Alabama governor visits Pickens County sawmill to put spotlight on forestry and recreation

PICKENS COUNTY, Ala. (WCBI) – Governor Kay Ivey toured businesses in Alabama’s Black Belt Tuesday to promote the importance of the forestry and recreation industries to the state’s economy.

“Carrollton, Alabama’s got a lot of timber and that’s a good thing,” the governor says.

Her first stop was Cooper Marine and Timberlands in Carrollton.

“She understands what forest products are all about and so for her to care about this county and care about what we do is very special,” says Angus Cooper III, president of the Cooper Group of companies.

Cooper says the Carrollton sawmill provides 48 jobs to the area but says the economic impact of his business reaches even further.

“I would say in total, we’re probably supporting directly, about 70 jobs here in this county,” Cooper says. “Indirectly? A couple hundred.”

But timber is only one part of the equation.

Tourism at places like the Pickensville Campground is also a major economic driver.

“They’re purchasing food and gas and all the things that go along with camping,” says Ralph Antonelli of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. “In addition, people going out fishing, they buy bait and fuel to fuel their boat.”

Antonelli, who is in charge of managing the campgrounds, says they average about 25 to 30 campers during the week, 50 to 60 on weekends and are often at capacity for summer holidays.

“Especially during the COVID timeframe, that had our recreational areas experiencing an influx of visitation,” he says.

Shutdown in 2021 due to flooding, the campsite just reopened Sunday after Antonelli says they invested about $168,000 to get the popular destination back up and running.

“People make their reservations well in advance, so it was going to be terrible if they couldn’t spend their Memorial Day weekend where they would like to go,” he says. “Folks that are staying here at Pickensville may have been waiting as much as six months.”

Thriving parks and sawmills are not only good for Alabama, they’re good for each other.

“If you have diversity in your forest, you have more wildlife,” Cooper says. “If you don’t have diversity and every tree is the same age, it creates a desert underneath. So it’s very important to cut the trees to rotate to have diversity in your land.”

Antonelli told me that being able to reopen the campgrounds before Memorial Day is the best thing ever for them. He estimates a camper could spend $300 to $400 on a typical visit.

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