‘Oak Mountain is open:’ Park implements changes amid COVID-19

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

PELHAM – Oak Mountain State Park’s nearly 10,000 acres afford visitors ample space to spread out, whether they are hiking along the trails, playing a round of golf or picnicking in one of the grassy areas. In the days of COVID-19, space is one of the park’s biggest advantages.

The park remains open to the public daily, but certain amenities are temporarily unavailable in keeping with health code restrictions put in place by the state of Alabama, Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re committed to keeping the park open, but we do have some restrictions, and we have some operational changes,” OMSP Superintendent Kelly Ezell said. “We’re trying our best to keep our staff and guests as safe as possible.”

Park visitors must abide by the social distancing rule of maintaining at least 6 feet of space between each other.

In addition, groups of 10 or more people may not gather in any area of the park, including park overlooks, trails, pavilions, group lodge and rental spaces.

All park-sponsored and outside events with expected attendance of 10 or more people have been canceled until further notice.

“We’re being diligent to watch for those things and to remind people what the requirements are,” Ezell said.

Trail heads, lakes, the golf course, camping and cabins are still open, along with most public restrooms inside the park.

Temporary closures include: Oak Mountain Interpretive Center, FlipSide Watersports, Alabama Wildlife Center, playgrounds, beaches, the marina, group campsites and group facilities.

The Campground Store will serve guests through the service window. The store’s interior area will be open only to authorized staff.

The Demonstration Farm is allowing the public to view the animals from outside the fenced area while maintaining social distancing.

“We want people to come out and enjoy the park and get some fresh air,” Ezell said. “We’re trying to keep this a safe haven.”

Physical visits are not the only way to enjoy aspects of OMSP and its sister state parks across Alabama, though.

Naturalists at several of the parks have been creating virtual programming, including video animal encounters and nature lessons.

“We actually did a survey and asked for what people would like to see, and we took that survey and created programming based on what people asked for,” Ezell said. “We felt like it was an opportunity to connect with our guests in a (different) way. Right now, it seems like the thing to do is to bring nature to them if they can’t come to nature.”

The videos and other programming can be found on the Oak Mountain State Park Facebook page.

Park updates and timely information are also shared regularly on the park’s Facebook page.

Ezell said she hopes the park gives people a place to hike and bike and do other normal activities—and to see other people, from a safe distance, doing the same things—and to feel a sense of normalcy amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“You see that happening, and you feel like there’s still a normal place for you to be,” Ezell said. “It’s great that Oak Mountain is open. I think it’s been good for people.”