Gulf Shores, Alabama: Five sustainability and nature story leads for outdoor communicators

Two baby sea turtles on the beach in Gulf Shores Alabama

When you first think of Alabama, you may think of southern hospitality, endless fishing opportunities or college football. Although the state is known for all of these things, there’s also a lot more to Alabama for you to enjoy. The state is geographically diverse with mountains, prairies, river deltas, swamps, cave systems and an often overlooked geographical landmark  — the beach. 

And in Gulf Shores, Alabama, you’ll find more than 30 miles of pristine white sandy beaches along the ocean basin known as the Gulf of Mexico. This natural white sand, often called “sugar-white sand” by locals, is made of tiny quartz crystals that washed downstream from the Appalachian Mountains over thousands of years. 

You’ll also find a lot of outdoor recreation opportunities like water sports, hiking, biking, hunting, kayaking, birding and canoeing in Gulf Shores. 

Next September, hundreds of outdoor media will gather in Gulf Shores, Alabama for the 2023 Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) conference to connect and learn from other storytellers and develop their craft through hands-on workshops. You can be among those storytellers and take advantage of craft improvement sessions, find a mentor, become a mentee or simply absorb presentations on writing and editing, photography and more. 

Whether you’re arriving in Gulf Shores early to explore the area before the conference, or extending your trip after the conference, there are many ways you can build out your editorial calendar, make connections for interviews, and gather story content.

Here are five sustainability and nature story leads that could help you create articles, blog posts, podcast episodes, stunning images and more. 

Dune Restoration 

Stemming from Alabama’s Gulf State Park Enhancement Project, the Dune Restoration project helped create a dune system that encourages a connection to nature and maximizes the ability for that system to provide protection, habitat, and resilience for all types of communities. 

Dunes Restoration Gulf Shores Alabama
An educational sign about Dunes restoration along the boardwalk at The Lodge in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo by Suzanne Downing

To do this, staff inserted sand movement corridors in a man-made, engineer berm to allow for wind-borne sand to accumulate and form new dunes. They also created a more holistic environment for the Alabama Beach Mouse, nesting sea turtles and other birds and removed invasive plants to support more natural plants to thrive and support wildlife. 

Fun fact: Today, staff and volunteers continue to use natural materials to facilitate dune growth like placing recycled Christmas trees to capture sand in areas behind engineered berms. 

Rebuilding the Lodge 

The Lodge at Gulf Shores State Park, where the OWAA annual conference will be held September 9-11, 2023, is a model of sustainable hospitality that attracts the sustainable tourism market and provides a launching point for learning in the park and supports the economics of the park. Meaning, it’s one of the most sustainable hospitality facilities in the works. 

The Lodge at Gulf Shores Alabama
The Lodge at Gulf Shores, Alabama built behind the Coastal Construction Line. Photo by Suzanne Downing

Some of the sustainable highlights include: 

  • Pool water created by condensation from the guest room HVAC system. 
  • Meeting rooms with large windows for natural light to create a healthy and inspirational work environment.
  • Location of the build. Strategically placed more than 200 feet behind the Coastal Construction Line to provide and feature native species to help restore dunes. 
A pool along the beach in Gulf Shores Alabama
The pool at The Lodge filled with water created by condensation from guest rooms. Photo by Suzanne Downing

Trail enhancements

From the Lodge at Gulf State Park, you can access the entire park through a variety of trail loops that provide opportunities for education and car free mobility. 

Bike Path in Gulf State Park in Alabama
Bike path in Gulf State Park across the street from The Lodge. Photo by Suzanne Downing

You’ll find a lot of education along the way through interpretive signs. One sign titled, “Are You a Good Listener” encourages visitors to pick out the different sounds the frogs in the park make — connecting visitors to their natural environment.

With more than 27 miles of trails, the trail system complies with all environmental and accessibility guidelines. You can rent a free bike at the Lodge or explore on foot. 

Fun fact: You can stop along the trail to compare your arm span to the wingspan of birds like an Osprey or Bald Eagle. 

Amber Silvey breaks from a bike ride to compare her arm span to the wing span of various birds like an Osprey and Bald Eagle. Photo by Suzanne Downing

Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog

Thousands of carnivorous plants known as Pitcher Plants thrive in the Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog near Gulf Shores in the Fairhope area. You can walk on the boardwalk to explore the bog and see these exotic looking plants in person. 

Photo of a Pitcher Plant
A colorful Pitcher Plant in Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog. Photo by Suzanne Downing

There’s also a lot going on behind the scenes to help these Pitcher Plants thrive, like prescribed fires to reduce the number of small trees and shrubs in the bog that shade the sun-loving plants. 

The Pitcher Plants should be in bloom in September during the OWAA conference. (The photo above was captured on October 1, 2022). 

The Interpretive Center at Gulf Sate Park

The Interpretive Center is Alabama’s most environmentally-friendly building. The goal in building this 6,000 acre park was to create a gateway to Gulf State Park that excites visitors and entices them to cross over into the green side of the park. 

Interpretive Center
Rain water collection system explained at the Interpretive Center in Gulf State Park. Photo by Suzanne Downing

Located on Perdido Beach Highway, the center is well positioned to peak visitor interest. 

With interactive educational experiences, you can learn about the ecology of Gulf State Park and about the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Media connections are available through Gulf Shores Orange Beach tourism. 

Fun fact: The Interpretive Center has a rain collection system that is filtered onsite and you can drink this water directly from a water fountain at the center. 

Helpful websites: 

Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

University of Alabama Center for Economic Development

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