A Long Local History
Alabama may have celebrated its 200th birthday in 2019, but people have been calling the rolling tides of the Gulf Coast home for a whole lot longer.
Gulf State Park opened in 1939, but it took a little longer before the neighbors made it official. The two cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach that bookend the park are much younger. The City of Gulf Shores incorporated as the Town of Gulf Shores in 1956, while the City of Orange Beach incorporated as recently as 1984. But don’t let this apparent youth fool you, these communities have existed for many generations.
Baldwin County where the two communities and the park are located is older still. It’s the largest county in Alabama and was created by the Mississippi Territorial Legislature in December 1809, ten years before Alabama became a state.
Click through a brief history of Gulf State Park via the interactive timeline below.
The Paleo-Indians, who lived here as far back as 13,500 years ago come to the region to hunt the American mastodon.
Native people begin to make pottery and shell mounds.
Mississippian people begin to build sand mounds and canals.
Woodland Period tribes hunt and gather along the Gulf and the surrounding forests and lakes. They built villages, shell mounds, and long-distance trade routes with other tribes.
Hernando de Soto and his conquistadors land along the Gulf Coast. The Spanish explorers followed native paths–like Gulf Oak Ridge–through the Gulf Coast's forests.
Harvesting pine sap in the 1800s for waterproofing ships and making turpentine devastated the longleaf pine savanna. Today, Longleaf Pine restoration is a priority in the park.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) begins constructing the Park’s original buildings and trails. Remnants of the old CCC work camp are still visible near the Learning Campus.
Gulf State Park officially opens on May 20th 1939.
People come from far and wide to Gulf State Park when bus service starts making regular trips from Mobile to Gulf Shores in the late 1940s. By the 1950s, the region has become a popular recreation area.
The first saltwater pier is built. One of the most popular assets of the park, it was destroyed by Hurricane Frederic in 1979, rebuilt and destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and rebuilt again in 2009.
The original Lodge opened in 1974 and quickly became an iconic centerpiece of the community.
When Hurricane Ivan makes landfall on September 16, 2004 it devastates the Park. This Category 3 storm broke the pier into three sections, destroyed the old lodge and adjacent buildings and flooded the majority of the park with saltwater.
The Nature Center opens. This living museum introduces visitors to the region’s native plants and animals. Park naturalists offer a variety of weekly educational programs.
Through the Gulf State Park Enhancement project, trails throughout the Park are improved, expanded, and enhanced. Today there are more than 28 miles of trails to explore during your stay.
The Lodge, Learning Campus and Interpretive Center open. The innovative sustainable construction methods alongside environmental restoration help Gulf State Park become an international benchmark for sustainable tourism.
Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park becomes a National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World destination.
The Gulf of Mexico’s Long Memory
The Paleo-Indians, who lived here as far back as 13,500 years hunting the American mastodon eventually gave way to complex and connected communities of native peoples all along the Gulf Coast.
Thriving and Complex Communities
More than 600 years ago, the Mississippian Indians that lived along the coast also dug the first canals connecting Mobile Bay to the Gulf of Mexico by joining Oyster Bay to Little Lagoon. These canals made it possible to travel from Mobile to Pensacola to borrow, sell, and trade stuff with their neighbors. Connecting the park’s lakes to the back bays kept the native travelers safe from the dangers of open water. You can see the remains of these canals along several trails in the park. Archeological digs are currently underway in Gulf Shores to uncover areas of these canals.
Large burial and shell mounds are not uncommon in coastal Alabama and you can book a guided trip to explore the Bottle Creek mound site deep in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
Native Americans, including the tribes of the Creeks, Alibamas, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminoles, enjoyed the bountiful oysters, seafood and fish of the area.