Gulf Shores expanding environmental education

By Guy Busby
Government Editor
Posted 6/1/22

GULF SHORES — A new $12.4-million Eco Center and the addition of 23 acres on Bon Secour Bay are two environmental education projects planned by Gulf Shores city officials.The Alabama Department …

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Gulf Shores expanding environmental education


GULF SHORES — A new $12.4-million Eco Center and the addition of 23 acres on Bon Secour Bay are two environmental education projects planned by Gulf Shores city officials.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will give Gulf Shores almost $12.41 million to build the Gulf Coast Eco Center, Dan Bond, environmental grants coordinator, said.

The city also plans to buy the property on Bon Secour Bay for $800,000. The property will be used for conservation and environmental education programs in partnership with city schools and the Gulf Coast Eco Center, Bond said.

Bond said the new Eco Center will be a permanent facility on city-owned property next to the Gulf State Park.

"The components will include environmental education classrooms and outdoor learning spaces, teaching farm that includes organic gardening and greenhouses, learning laboratories, ropes courses and team building areas, interpretive nature trails and administrative offices," Bond said.

The 13-acre campus will also be designed to demonstrate sustainable building practices.

The funding includes $8.8 million in construction funding that was originally awarded as part of the Alabama Restore Council's multi-year implementation plan as well as another $3.6 million in contingency funding that the city has requested from RESTORE to cover increased construction costs recently.

The federal RESTORE project distributes money from penalties received as part of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf Coast states affected by the disaster. The money is designated for environmental projects.

Bond said city officials plan to go out for bids on the project in the summer. Construction is expected to take one year.

Travis Langan, Eco Center director, said program supporters have been working on efforts to build a permanent facility for at least 10 years.

We're very, very excited for this summer," he said. "A lot of the staff that we've been hiring over the years has just been waiting with bated breath until this facility is open so that everyone can kind of really roll up their sleeves and get this project up and running."

Langan said the center will be operating summer camp programs in conjunction with the Alabama Gulf State Park including five weeks of programming for Gulf Shores elementary and middle school students.

Bond said the 23-acre site will be another opportunity to enhance environmental education in Gulf Shores.

"One important component of education programs that are focused on coastal ecology is access to the many diverse estuary environments in the region, access to the water and the associated wetlands and those include tidal marshes and pine savannahs, maritime forests and beach and bay dune systems," Bond told council members at the May 16 work session. "The Bon Secour Bay is located on the eastern edge of Mobile Bay at the mouth of the Bon Secour River and it's surrounded by a whole lot of protected and preserved areas, the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to the north and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to the south. So, it's really a very well-protected bay in a rapidly growing area in Baldwin County and it creates a uniquely protected watershed that's rich in critical habitat and biodiversity."

The property is known as Osprey Cove. It includes about 800 feet of shoreline on Bon Secour Bay with a natural tidal inlet that connects Ewing Bayou to the bay.

Habitats in the parcel includes marshes, bay, beach and dunes as well as pine and oak forests, Bond said.

"It's really a beautiful piece of property and it provides access for our education programs going forward in the future," he said "It will provide access to Bon Secour Bay and the larger Mobile Bay watershed. So, we think it's a really great opportunity to expand these programs."