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Parks officials working to reopen portion of Gulf State Park Pier

Gulf State Park on Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast will be a beehive of activity now and into the future.

One of the priorities is to get a portion of the popular Gulf State Park Pier open after Hurricane Sally collapsed a 175-foot section near the end octagon.

Although no estimate is available as to when the collapsed portion can be replaced, Alabama State Parks officials are working diligently to open a segment of the pier as soon as possible.

Lamar Pendergrass, State Parks’ South Region Operations Supervisor, said Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) bridge inspection divers inspected the pier after Sally to make sure the standing portions of the pier are structurally sound.

“The divers also inspected and took pictures of the collapsed portion of the pier,” Pendergrass said. “We’re going to have assess what is the most feasible way to proceed with that section. That hasn’t been determined at this point. We have damage to the main water line, a 4-inch line that went all the way to the octagon. The electrical service that supplied the up lights and down lights has been damaged.”

The good news is the electrical supply to what Pendergrass calls the T, where the restrooms are located in the middle of the pier, is intact.

“We already have the lights in that area on and working,” he said. “After inspection, it looks like we will be able to open about a 40-foot section beyond the T. We will section it off and have it available for fishing.”

The contractor who had just finished a $2.4 million renovation to the pier days before Sally hit is on-site and working to get the pier repaired.

“We have the contractor who did the remodel under contract,” Pendergrass said. “He has a team of individuals working on the pier to put back the panels that were displaced during the storm.”

The 1,540-foot pier was built with panels designed to blow out to mitigate the damage to the structure. More than 200 of those panels were recovered after Sally.

“Those workers are replacing those panels, repairing the ones that were damaged and building new ones for the panels we weren’t able to recover,” Pendergrass said. “This week, the crew that installed the handrails should be on-site and start repairing the handrails that were damaged. The handrails around the restroom area took a good bit of damage.”

Pendergrass said a definite timetable on when the work might be completed is hard to determine right now.

“It’s very hard to say,” he said. “We’re really just scratching the surface. The electrical and water have to be addressed. We’re probably looking at winter. But we don’t want to put a date on it. We’re definitely going to open as soon as possible.”

The aforementioned renovations to the pier included replacing the pine decking and handrails with ipe (pronounced ee-pay), a hardwood from South America with a projected lifespan of 30 years, compared to 10 for pine.

The grand reopening of the pier was scheduled the day that Sally made a direct hit on the Alabama coast with 105-mph winds and a forward motion of 2 mph, which caused the coast to be pummeled for hours and hours with hurricane-force winds.

Pendergrass said Parks officials heard from many pier users during the renovations and in the aftermath of the storm.

“A lot of people in this area and people who visited the area are very disappointed they don’t have the pier to come to and fish and share the fellowship with the other fishermen,” he said. “But we have the support of those people who know that when we do open the pier back up, we’re going to have a very nice facility.”

In addition to the repairs to the pier, a new $3.6-million project is starting at Gulf State Park that encompasses several areas in the 6,150-acre park.

Additional parking spaces are being added near the pier and The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

Significant upgrades are also planned in other areas of the park, including around Lake Shelby and the Beach Pavilion to the east of the main park complex.

With the exception of trail access, Lake Shelby will be closed to the public during the renovations, which are expected to be completed by the summer of 2021.

The Lake Shelby area enhancements will include a modern playground with three areas for different age groups, separate small and large dog parks with covered seating and water fountains, new bathrooms, improved parking, a new tram stop and a bikeshare station for public use within the park.

A parking area and tram stop will be constructed across from the middle beach walkover where South Campground Road intersects East Beach Boulevard.

The Beach Pavilion will be upgraded to better accommodate volunteers, staff, weddings and other events. Also, traffic signs will be updated throughout the park.

“We are pleased to announce these improvements to Gulf State Park,” Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said. “This project has been in the works for several months. Thankfully, we were able to remain on schedule as we also continue the extensive cleanup and repairs associated with Hurricane Sally. In recent years this park has become a model for how to blend environmental sustainability with public access to our beautiful coastal landscape. We are looking forward to sharing these new enhancements with the public in the coming months.”

Pendergrass said work is underway to repair damage from Sally in the Gulf State Park Campground.

“We lost several electrical distribution panels during the storm,” he said. “We should have those repairs done this week. We are checking each panel box to make sure the breakers are good and there is no water damage. We want to make sure if campers do hook up, they will have electricity. We plan to open the entire campground up this week. That will give us 500 sites instead of the 175 we had available after the storm.”

Pendergrass said the work continues to clean up after Sally. Weeks later, Hurricane Zeta came close enough to the Alabama coast to add to the cleanup work.

“We’re riding daily through the park, picking up limbs and debris after the storms,” he said.

Pendergrass was especially appreciative of the Alabama State Parks Strike Teams that came from other parks around the state to help at Gulf State Park after Sally.

“Individuals from strike teams from almost ever park came to help us out,” he said. “The Lakepoint Strike Team came twice. They cut trees and removed debris. They did a tremendous job of helping this park out. This is just something we do when we have an emergency or tragedy; we send help to each other. And it’s greatly appreciated.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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