By KATHRYN ACREE
As we welcome the beautiful colors of fall and the cooler temperatures, there is no better place in our area to enjoy being outdoors than Oak Mountain State Park. Did you know that until the 1940’s, plans were in the works for it to be national park?
The park was originally established in 1927 with 940 acres in the current Peavine Falls area on Double Oak Mountain. The National Park Service became interested in developing the park further, and according to park records, called it
“The Oak Mountain Recreation and Demonstration Area.” The development meant the park service would buy 8,000 additional acres and construct roads, trails, recreational facilities, cabins and pavilions through two Depression area programs, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
In the fall of 1935, local newspapers reported that the federal government wanted to purchase the additional acreage quickly and cheaply. Once the project was underway, infastructure work by the CCC began and lasted until 1937 when these men were moved to work on Yosemite National Park. Nearly 1,000 WPA men would stay on at Oak Mountain until the start of World War II.
The war years of 1941-1945 drained the manpower and resources originally intended to complete the national park. In April of 1943, the park service deeded back to Alabama the purchased land, making the park the nearly 10,000 acres it is today.
The area hosted scout camps in the 1940s such as Camp Tahali, whose remains are now in inaccessible areas of the park. Funds to continue development of a state park were passed by the Alabama legislature in 1967, and construction on what we know today as Oak Mountain State Park began in 1971.
An article from the Shelby County Reporter in July 1973 shared that although the park was still not open to the public, it would be “the most imaginative recreational complex planned in the state…the most ambitious and will probably serve the greatest number of people.” The construction had endured months of unexpected rainy weather that had also delayed the opening of Birmingham’s new airport terminal.
On April 18, 1974, the Shelby County Reporter’s cover read “Oak Mountain Park to Attract Millions,” touting the much-anticipated opening of the park that week. At the time, the park lured visitors with its two restaurants, demonstration farm, golf course, beach and a lodge where guests could play billiards or football. Furnished cabins could be rented for $24 a night “in a lovely wooded area on a lake.” When the area opened, there was no charge to drive through the park, but venues such as the picnic area charged 25 cents per person.
Although some original features of the park have closed, such as The Foothills Restaurant formerly located in what is now the Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, other attractions have been established. The Oak Mountain Interpretive Center is a new interactive learning facility and this summer the park opened a new 200-foot fishing pier. An additional expansion of the mountain bike trail system is scheduled to open soon and the park hosted its first Fall Festival in October.
Oak Mountain State Park remains the largest state park in Alabama, and with its ideal location south of Birmingham just off I-65.
Writer’s note: Many thanks to Oak Mountain State Park and the Shelby County Historical Society for their assistance in this article.