Earth Day is observed annually in April. First held in the United States in 1970, Earth Day is considered the largest secular holiday in the world and is celebrated by more than a billion people every year to promote clean air, land and water.

With such a unique ecosystem along the Alabama/Florida Gulf Coast, one way to celebrate Earth Day is to explore places like the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Gulf State Park, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Located off Fort Morgan Road, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge encompasses some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat.

The name “Bon Secour” comes from the French meaning for “safe harbor,” appropriately named considering the sanctuary for native flora and fauna the refuge provides.

Established by Congress in 1980 as a refuge for the protection of neotropical migratory songbird habitat and threatened and endangered species, the refuge is an important stopover and staging habitat during the fall and spring migration along the Alabama coastline. Migratory birds utilize this area for resting and building fat reserves critical to successful migration.

The refuge also provides habitat for the endangered Alabama beach mouse and loggerhead, green and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.

The refuge consists of approximately 7,000 acres of coastal lands ranging from constantly changing beach dunes to rolling pine oak woodlands.

An office and a visitor center are located on State Hwy. 180 on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. Refuge staff and volunteers are typically on hand to answer questions and offer suggestions on how to make the most of your visit.

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet visitors with sugar-white sand, surging surf, seagulls and seashells.

But there’s much more to this park than the beach. Inside the park, you will find a beach pavilion, tennis courts, camp sites, hiking trails, a fishing pier that extends 1,512 feet into the Gulf and much more.

One way to access the depth of the state park is by hiking or biking the 15 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system. Seven trails wind through six distinct ecosystems allowing you to explore a butterfly garden, freshwater marshes and coastal hardwood swamps.

You might even catch a glimpse of a bobcat on the twin bridges or a white-tailed deer on Gulf Oak Ridge or see an alligator relaxing in the warm sunshine!

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

You might recall the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo as “The Little Zoo That Could,” a nickname that came from the documentary that showcased the zoo’s efforts to rebuild and reopen following Hurricane Ivan.

The zoo is located on 17 acres of prime real estate smack in the middle of Gulf Shores. Wide pathways offer close-up views of more than 500 exotic animals including lions, tigers, bears, primates, leopards, wolves and more. There is a reptile house, a petting zoo and an aviary.

There are even special encounters allowing you to visit with animals personally, including kangaroos, lemurs, reptiles and sloths.

A shaded picnic area, gift shop and seasonal concessions area offer a respite from the sunshine.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Just to the east of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, in Perdido Key, Florida, is a portion of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The Perdido Key area offers daytime access to the Gulf of Mexico and white sand beaches. You may also enjoy the Johnson Beach Discovery Trail, a hike that takes you on a raised boardwalk through dunes, pine trees, salt marsh outlooks and ends with a beautiful view of Grand Lagoon. At around a half-mile-long hike, it’s a breeze to relax and enjoy the unique sights and sounds of local wildlife.

Leave Only Footprints

In a nod to preserving the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast for future generations to enjoy, the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have implemented the Leave Only Footprints campaign.

With more than 5 million visitors traveling to the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach annually, this campaign reminds visitors to remove their personal items from the beach daily, take measures to protect the local wildlife, and return home with happy lifetime memories.

5 Leave Only Footprints Points To Remember

1.  Any structures of equipment left on the beach an hour after sunset will be removed and disposed of by beach patrol (except for permitted beach services).
2.  Individual lodging properties and landowners may allow tents and shelters in designated areas during the day. Learn the rules for your stretch of beach.
3.  Items not allowed on beaches include glass containers, metal shovels or excessive digging, litter, tents or structures larger than 10 feet by 10 feet, overnight camping, fireworks, loud music, fires, pets and vehicles.
4.  Keep off the dunes. Staying off the dunes will help preserve the dune system and habitat it provides. Use beach walkovers and boardwalks where provided.
5.  Be respectful of private property beyond the bounds of your lodging property.

Looking for a great spot to enjoy the Gulf Coast during Earth Day or any time of year? You’re bound to find the perfect beach property in Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Orange Beach or Perdido Key.