Father and daughter at Gulf State Park Interpretive Center

Experience Sustainability at The Gulf State Park Interpretive Center

On your next visit (or your first visit) to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, make sure to stop by the Gulf State Park Interpretive Center to learn about the pristine beaches, the ocean waters, the diverse ecosystems, and all the animals that call it home.

This will make your experience and visit that much more rewarding and perhaps inspire you to make a positive environmental impact at home!

On the coast of Alabama, you’ll find 32 pristine miles of beaches. And, behind those 32 miles, you’ll find Gulf State Park. The park comprises more than 6,000 acres of natural beauty and not just the beach. The park is extremely diverse with nine ecosystems and a large variety of wildlife – both on land and marine life. 

Always at a risk for storms, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach was still left stunned by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 which broke many hurricane records and, not surprisingly, decimated Gulf State Park. With no choice but to start completely over, it was decided that if everything had to be rebuilt, it was going to be done in the most sustainable way possible. It’s no surprise the reopened Gulf State Park Lodge is so popular, but what else is new?

In 2013, Gulf State Park put their Enhancement Project in motion with a goal to be an international benchmark of environmental and economic sustainability through six specific goals: restoring the environment, improving mobility, learning everywhere, visitor experience, accessibility for all, and for all ages.

The Interpretive Center is the educational gateway to the park and it’s definitely making waves. 

Just down the road from The Lodge, (the Gulf State Park’s hotel and conference center) the Interpretive Center is a humble wooden building built to connect you with nature by bringing a trail network and interpretive exhibits together, making the Center the perfect starting place for your visit.

By adhering to the Living Building Challenge upon the construction of the Interpretive Center, the building practically becomes an extension of nature as opposed to imposing on the natural environment as most buildings do. It’s no surprise then the Interpretive Center is the only building in the world with the following combination of certifications:

  • Living Building Certified (1 of only 16 in the world)
  • The FIRST Fortified Commercial Building in the entire world
  • LEED Platinum Certified (certification in progress)

The Interpretive Center was constructed in a way that utilizes nature through coastal breezes, rainwater, solar rays and shade. Interpretive exhibits focus on the sustainable features of the building and the surrounding natural habitats. 

Upon arriving at the Interpretive Center, you’ll notice a large kiosk on the exterior of the building showing exactly how the Center uses electricity and water in real-time. The in-place smart systems measure everything knowing precisely how much water and sunlight have been collected and how they are being used.

The sustainability of the building is achieved through the six enhancement project goals:

Children playing at the Interpretive Center at Gulf State Park

Restoring the Environment

The building collects, stores, and treats 105 percent of the water needed by guests and the surrounding landscapes via roof runoffs and transported with decorative rain chains into an 11,000 bright-blue gallon tank. 

The building is completely self-sufficient and generates 105 percent of its needed power via solar panels, meaning it creates more energy than it uses. 

The Center was made from materials that do not harm the environment and people, was constructed by recycling as much as possible, wasting as little as possible, and sourced regionally. 

The Center was placed 225 feet back to stay out of the primary dune area and constructed on an elevated deck to protect it from storm surges and allow sand to migrate naturally. 

Improving Mobility & Accessibility for All

The pedestrian bridge at the Interpretive Center connects the entire park making the trails and ecosystems accessible to everyone. Sitting adjacent to the park’s beach pavilion, the Center is easily accessible from the beach, the public parking lot and via the 28-mile trail system.

Gulf State Park Interpretive Center

Learning Everywhere, Visitor Experience & For All Ages

  • Outdoor amphitheater seating can be used for classes, lectures, performances and movies. 
  • Being inside an active dune system, you can play in the sand area while educating yourself on the importance of dunes.
  • Sky viewing benches along for stargazing. 
  • A water play station is tied to the building’s water supply. 
  • Interpretive signage explaining significant aspects of the dune’s natural processes and restoration efforts.
  • Interpretive exhibits foster curiosity and interest in the environment.

This may not have been the place you expected to see so many amazing environmental advancements and benchmarks, but there’s a reason why the Alabama Gulf Coast attracts visitors year after year – the beautiful and diverse environment. 

As we learn more about the effects we have on the environment, it is uplifting to see such a positive change and an excellent example of how humans and nature can coexist.

It’s also worth noting that several other facilities in Gulf State Park are seeking LEED, SITES and FORTIFIED Commercial certifications. The Lodge at Gulf State Park is seeking LEED Gold certification and is the first hospitality project in the world to seek SITES Platinum certification.

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