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Dozens gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Information icon Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge staff members Jereme Phillips and Brittany Petersen mark the reopening of the Jeff Friend Trail with help from the Blue Goose, the mascot of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Photo by Nanciann Regalado, USFWS.

Bon Secour trail reopening underscores priority of access to public lands

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores is not only one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land on the Alabama coast, it’s also one of the few places where you can go from the primary dunes along the Gulf of Mexico to a maritime forest and uplands. “It’s like a snapshot of what the Gulf coast was like hundreds and thousands of years ago,” says Jereme Phillips, the refuge manager.

Unfortunately, significant amounts of oil reached the sandy beaches of Bon Secour NWR after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and releasing about 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. Both the oil spill and the response to it required public access to the refuge’s beach and shoreline to be restricted. According to Phillips, this led to both “a loss of recreational opportunities and a decrease in the quality of visitors’ experiences.”

Bird watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts joined refuge staff in February to celebrate the reopening of the refuge’s Jeff Friend Trail after it had been closed for rehabilitation for four months. The trail, a popular one-mile loop that traverses a number of different habitats, was restored and enhanced to address some of the lost recreational use at the refuge caused by the oil spill.

A boardwalk enters a forest canopy.
One section of the newly restored Jeff Friend Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo by Nanciann Regalado, USFWS.

The Department of the Interior was able to apply $890,000 to the trail’s restoration and enhancement by combining money from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Deferred Maintenance Fund with funds provided by BP (the party primarily responsible for the disaster) before the full natural resource damage assessment was completed. The Jeff Friend Trail now boasts new, longer-lasting composite material boardwalks, several new viewing platforms, and easier-to-navigate trail materials.

Assistant refuge manager Brittany Petersen described the trail l as “a representation of the entirety of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge” that includes everything from freshwater lagoons to upland habitat and a maritime forest with old oak trees hung with Spanish moss. The trail “allows everyone to experience each of those habitats – it’s magical,” she said.

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