light output can be lowered even more. There will still be enough light for people who fish. The turtle-friendly lighting will also be used in the parking lot.

To lay the groundwork for replacing the pilings, the initial work at the pier was removing the pilings from a 200-foot section that succumbed to the crashing waves of Hurricane Sally in 2020 and fell into the Gulf.

MD Thomas Construction, which had completed the $2.4 million renovation to the pier just prior to Sally’s damage, was awarded the $13.6 million repair contract. Removing those downed pilings was not an easy task.

“For recovering the pilings, they had both a regular barge and a jack-up barge, which really made it a lot easier to get into position to do the work,” Pendergrass said. “They actually had to go down and jet the sand away from the piles to provide a way to hook up straps and lift them onto the barge, carry them to the landing and carry them to their final destination. Once they had the old piles recovered, they started barging in the new piles. Those were jetted down to a certain depth and then hammered into the final position to get them all lined up. There were 18 misplaced, damaged or broken piles.”

ADCNR applied to use the retrieved concrete pieces to build a reef in Alabama’s unparalleled Artificial Reef Zones, but the request was denied by FEMA.

As usual, the weather played a role in the amount of work that could be done with barges, but Pendergrass said delays were pretty much minimal.

“There were several days where they might work half a day and then have to take the barge back to Perdido Pass and leave it there,” he said. “That takes time and effort to move to one area and bring it back. And the jack-up barge had to go in for repairs and was out of commission for a little more than two weeks. But once that jack-up barge was back, they were able to put the remaining piles in place, and it was all finished by April 1.”

Pendergrass said current plans are to restore the octagon, which was extremely popular with the diehard pier fishing community, to pre-Sally condition. That includes restoring the 50-foot by 24-foot observation deck at the octagon, which will allow visitors and sightseers to observe fishing activity as well as experience the educational component of the pier from a new vantage point. An Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) certified lift will be on one side of the observation deck with stairs on the opposite side. Pendergrass said the ADA lift will be operated only by pier personnel.

“There will be at least one change,” he said. “Previously we had a red line that went around the octagon that separated the fishermen from the sightseers. We think with the observation deck, it will provide a lot better place to view the fishing activity.”

Pendergrass, who also oversaw the previous renovations, said new railings constructed of the durable ipe (pronounced eepay) wood will be replaced in the 200-foot section that collapsed as well as on the octagon.

“With the addition of the decking out to the octagon, they know what they’re doing because they’ve done it twice now,” he said. “Once everything underneath the decking is completed, I anticipate the work will pick up speed so we can get the pier opened as soon as possible.

“The target date for reopening the pier is late summer unless the weather turns really, really bad.”

Commissioner Blankenship and Pendergrass were also recently on hand for the ribbon cutting for the cabins on Lake Shelby at Gulf State Park. Hurricane Sally destroyed 17 cabins on the lake. Those were rebuilt and three new cabins were added for a total of 20.

The new cabins at Gulf State Parks’ Lake Shelby are finished and ready to be booked. (David Rainer/Chris Blankenship Photo)

“Hurricane Sally literally picked up the roofs on some of the cabins and set them down on the ground,” Pendergrass said. “The 10 Eagle Cottages on the lake sustained much less damage from the hurricane and, with minor repairs, remained open to rent.”

The new cabins are top-notch with two bedrooms, two baths and a bunk room for children with a TV for entertainment. Also new is a laundry room with a washer and dryer underneath each cabin. The cabins can be booked online at www.eaglecottagesatgsp.com.

“We also renovated four woodside cabins nestled back in woods,” Pendergrass said. “These are one-bedroom cabins. We spent a good bit of money renovating those.”

Also, Gulf State Park’s Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail continues to reign as the top recreational trail in the country in the 2024 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, the second year in a row the trail has received the recognition.

The Alabama Gulf Coast trail prevailed over nine other trails located throughout the United States, including the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia, a former railroad now used for hiking, biking and horseback riding, and Missouri’s 240-mile Katy Bike Trail, one of the longest Rails-to-Trails projects in the country.

Gulf State Park’s Romar Beach Access area has reopened with a new bathhouse, 40 additional parking spots and a shower on the boardwalk out to the beach.

At Gulf State Park Pavilion, the facility is receiving a complete facelift, with makeovers for the restrooms and bridal room.

On the north end of Mobile Bay, Meaher State Park on Battleship Parkway (Causeway) is also in the middle of renovations, with $7.5 million allocated for campground expansion, new cabins and an administration building.


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