A storied history, rich culture, and fertile soil aren’t the only characteristics of Alabama’s black belt worth celebrating. Black Belt is also an important economic driver in our state’s outdoor recreation industry.
In fact, outdoor recreation in the Black Belt accounts for one-third of those economic benefits for the entire state.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey visited one of Black Belt’s famous hunting lodges to highlight what the area means to the state. Governor Ivey joined Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Cade Warner of Westervelt Company and Don Wood, owner of Wilkes Creek Plantation in West Greene, Alabama.
Governor Ivey and Commissioner Blankenship also toured a wood products operation in Pickens County earlier in the morning before lunch at Wilkes Creek Plantation. There, Governor Ivey spoke about the importance of the timber industry and inland waterways in the Black Belt, as well as the economic impact of hunting and fishing.
“Another huge economic driver in this region that we just can’t live without is hunting and fishing,” Governor Ivey said. “Here in Alabama, hunting and fishing has a $3 billion economic impact, that is, with a B, and supports over 25,000 jobs. In Black Belt alone, it produces more than $1.4 billion in economic impact and injects $28 million into the state education budget. It’s big.
“We talked about turkeys a while ago, and I’m not talking about the figurative turkeys you might find in Washington, DC, I mean our feathered friends here in Alabama. Last Sunday we were talking about our spring season here in Alabama. Some hunters succeeded and some cunning turkeys outwitted others. But one thing is for sure, hunters have brought a lot of income to communities like here in Greene County. Alabama is a great place to hunt and fish, there’s no doubt about it. And Commissioner Blankenship and his team at Conservation and Natural Resources are playing a major role in that. As your Governor, I will continue to support the great outdoors that God has blessed us with. I seek more success in outdoor recreation. As God continues to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.
Commissioner Blankenship said Governor Ivey was a big supporter of the ADCNR, and she pushed for reviving the Governor’s One-Hit Turkey Hunt, which hadn’t happened since 2015. Commissioner Blankenship thanked host Wood for participating in the Governor’s Hunt, which brought together corporate CEOs, corporate presidents, outdoor and entertainment celebrities, media representatives and state sponsors to hunt turkeys and enjoy great Southern Alabama hospitality.
“The Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt is a great event, not only to promote hunting and fishing in Alabama, which is a multi-billion dollar industry in our state, but it’s also a great tool for industry recruiting for Alabama,” Commissioner Blankenship said. mentioned. “We are fortunate to have great places in our state like this in Greene County. We have the mountains of northeast Alabama. We have the Gulf of Mexico. We just have an incredibly beautiful state.
“Bringing people to come to Alabama to give them some good old Southern hospitality and allow them to spend a few days hunting and visiting people in our state has been very successful in bringing some of these businesses to Alabama or making them expand their operations here. I don’t need to tell anyone in Greene County the economic impact of the hunt on Black Belt or our state. We passed hunting camps and properties on the way here. These landowners opened their homes, lodges and properties for turkey hunting at a Governor’s Blow here in Greene County. Thank you very much for your hospitality.”
Commissioner Blankenship said the Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt raised more money than ever before for the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation. The Foundation supports scholarships at Auburn University and the University of Alabama. It also funds Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) programs that promote hunting and fishing, such as Hunters Helping the Hungry, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, Dove Hunts for Youth, duck hunts for young people and the hunt program supervised by adults.
“We expanded that into our ‘Go Fish, Alabama!’ program,” he said. “There are a lot of people who didn’t grow up fishing and want to fish. And what a great hobby it is. We introduce people to fishing so that they can spend more time outdoors. Outdoor recreation is such an important part of Alabama’s overall economy, and it’s growing every day. We were talking earlier today about the Birding Trail and the way birders are used to going to the coast or places along the Tennessee River, however they are also discovering this part of the state because they have found that if you want to see a bunch of different bird species and meeting some of the best people in Alabama, Black Belt is the place to go.”
Don Wood of Wilkes Creek Plantation, whose family is the eighth generation to live in the antebellum home built by his ancestors in 1887, said the origins of the plantation began in 1800 when his family received a patent US government land 19 years before Alabama. became a state.
“We’ve been here through every governor of Alabama’s tenure,” Wood said. “Until today, one of them has never shown up here. Governor, we thank you for being here. Governor, we appreciate you being a “big step forward.”
Governor Ivey introduced Cade Warner of the Westervelt Company, saying, “Westervelt brings the lumber industry and the leasing of out-of-state properties to the state, as well as the operation of a premier hunting lodge in the Pickens County.”
Warner, Westervelt’s director of sustainability, said Westervelt is a 138-year-old private company based in Tuscaloosa with five core units, one of which is forest resources. Westervelt manages approximately 600,000 acres of land throughout the Southeast.
“Westervelt has high quality forest land, all of which is sustainably managed,” Warner said. “Forest Resources also manages our recreation program, which manages recreation on 700,000 acres in the Southeast, including our 600,000 acres.”
Westervelt Lodge in Pickens County sits on 14,000 acres. The company’s Forest Resources also manages nursery and seedling operations in Greene County.
“At Westervelt, we see ourselves as stewards of the land. It’s the first line of our mission statement,” Warner said. “The long-term sustainability of our natural resources, including timber, wildlife habitat, water quality and hunting traditions, are fundamental management goals for our business. We have managed our land this way for over 100 years and plan to do so for another 100 years.
Commissioner Blankenship reminded those present of the opportunities offered by the ADCNR, many of them in rural areas like Greene County.
“We have 40 wildlife management areas and 23 state fishing lakes, which provide good fishing opportunities but also provide some sustenance in these rural areas with bass, catfish and bream,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “We have 285,000 acres of Forever Wild property that we manage across the state, 99% of which is open to the public for hunting. We have 21 state parks.
“This is all great, but we are not resting on our laurels at the Department of Conservation. We truly see an opportunity to use the outdoor recreation and all the beauty that God has blessed us with to recruit talent to come to our state to fill the jobs that the governor is working so hard to produce in our state. We have seen such economic growth in our state that it has resulted in very low unemployment. With low unemployment, we need more people to come to our state and take these new jobs.
“There are a lot of places that don’t have the quality of life that we have here. We can use outdoor recreation to show people what we have in Alabama. Hopefully these people will stay, work and raise families.
Commissioner Blankenship noted that Wilkes Creek Plantation is part of the Alabama Quail Trail, a statewide coalition of lodges that promotes the tradition of bird hunting in Alabama.
“We’re trying to develop quail hunting in different parts of the state to bring that back,” he said. “It’s something that got lost over time with development. That’s one thing about Westervelt: it’s not just about growing timber. It’s about housing. It’s about wildlife. We see companies like Westervelt and big landowners looking to do more for wildlife and bring quail back.
“We are working with Ducks Unlimited in western Alabama to bring ducks and duck hunters to this part of the state. And then we come to the access by boat. We have the Tombigbee River and beautiful waterways. It’s great to have that, but if you don’t have a place to go there, you miss that opportunity. We are working with the Governor to build more boat ramps statewide and to truly position ourselves as THE destination for outdoor recreation in the Southeast.