Located east of Mobile Bay and only a few miles from the state border with Florida, Gulf State Park encompasses more than 6,000 acres of pristine coastal wilderness on Alabama’s southern shores. Amid pine forests and sawgrass meadows, the clear water of three spring-fed lakes mingles with the warm waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Eagle Cottages is situated on the shores of Lake Shelby, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Alabama, which washes up to the sugar-white sand dunes of the Gulf coast. The historic cities around Mobile Bay and the boardwalks of the Gulf Shore seem a world away, as the lodge occupies its own quiet piece of this protected coastal wonderland.
Renowned entomologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson wandered Alabama’s Gulf Shore as a child in search of snakes, ants, and tiny creatures of all kinds. Wilson is credited with introducing the term “biodiversity” to the mainstream, in part based on his experiences growing up in this wildlife-rich coastal region, which he has called “America’s Amazon.” Gulf State Park encompasses nine distinct ecosystems, from maritime dunes to salt marshes and evergreen forests, and supports some of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in all of Alabama. In the Gulf of Mexico, bottlenose dolphins surf the waves and sea turtles cruise in to nest during the summer months. Alligators and river otters swim in the tidal lagoons; armadillos, marsh rabbits, red foxes, and the endangered Alabama beach mouse scurry among the saltgrass; while bald eagles, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and hundreds of other avian species perch in groves of cypress and endemic longleaf pine—the state tree of Alabama.
The sheltered waters of Mobile Bay have drawn human inhabitants to this corner of Alabama since the first indigenous Americans settled the region thousands of years ago. Tribes such as the Creeks, Alibamas, Choctaw, and Seminoles fished and harvested oysters in the rich Gulf of Mexico and the freshwater lakes at its edge. In the early 1800s, European settlers constructed forts at the entrance to Mobile Bay, marking its strategic importance for decades to come, including during several skirmishes in the United States Civil War. Entrepreneurial arrivals sought to cultivate citrus groves amid the vast pine savannas, and harvested turpentine from the trees. Gulf State Park was formally established in the 1930s by federal land grants and private donations; the first trails and clapboard cottages were built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, funded by President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
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