Innovate Alabama forms Council on Outdoor Recreation and Roundtable

Moss Rock
Moss Rock Nature Preserve in Shelby County received a 2021 Federal Recreational Trail grant. (Pat Byington/The Bama Buzz)

Innovate Alabama—the first statewide public-private partnership focused on entrepreneurship, technology and innovation—has established a Council on Outdoor Recreation and an advisory roundtable consisting of 19 stakeholders.

Following up on a 2021 report, by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, which highlighted the importance of Alabama’s natural resources and outdoor recreation to the state’s economy,  the Council and Roundtable convened its first meeting on November 30th.

Purpose of the Council on Outdoor Recreation

According to the Hoover Institution report, outdoor recreation in Alabama is the key to unlocking a robust and inclusive economy for innovators. 

The role of the Council on Outdoor Recreation, with the help of the new roundtable, is to advise the Innovate Alabama Board of Directors on strategies to achieve three primary goals:

  • Expanding Alabama’s outdoor recreation industry
  • Enhancing the state’s attractiveness for a skilled workforce
  • Yielding substantial value for both rural and urban communities

Members of the Council include:

  • Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Council Chair)
  • Bill Poole, Chair, Innovate Alabama Board of Directors
  • Peter Inge, Private Sector Representative, CFO, NXTsoft
  • Darrell Ezell, Private Sector Representative, Director of Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Hudson Alpha

Role of the Roundtable

Alabama Paddle Race
We think Alabama has some of the most beautiful nature reserves. (Alabama Scenic River Trail)

Council Chair Chris Blankenship plans to take full advantage of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable who represent diverse and comprehensive perspectives from various regions of the state and outdoor recreation fields. 

The stakeholder group has been asked to provide recommendations for the utilization of Alabama’s recreational assets as innovative economic development tools.

“Made up of some of our state’s strongest outdoor recreation experts, the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable brings together centuries of combined knowledge in the outdoors to provide strategic recommendations on the application of outdoor recreation to enhance Alabamians’ quality of life and support economic development in rural and urban communities. We are thrilled to welcome these advisory members who will ensure that all regions of the state and outdoor recreation sectors have a seat at the table as we develop these recommendations.

Chris Blankenship, Chair of the Council on Outdoor Recreation

Members of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable include:

  • Amy Rauworth, Chief of Development and Strategic Partnerships, Lakeshore Foundation
  • Sen. Andrew Jones, Alabama State Senate, District 10
  • Chris Oberholster, Development Director, Alabama Audubon
  • Emile Hughes, Co-Founder, Ride Resorts
  • Fred Couch, Jr., Founder, Alabama Scenic River Trails
  • Graham Sisson, Chairman, Alabama Trails Commission
  • Mayor Jack Tibbs, City of Eufaula
  • John Kvach, Executive Director, Singing River Trail
  • Kellie Clark, CEO, AppThink
  • Kruis Retherford, President, Glasstream Powerboats
  • Rep. Kyle South, Alabama House of Representatives, District 16
  • Michael Norman, Store Manager, REI
  • Phillip West, Coastal Resources Manager, City of Orange Beach
  • Preston Cauthen, Community Relations Manager, Alabama Power
  • Rick Oates, State Forester, Alabama Forestry Commission
  • Rusha Smith, Executive Director, Freshwater Land Trust
  • Themika Sims, Director, Graham Farm
  • Tim Lindblom, Dean, Jacksonville State University College of Mathematics and Science
  • Tim Wood, General Manager, Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative

The new comprehensive focus on enhancing outdoor recreation is a game changer in Alabama. The Bama Buzz asked Freshwater Land Trust Executive Director Rusha Smith about her service on the roundtable and how the land trust will support the Council’s goals..

“I am honored to be asked by Commissioner Blankenship to serve on Innovate Alabama’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Roundtable. Given the unique biodiversity and numerous outdoor recreational opportunities that Alabama has to offer, it is exciting to see our state focusing on this important initiative in an effort to recruit and retain human capital, bolster local economies, and increase tourism. Freshwater Land Trust has already witnessed these benefits to our region as we continue to expand the Red Rock Trail System in Jefferson County, so I look forward to working with other leaders and partners to enhance these opportunities statewide.”

America’s Amazon

Gulf State Park
Hikers and bikers have several trails to choose from on their trip. (Gulf State Park / Facebook)

Called “America’s Amazon”, the state of Alabama ranks first nationally in the number of different kinds of freshwater fish, snails, mussels, turtles and crayfish. 

Through Alabama’s many natural wonders, the Council on Outdoor Recreation and the Roundtable are seeking ways to attract entrepreneurs and innovators to “grow roots” here.

To learn more about Innovate Alabama and its work on developing Outdoor Recreation visit their website at

Pat Byington
Pat Byington
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