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Hiking with Hailey: Gulf State Park

Last week we focused on the sandy shores of Gulf State Park, but did you know there’s more to the park than just the beach? Gulf State Park has three lakes and miles of hiking and biking trails for visitors to enjoy.
Published: Jul. 24, 2021 at 6:59 PM CDT
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GULF SHORES, Ala. (WSFA) - Last week, we introduced you to Gulf State Park, and talked all about the sharks during Shark Week but there’s so much more to this state park than just the gulf. On this week’s episode of Hiking with Hailey, we’re walking along the shoreline of Lake Shelby.

“Gulf State Park is so unique because obviously we’re situated here on the Northern side of the Gulf of Mexico, but you can go to the southern part of the park and then to the Northern side of the park and feel like you’re in two completely different areas,” said park naturalist Johanna Gertsch.

Lake Shelby is just one of three lakes at Gulf State Park.
Lake Shelby is just one of three lakes at Gulf State Park.(Source: WSFA 12 News)

In contrast to the sandy shores of the beach, Lake Shelby offers a more tranquil experience; and a big draw for visitors is biking, even offering a bike share program to visitors.

“The park is quite large. It’s about 6,150 acres, and we have about 28 miles worth of paved trails throughout the park,” said Gertsch. “For our bike share program, it’s free for the first three hours you take a bike out so that definitely helps people who are vacationing, or even if they’re local and don’t have access to a bike they can still come out and see a good portion of our trails.”

Gulf State Park offers a bike share program that encourages visitors to explore the miles of...
Gulf State Park offers a bike share program that encourages visitors to explore the miles of trails throughout the park.(Source: WSFA 12 News)

The lake itself is just one of three at Gulf State Park, and is a unique ecosystem made up of brackish water, or a mix of fresh and salt water, with many different types of critters calling it home.

“Within our brackish water lakes, we have saltwater species like red drum, speckled trout, and blue crab, but we also have freshwater species like bass and brim so it’s a really cool mixture of things you can catch here, and even though it is brackish water, you do need a freshwater fishing license to fish here,” said Gerstch. “That’s definitely one of things that makes it unique: the incredible amount of biodiversity we have at Gulf with our species composition as well as the many different ecosystems ranging from beach to the marshlands we have here, and then getting up into some old growth forest a little bit north of here.”

Whether you’re splashing along shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, or spending a quiet moment on the banks of Lake Shelby, Gulf State Park offers something for everyone, and Gertsch hopes people will take advantage of the park’s many features while preserving its natural resources.

A great blue heron feeding in Lake Shelby.
A great blue heron feeding in Lake Shelby.(Source: WSFA 12 News)

“It’s definitely important just to help people realize for locals what they have in their backyard and for people that are visiting. Just seeing the importance of these areas and maintain them and helping to preserve the biological diversity and all of the different species we have here,” she said. “Obviously, being here in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, we’ve got quite a lot of development. We have lots and lots of condos here, so obviously being able to have protected areas for animals is so important so that way not only can we protect them, but so that future generations can be able to learn about them and experience everything that we’re able to experience right now.”

Gulf State Park also has a Nature Center located on the campgrounds. Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can see a variety of animals native to the area such as alligators, frogs, turtles and some birds of prey.

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