Several of Alabama’s 22 state parks depend upon the generosity of volunteers to help keep the parks running smoothly. From routine maintenance to park improvements, various volunteer groups are a tremendous help to Alabama’s state parks system. Many recent improvements within the parks system would not have been possible without the support of state park volunteers.
One south Alabama park in particular has a unique relationship with a local volunteer group. The Lake Frank Jackson Trail Masters have embraced Frank Jackson State Park in Opp, Ala., as an outlet for their community service. Among many other projects, the group has helped create the park’s walking trails, constructed a gazebo and installed electric service in the primitive camping area.
While community service is the group’s main focus, their signature event, Scarecrows in the Park, brings in more visitors to Frank Jackson State Park than many of the park’s other events combined. Each October since 2008, more than 300 scarecrows line the park’s three miles of walking trails. The event attracts thousands of visitors each year.
“When visitors travel to parks like Frank Jackson they spend money in the local communities, which creates tax revenue for local businesses and municipalities,” said Chris Jones, Frank Jackson State Park Manager. “Often it’s the improvements made by volunteer groups like the Trail Masters that attract new visitors to the park.”
Annual revenue generated at Frank Jackson State Park has increased more than 30 percent since the Trail Masters partnership began. The Scarecrows in the Park event is responsible for almost one-third of that increase.
Since organizing in 2003 with 12 members, the Trail Masters currently average about 75 members annually. Comprised mostly of retirees from Opp, Ala., and the surrounding areas, the Trail Masters are each required to complete several hours of community service with much of that taking place inside the park.
In addition to the Trail Masters, mountain biking groups like Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers (BUMP), Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP), West Alabama Mountain Biking Association, and South Alabama Mountain Bike Association have improved and expanded several state park hiking and biking trails. These volunteers are quickly transforming the state into a hiking and mountain biking destination.
The recent budget crisis has put a spotlight on how Alabama State Parks is funded. The efforts of volunteers, which make up approximately 25 percent of the parks system’s workforce, are even more valuable considering how state parks are funded. About 90 percent of the annual funding to operate state parks in Alabama comes from user fees such as lodging, gate entries, camping and meeting space rentals. State park volunteers accomplish many projects that are otherwise impossible due to budget constraints.
“Our mountain biking partners and the Trail Masters are perfect examples of how successful and mutually beneficial these types of relationships can be,” said Greg Lein, State Parks Director. “These groups’ partnering efforts are blueprints that can be adapted to any of our 22 parks.”
There are several ways to partner with Alabama State Parks as a volunteer. Campground host, campground activities director, landscaping, and trail development are just a few of the volunteer opportunities available through the Volunteer In Parks (VIP) program.
“We encourage everyone to take a look at what groups like the Trail Masters, BUMP, CAMP and other volunteer organizations are doing in their communities and then consider partnering with their local park,” Lein said. “Individuals and groups can take part in the VIP program or contact the park managers directly to ask how they can help.”
To learn more about the VIP program, visit www.alapark.com/volunteer. To learn more about how the Trail Masters organized and began volunteering at Frank Jackson State Park, watch this video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLMitqwHY5U). For park manager contact information, visit www.alapark.com/alabama-state-parks-contacts.
The Alabama State Parks Division operates and maintains 22 state parks encompassing approximately 48,000 acres of land and water. These parks rely on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit www.alapark.com.