When you enter Oak Mountain State Park, the entrance road is called John Findlay, III Drive. Have you ever wondered, who was John Findlay, III? A park ranger? An Alabama state legislator or local politician in the area? A former landowner? None of the above.
Findlay was a legendary member of the Birmingham Audubon Society (now Alabama Audubon) who, as a volunteer at Oak Mountain State Park, built, installed and maintained 200 bluebird boxes around the park. By 2008, 15,525 bluebirds had fledged John’s bluebird boxes, calling Alabama’s largest state park home.
To this day, many years after John’s passing, bluebirds use the boxes he built. Local volunteers still lovingly monitor the trail of bluebird nesting boxes he created.
So, if anyone asks you why the main road in Oak Mountain State Park is named after John Findlay, III – it is because of the generations of bluebirds he brought to the park.
In this, our third and final installment about Alabama State Parks, we will examine ways you can make a difference, much like John, and become an Alabama State Park champion.
Meet Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein
Recently, we interviewed Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein about the many ways Alabamians can support our park system.
A native of Huntsville and field biologist, Lein served as the ‘point person’ for the hugely successful Forever Wild land acquisition program for more than 15 years. A passionate naturalist and conservationist, in 2012 he was named director of the Alabama State Park system.
We asked Lein how folks can support and get involved with Alabama State Parks.
He made us the following list.
Volunteer for the Park
The Alabama State Park system is always looking for “the next John Findlay.”
“If you live near a park and want to get involved in helping that park, you can help as a volunteer,” Lein told us.
He then gave a quick tutorial on how to get involved.
Connect with Park Manager
“First, contact the park manager to inquire about park activities,” Lein advised. “Some parks, like Oak Mountain State Park, have naturalists.”
They typically have a list of projects they are trying to achieve. It may be refurbishing a nature trail, adding signage on a trail to better understand the plants and animals or habitat restoration.”
Another great volunteer resource, according to Lein are the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Both organizations have service badges and capstone awards, such as the Gold Award for the Girl Scouts and Eagle Scout Award for the Boy Scouts. Each requires completing big substantial projects. If you don’t have a child in scouting, you can still reach out to these organizations and offer to help.
Meanwhile, if you have a particular interest, let’s say you love mountain biking, join a local group that is not only using the park, but helping maintain and improve it. Locally, one of the best examples at Oak Mountain State Park is the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers or BUMP (Best nickname ever…).
Moreover, there are trail maintenance organizations and local wildlife groups like the Alabama Audubon or the Alabama Wildlife Center. You can also support the State Park System of trails by purchasing a Dirt Pass, a membership program that helps pay for trail maintenance.
Visit a Park, Bring Friends and Tell All
Alabama has 21 distinctly different State Parks. From the Civil Conservation Corps cabins at Monte Sano State Park to the sand dunes and beaches of Gulf State Park, each park has its own special personality.
“Some of the greatest magic that happens, and we’ve seen it recently during the pandemic, is when people visit the park system the first time,” described Lein. “I often say we welcome you to the park and bring ten of your friends. That’s really when the park system prospers when people are out there using it. It may be through a friend or a discovery by someone who went to the park for the first time. They have a great experience – and we know we’ve got them for life, and they keep coming back.”
Alabama State Parks strongly encourage visitors to use social media to amplify their story. Whether it’s posting photos of bald eagles during an Eagle Awareness weekend at Lake Guntersville or the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier found at Rickwood Caverns – Alabama State Parks needs ‘influencers.’
“The more we can share that love of the parks – the more the parks will grow and they will be supported, added Lein.
Support the Parks Financially via Alabama State Park Foundation and the Car Tag
As we reported in our 2nd story, Alabama State Parks are funded up to 90% by entrance fees and revenue generated from day-use recreational activities and overnight stays at the lodges, cabins and campgrounds.
To meet the system’s ever growing needs, the Alabama State Park Foundation was established in 2018.
Lein calls the foundation a new frontier for the State Park system.
Through the Foundation, state park advocates can fundraise for specific projects. Corporations can make charitable contributions. Supporters also now have a way to do estate planning if they wish to ‘leave a legacy.’
In an era of ever-tightening budgets, Alabama automobile and boat owners can also support the Alabama State Park System by purchasing a specialized tag. All monies generated from the car/boat tag sales go directly toward the park system.
“They are supporting the system twice. One is financially and the other—the fact that they are driving around with the car tag on the back of their car they are marketing the park system. Especially if they are a good driver,” chuckled Lein.
A Great Privilege
At the conclusion of our interview, Lein expressed what an honor and a privilege it is to serve as director of Alabama’s nine-decade-old State Park system. It is about places, but perhaps more importantly the people—the staff, volunteers and visitors.
“The special things about being involved with the park system are the people and the staff that manage the parks. They are the most special employees that I’ve ever had the privilege to ever work with. They are the most dedicated and giving people you will ever meet. It is like people who go into nursing, education or the ministry—they have a calling to work in the park system. They are giving people.
On the other side of that coin are the people we serve, the people who go out into our parks—they want to be there. They are there for recreational reasons, respite and renewing their spiritual deficits. We really enjoy serving. It is a great privilege—a rich and rewarding experience.”