Poolos: Military, vets can get into state parks for free

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 12/26/17

Edward F. Poolos of Jasper, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), is excited about a number of new programs and projects that are getting underway in the department.

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Poolos: Military, vets can get into state parks for free


Edward F. Poolos of Jasper, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), is excited about a number of new programs and projects that are getting underway in the department.

He pointed out in a recent interview that starting on Nov. 1, all active duty military personnel, veterans, National Guard members and reservists began to receive free admission to any state park, park facility or day use area that charges an entrance fee, including boat ramps and the Gulf State Park pier.

The program applies to all 22 state parks operated by DCNR.

Poolos said the Alabama Legislature plans to introduce a bill in the coming 2018 Regular Session that will make the free entrance a state law. Donations to sponsor the entry fee for veterans are accepted at state parks and online at http://www.alapark.com/Parks-for-Patriots-Veterans-Program.

“We are so appreciative of our veterans and active duty personnel,” Poolos said. “Without their sacrifice we wold not be able to have all the freedoms we enjoy. I am so glad we can offer them free admission to our state parks.” 

He said the new Gulf State Park Lodge and Conference Center (mygulfstatepark.com) is closer to being completed as another major project.

The original hotel was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

The new hotel and meeting facility is currently under construction and is scheduled to be open by the fall of 2018 as a franchise of Hilton Hotels.

The facility will have 350 guest rooms and will have meeting space for events for up to 1,500 participants.

A pedestrian walkway has been installed that provides a safe crossing of Perdido Beach Boulevard.

“But also, it is highlighting the natural areas,” he said. “It is going to have a lot of trail programs. It has a lot of walkways, bicycling, protection of the dunes. It is as environmentally friendly as we can do the state park lodge.” 

Officials are hoping to bring in many conferences with the facility, which has plans to be the largest conference center on the Gulf Coast. All the conference facilities will face the Gulf Coast, he said.

Poolos said he heard Gov. Kay Ivey recently say that every conference she is asked to attend seems to be in Destin, Fla., and that the state needs to keep conferences in Alabama.

“We’re very excited about the new hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park. It will be a first-class facility for both vacationers and business meeting participants. It will be the perfect place for Alabamians to make great memories along the Alabama Gulf Coast,” he said.

The contract will allow the majority of the revenue from the facility to go back into the state park program, he said.

Another pilot program that has just been started is a free mentoring program for first-time adult hunters who didn’t grow up hunting.

“We had a lot more applicants than we had spots” for the first hunt on Dec. 4. One applies to participate in limited slots which are determined in a random drawing, he said, noting a hunting license is still required.

However, once registered, one who was not pulled earlier in a drawing is still in the pot for the next hunt, Poolos said. He noted it has been a learning experience to find out how many adults did not grow up hunting.

“Now you have kids, and the kids want to hunt, but you are like, ‘I don’t know how to teach those,’” he said. They may be completely new to hunting or have limited experience.

Smaller Forever Wild lands that cannot be open to the larger public are being used for these limited hunts, with Conservation staff or Wildlife Federation staff offering the instruction.

“Like, for deer, it is a three-day hunt,” he said. “We teach you about firearm safety. We teach you about scouting for deer. It is like a hunting camp experience. It doesn’t cost anything,” he said.

All mentors and hunters will stay together at a centralized location and spend quality time together both in the woods and around the camp, Poolos said.

Equipment needs, hunting, treestand safety, game cleaning and cooking are also among the items covered.

For most of the mentored hunts, the equipment needed will be provided or offered at no cost to the participant. Mentored hunts are currently available for deer, turkey, squirrel and rabbit.

He said the program has been well received, with one goal being that the adults educated through it can then eventually mentor younger people wanting to hunt.

Registration and more information is currently available, including hunt dates, locations and complete instructions on how to apply, at www.outdooralabama.com/adult-mentored-hunting-program.

On a local basis, Poolos was also excited about the master plan for Walker County Lake, which includes a new archery park, birding activities, a fishing pier and a trail around the lake.

“We’re excited about the future of the lake,” he said. “It’s right here in our backyard. It’s a great asset that we kind of forget about. I would highly recommend getting out there. That is a great public venue right off the interstate.

“Much work has been planned and currently is being done through partnerships with the Walker County Commission, the mayor and council from the City of Jasper, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” he said.