BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) – Alabama’s Gulf State Park…It’s one of the crown jewels of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Sally lashed the landmark with ferocious winds and storm surge.  Nearly three years later, recovery continues.

It was September 16th, 2020, when Hurricane Sally clobbered Gulf State Park. It seems like only yesterday folks were working hard to repair the damage.  In fact, it was yesterday.  Today, too.

“We had 16 cabins here and they were really destroyed by Hurricane Sally and we’re rebuilding all of these. And have you seen the damage to the Gulf State Park pier and several of our boat ramps.” says Alabama Conservation Department Commissioner Chris Blankenship.

Cabins that survived hurricanes like Elena and Ivan couldn’t stand up to Sally’s relentless wind, flooding rain, and waves.  Sally was a category 2 hurricane when it made landfall in Gulf Shores.  Sustained winds were 105 mph with gusts over 120.  But forward speed was less than 5 mph.  Structures that might have survived those winds for an hour or two couldn’t take being pounded for 7 or 8 hours. 

Blankenship says that’s a lesson learned. “Everything we’re building now we’re doing to a different standard.  We’ve seen what the hurricanes can do here, so when we’re rebuilding the boat docks we’re using flow-through decking instead of wood.  On these cabins, they’re being built to a higher wind standard to make sure that they’re here.  And the lodge at Gulf State Park, when it was constructed, was built to a fortified commercial standard, and it fared well during Sally.”

The lodge was built about 2 years before Sally.  Despite a nearly direct hit, it suffered little damage.  Everything about the lodge construction, from the window shade structures to the parking lot drainage, was built with sustainability in mind.

Rebecca Dunn Bryant with Watershed, a sustainable architecture and consulting firm, was one of the sustainability consultants on the lodge project.  She says, “Just as important as the structural resilience would be the ecological resilience.”

Bryant says nature played a large part in protecting the lodge.  Specifically, sand dunes were intensely studied and carefully nourished.  “When the lodge was being planned, we wanted to protect the dunes’ ability to grow and form over time, to form a robust dune system, and then the lodge was placed behind that, so it would have optimal protection from that green infrastructure.”

Right next door, the pier was hit hard, and two and a half years later, work here hasn’t really begun.

The park is still waiting on approval from FEMA to start construction here. Once that approval is given, work could begin as soon as November. 

Chris Blankenship says, “By spending a little bit of money and building it to a stronger standard up-front, you have less recovery cost. and that’s our hope it’ll be very resilient now moving forward by the way that we’re doing construction.”