Little River to remain open

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Those hoping for an answer that would keep Little River State Forrest open to the public got the news this week that those prayers had been answered — literally.

Iron Men Outdoor Ministries, a faith-based organization, has entered into a two-year agreement with the Alabama Forestry Commission to operate the recreational area at Little River State Forrest, which is situated on the Escambia and Monroe County line on U.S. 21 North.

Gary Cole, regional forester with AFC, said the agreement is one he is happy to be involved with.

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“This is a good group of people with their hearts in the right place,” Cole said Tuesday. “This agreement accomplishes my top goal to be able to keep the park open to the public.”

Cole said the negotiations with the group began in earnest about a month ago with final hurdles being crossed just last week.

“This is really good news for everyone,” Cole said. “We have been talking seriously with this group for about a month to get this agreement in place. They knew where they wanted to go and we knew what we needed. It was just a matter of getting everyone’s attorneys to say the agreement was a good one for everyone.”

Cole said the agreement will go into effect on Oct. 1 giving operational leverage to the Iron Men Outdoor Ministries volunteers. However, the AFC will keep personnel handy for up to six weeks and beyond to help those volunteers get off on the right foot, Cole said.

“This agreement goes into effect Oct. 1,” Cole said. “But, we know how it is to be put in the position of running a public park when you don’t know anything about it. We will have Forestry personnel on hand to help the group with this transition. We will be there to help them learn where everything is and how things have been operated. We are about to go into a slow season and that may be a good thing and a bad thing all in one. The bad thing is that there will be very little revenue coming into the park during the winter months, which will make it difficult to budget. It will also be a good thing because things will be slow and that will give the volunteers an opportunity to learn more about the park and how best to operate it.”

Cole said AFC officials have agreed to stand behind their commitment to construct two new bathhouses at the Park.

“We received grant funds to get those two bath houses built and we will do that for this group,” Cole said. “We are committed to helping them see that this is a good agreement and will be good for them and the public.”

IMOM officials believe the two-year agreement will be sufficient time to see if the change of operators for the Park will work.

“It’s kind of like a dating period for everyone,” Cole said. “In two years, they will be able to see what running the Park is all about and whether or not they can make it work. It will also be enough time for AFC to see that we have put the Park in good hands.”

Rick Murphy, executive director for the ministry organization, said the group is excited about the opportunity.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to carry out our mission of service to the public,” Murphy said in a press release. “We know how important the Little River recreational area is to the people in southwest Alabama and throughout the state. We are extremely proud to enter this partnership with the Forestry Commission and we look forward not just to maintaining the facility, but also to implementing improvements that will make the area even more attractive to the public.”

According to the agreement, the Forestry Commission will maintain overall managerial control of the recreational area. IMOM will conduct day-to-day operations including maintenance of the grounds and buildings, rental of pavilions and campsites and other duties, which had been performed by state employees.

State Forester Linda Casey said that aspect is one that will greatly benefit those who utilize the park and its facilities.

“That’s one of the aspects of this agreement that makes it so beneficial to the public,” Casey said. “This agreement ensures that we will keep the Little River recreational area open to the public and at the same time allows the employees who had been staffing the area to concentrate on the Commission’s primary mission.”

Cole said IMOM staffers are all volunteers and would appreciate any additional volunteers to help with operations at the Park.

“All of the people who will be working operations of the park are volunteers,” Cole said. “Everyone works without pay. I know that they would really appreciate volunteers to come up and help them with operations of the Park and to help with improvements at the Park.”

Cole said more improvements have already been discussed with stabilizing four permanent rental units and three camp trailers that have already become a part of the Park’s assets.

“In the coming months, this group will put in the four permanent rental units and set up the three camp trailer units that have been given to the Park,” Cole said. “These units will certainly help to enhance the functions at the Park.”

Cole said the announcement of the agreement is one he had hoped to see happen before the Oct. 1, 2010 deadline in place for closing the recreational portion of Little River State Forrest.

“This is what I wanted to see happen,” Cole said. “I had hoped we could get a non-profit group in to operate the Park. They don’t have an agenda to put money in their pockets. They want to see the park open and used by the public for a variety of functions. This is a sound, well-founded group that stepped forward to run the place when no one else would. This is a good day.”

To learn more about Little River State Forrest, visit the and search Little River. To find out more about Iron Men Outdoor Ministries, visit their Web site at