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Sasaki Wins National APA Achievement Award for Gulf State Park Master Plan

The American Planning Association (APA) has awarded Sasaki with a 2020 Silver National Planning Achievement Award for Implementation for our Gulf State Park Master Plan project in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The enhancement of 6,150 acres Gulf State Park is a planning to implementation design project that integrated almost every Sasaki discipline working together—from planning, to landscape architecture, to civil engineering, to graphic design—to bring the park improvements to fruition in a remarkable three-year timeline.

April 2020 also marked a decade since the B.P. oil spill devastated the Gulf Coast. Funded through recovery funding from the oil spill, the park’s enhancement focused on expanding access to the park to overcome lost economic and brand damage from the oil spill while also restoring the park’s environment. Ten years after the oil spill, Alabama has not only recovered its public parklands, shoreline, and amenities along the shore in rapid time but has also brought to life its bold vision to become an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability demonstrating best practices for outdoor recreation, education, and hospitable accommodations.

“The Gulf State Park master plan balances the need to protect a sensitive environment with the importance of accessible tourism,” said Wendy Shabay, FAICP, 2020 Awards Jury Chair. “The plan demonstrates how planners are vital for bringing together diverse interests and sustainably elevate a coastal gem for all to enjoy.”

The project focused on ecological restoration and wildlife habitat preservation, branding and wayfinding, as well as analysis of revenue drivers and maintenance planning to ensure this natural resource would become both an ecological and economic catalyst for the region. Though the most popular attraction of the park is its 2 miles of white sand beaches, a bounty of other assets abound; one of the design team’s key aims was to broaden access to new park offerings and showcase the many other natural features, such as the wetlands and woodlands. Educating park visitors about the ecosystems within the park was another important component of the project to inspire community advocacy and stewardship for the sensitive environments protected within the park’s bounds.

This acknowledgement from the APA is a great achievement both for the Sasaki team and for Alabama and the Gulf State Park region. It celebrates the state’s commitment to their natural environment and signifies an important bounce-back from Hurricane Ivan and the devastating BP oil spill. The implementation of Sasaki’s plan will continue to benefit the region and visitors from around the world for years to come.

“I see this project as one of the best examples of a win-win for environmental and economic goals. I hope this project will inspire other park systems around the country to leverage nature-based approaches to resilience and economic growth,” says Associate Principal Jill Dixon, AICP, who was project manager for the master plan. “As a native Alabamian, it was especially meaningful to work with our client team, Gulf State Park staff, and the community to identify opportunities to further enhance and protect this special park.  It’s exciting to see how the implementation of the master plan is launching Alabama into the global conversation as a leader for environmental sustainability—and just as importantly, how the improvements that have occurred will enable new memories for park visitors for years to come.”

The full consultant team for Gulf State Park Master Plan consisted of Sasaki, Watershed, Barry A. Vittor & Associates, Spackman Mossop Michaels, Biohabitats, and Inkhouse. Congratulations to our team, and to all of this year’s APA Award winners.

For more expertise from Jill Dixon on Gulf State Park check out her thought pieces “A New Model for Resilient Coastal Parks” and “Park Enhancements Shift Perceptions of Alabama.”

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