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Gov. Ivey comes home to celebrate new T-Pier and big fishing tournament

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 27, Governor Kay Ivey came back to her hometown of Camden to cut the ribbon on Roland Cooper State Park's new 160 foot long and 128 feet wide T-Pier that provides boaters greater access to the Alabama River.

Along with Gov. Ivey, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship and the director of Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management, Lance LeFleur, spoke on the value of natural resources as an economic development tool in rural Alabama.

The outdoor recreation industry is a $14 billion industry in Alabama, and many of those resources can be found in the Black Belt Region.

The weekend was made even more special when Gov. Ivey attended the weigh-in for the Alabama Bass Trail Fishing Tournament, an event that brought hundreds of visitors to the area.

Hosting the Alabama Trails Tournament and the opening of the T-Pier provides a glimpse of the promising future of what’s ahead for Wilcox County in terms of economic growth fueled by natural resources.

Without any place for boaters to dock their boat or fisherman to have access to the state park, the T-Pier is something that has been a long time coming for Camden, according to native Big Daddy Lawler, an advocate for natural resources for nearly 40 years.

Lawler emphasized the importance of larger fishing tournaments being held in Wilcox County. "These people are coming in here Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, spending their money and going home. It's a no-brainer for me."

"The Alabama River to a rural and underserved area like Wilcox County is just as valuable as Interstate 85 is to Lee County, and we should be using it like that," Lawler added.

He explained that the Black Belt region has some of the most diversified natural resources in the world, creating opportunities for hunting and fishing. Lawler added, “We have native wildflowers, native birds, the red heel salamander. The diversity of natural resources we have just amazes me.”

The Roland Cooper State Park T-pier project, which expands space for recreational boaters and is handicap accessible, cost $269,000, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management paid $183,000 through a boating infrastructure grant.

That investment will pay off quickly for Roland Cooper State Park, which offers amenities like cabins, picnic tables and hookups for overnight campers to use.

Roland Cooper State park reopened in 2016 under the Recreational Resource Management and is now one of the most profitable of all the parks they manage.

The Alabama Trails Tournament came to Camden in 2014, 2015, and 2016, but with no facilities that could accommodate a 200-boat tournament, they could not continue to host these larger tournaments.

That all changed with the upgrades celebrated this summer. With the improved facilities, Lawler said, “Now that we have them, it’s opening up a whole new avenue for Wilcox County.”

Lawler said the natural resources in the area are “unmined gold” that can become an economic development asset that can impact the entire Black Belt region.

He said he hopes the opening of the T-Pier and the success of the Alabama Trails Tournament will help bring opportunities for new lodging, new businesses and other facilities in Wilcox County.