Prevailing In Spite Of Nature

Located in the city of Gulf Shores on the coast of Alabama, Gulf State Park consists of 6,150 acres of pristine parkland. Nowhere else in the United States can one find fresh water (Lake Shelby) so near the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. These unusual conditions help create one of the country’s most unique state parks. The park is a natural gem featuring two miles of sugarwhite beaches, maritime forests and a habitat where animal and bird species flourish.

This area, however, is not always so peaceful. Throughout the past 25 years, Mother Nature has certainly made her presence known. In September 1979, Hurricane Frederick pounded the coast of Alabama and destroyed miles of beachfront property as well as 10 of the 28 cabins located in Gulf State Park. It took more than two decades, but in 2002, the state finally decided to rebuild and refurbish the areas affected by Frederick. The architecture, planning and interior design firm of Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates (TVS) was contracted to design a master plan for a portion of the park, which included a new hotel and conference center, in addition to the refurbishment or reconstruction of the cabins and pavilion affected by the hurricane.

A Stormy Beginning

Design of the new structures was completed in the summer of 2004. Bids for the project were accepted, but two weeks later–in September–Hurricane Ivan devastated the Gulf Coast. In addition to the 10 cabins destroyed by Frederick, another cabin was leveled by Ivan. State officials had to reconsider previous plans for the park while evaluating the massive rebuilding efforts needed throughout the Gulf Coast area of Alabama. Therefore, plans were scaled back, but everyone was determined to move the project forward to revitalize the park. The decision was made to reconstruct the 11 cabins and build a new beach pavilion along the Gulf of Mexico. Respectfully, the contractors already hired for the project were willing to stand by their bids and resolved to stay on schedule.

Aside from the cabin destruction, Hurricane Ivan also destroyed much of the dunes and vegetation in the park, including the site originally planned for the pavilion. Ivan had carved a trench from an inland lake to the Gulf that cut through the design team’s proposed site. Subsequent investigation revealed a similar trench after Hurricane Frederick hit several decades earlier. It was agreed that Nature wanted the path to remain clear, so the pavilion site was moved several hundred feet to the west. Due to the extensive damage to the beach, a substantial amount of sand had to be moved back onto the site before piles could be driven and the floor slab could be poured. Throughout the process, millions of gallons of sand were dredged from the Gulf and placed upon the battered dunes.

Back To The Drawing Boards

Work on the cabins and pavilion began in 2005, but Nature continued to plague the Gulf Coast. Four major storms, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, impacted the site of the cabins and pavilion, and caused damage to the facilities. Hurricane Katrina left three feet of water at the cabin sites, and contractors suffered heavy material losses. In addition, Katrina also destroyed thousands of trees in the park that had been weakened by Hurricane Ivan. Meanwhile, Hurricane Rita dumped loads of sand into the beach pavilion. Regardless of the setbacks, the remarkable team of designers and contractors worked together to ensure a successful project for the Alabama State Parks and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

The Finish Line

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