Design work begins for Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability

By John Mullen
Gulf Shores accepted just more than $1 million to begin phase one of building the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability on city land adjacent to Gulf State Park. The money will go toward the planning, program management, engineering and design of the new center in what is a $9.7 million Restore Act-funded project.
“The City is committed to creating and implementing programs to promote sustainable tourism, raise environmental awareness, and encourage the stewardship of natural resources in order to increase community resilience, strengthen the regional economy, and enhance the quality of life for its residents and visitors,” Environmental and Grants Coordinator Dan Bound told the council during its June 10 regular session.
“The regional economy, and enhance the quality of life for its residents and visitors. The facility that will support ecotourism and environmental education in the Gulf Coast region as part of the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council’s Multi-year Implementation Plan.”
Bond said the center will partner with and run programs with local schools, Gulf State Park and use the park’s many environmental assets in those programs.
“The facility utilize access to the State Park Learning Campus facility located adjacent to Gulf Shores Middle School, as well as sites throughout the State Park, including the Interpretive Center, the Nature Center, Lake Shelby, the beach, and the Hugh Branyon Backcountry trail system,” Bond’s report said. with Gulf Shores City Schools, Gulf State Park, Valor Hospitality, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, research universities, environmental education groups, industry partners, and local business groups.”
The classes and programs offered, Bond said, will focus on teaching students as well as adults environmental stewardship.
“The project will also develop and facilitate a range of programs for students of Gulf Shores City Schools and other school districts within the region, as well as summer and weekend programs that benefit the local economy and encourage responsible tourism,” Bond said. “The Center will provide resources for the development and enhancement of regional ecotourism and sustainability initiatives, and Coordinate efforts with other environmental education and tourism related entities in the region to promote sustainable tourism and raise environmental awareness.”
One the first of those projects will partner with the internationally renowned Cousteau Foundation to implement and run an Ambassadors to the Environment learning program.
“One of the core programs that will be implemented is the Jean Michel Cousteau’s Oceans Future Society’s Ambassadors of the Environment, an experienced-based education program that dedicated to engaging people of all ages with their natural and cultural environment,” Bond said. “Travis Langen, executive director of the new center, who has been out and about in the community getting all this started.”
Also, at the meeting were Dr. Richard Murphy and Estelle Davies, two Cousteau Society employees in town to work in the curriculum for the center. Murphy has been working with the Cousteaus since 1968 and said the ambassador program grew out of the many television explorations on the show, Exhibition.
“What we’re happy to do here is exploring the environment exactly as we used to on Expedition,” Murphy told the council. “Learning from the experts, learning from the people who are involved in management of tourism and things like that and figuring out what are the most exciting resources that we can capitalize on to build experiences for particularly kids. But not only kids in the Ambassadors of the Environment program.”
The city is approved for a total of $41.8 million in Restore funding and this is the first one received by the city. Others include $4.4 million to extend the Fort Morgan Trail all the way to the fort, $5.9 million for the Little Lagoon Restoration project and $21.7 million for traffic capacity improvements including Canal Road.

During the regular session, the council also:

• The city hired Southern Engineering Services to prepare bid documents for resurfacing of three streets this fall for $58,500. The streets are Wedgewood Drive and to add bike lanes, West Sixth Avenue and Royal Oaks Circle. The design costs are about seven percent of the total construction which is estimated to be about $835,000.

• Amended a resolution for the city staff to pursue a Recreational Trails Program grant to request $342,699 to improve the Fort Morgan from Callaway Drive to Peninsula Boulevard. Gulf Shores’ bid for the grant was recommended by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs It is a reduced Federal match amount from the City’s originally requested $400,000.

• Approved the annexation into the city of Jasmine Trail Apartments on 13.9 acres on Oak Road East or County Road 6. There are 72 units in the complex and they are requested to come in under R-3 zoning which would match the current land use.
• Approved liquor a license for Family Dollar Store in the former Winn Dixie Shopping Center