By Junior Writer Andrew Pierzchala
“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”-Forrest Gump, 1994
From Kansas and the Wizard of Oz to Alabama and Forrest Gump, this is another journey guided by a famous movie story, known by millions of people. Alabama sits as the centerpiece to the southern states in America, bordering Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia.
Inside the state sits an expansive selection of scuba diving sites perfect for all types of divers. When you travel to Alabama, you are welcomed with open arms and a perfect state to slide into your wet suit, get your tanks on, and explore the southern waters.
Alabama offers some great spots to get ready for your dive; There are fantastic establishments to grab a bite to eat before you dive and make sure your palate is just as satisfied as the shrimp-eaters of Bubba Gump Company!
Some of the best Surf ‘n’ Turf in Alabama is found at Grille 29 in Huntsville, Alabama. Maybe you’re into the rustic and trendy types of restaurants, in which case you might find yourself eating at Acre Restaurant in Auburn, Alabama. There are so many styles of food famous to the south, and traveling from city to city in Alabama will help you discover the wonderful eats they offer.
Now that your stomach is full, let us guide you into some of the best dive sites of the wonderful state of Alabama!
Dive Land Park
Dive Land Park is a widely popular diving spot located in Glencoe, Alabama, and with just a short road trip from multiple metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee. The location offers some great diving, with visibility ranges between 20 and 70 feet, for any type of certified diver. Some of their fees include $25 for one day of scuba, $10 for one day of snorkeling, and just a one day $5 for Bubble Watchers.
“I go to Dive Land Park roughly twice a month. It is local and only about an hour and a half from the shop,” states Chris Roberts, manager of the full-service dive center Divers Supply Marietta who celebrates their 40th anniversary this year. “The vision is typical of a quarry, about 20 to 30 feet, and the water temperature is around 84 degrees on the surface. Overall the site has a bunch of cool stuff to see while you’re diving.”
Dive Land Park offers great night diving and entertainment program on the third weekend of every month. If you have traveled, or just want to stay the night for this amazing program you can spend the night in a great campsite featuring fire pits and small “port-a-john” style toilets. These sights are $10 person and any divers who stay get a $5 discount the next day, and snorkelers receive a $2 discount.
Dive Land Park co-owner John Valdez shares what makes his destination great:
“My father [John Sr.] and I purchased the site in 1995, and worked on it over a period of time. The surface area for diving is between eight and nine acres, but in total the land is roughly 80 acres, and the site used to be a limestone quarry. The site consists of a shallow area in the north that becomes a deep area in the south. The shallow end is equipped with training platforms and a cabin cruiser. We have many more building plans coming this season.”
Overall the site is ready for any eager diver who wants a real Alabama scuba diving adventure. Make sure to add Dive Land Park to your list of stops on your trip to Alabama.
The Coffey Grounds “Paradise in North Alabama”
The Coffey Grounds scuba diving and water sports location is located in Decatur, Alabama, and offers all sorts of your favorite water related activities. They have a wonderful establishment that fits the needs of individuals, and small and corporate-sized groups. No matter how many people, they will cater to what you need.
Co-Owner of Scuba Zone, a full-service dive center in northern Alabama, Kat Sexton states: Local diving is important to us, said Russ. The Coffee Grounds is one of the clearest quarries in the state.
“Coffey Grounds offers shallow diving and 50 to 60 feet deep for deeper diving and training. They have both day and night diving, and they have freshwater jellyfish during October. They have clean, clear waters, sandy beaches, and beautiful limestone cliffs. The establishment offers many entertainment spaces, wonderful bathrooms, and a close-access parking lot. It is overall a great place to dive.”
If you are planning to go to Alabama for a scuba diving trip and adventure then make sure to add Coffey Grounds to your list, and make sure to pick up some coffee on the way!
The project does not currently have a start date for divers, but is projected to be completed in the near future.
Freshwater Caves in Alabama
Once you find your way into Alabama take a look around. You will see the most beautiful forests filled with lush greenery, and you will find concrete jungles filled windows peering down on you, but one of the most intriguing parts of the state of Alabama is the underwater caves. They offer you an intricate dive filled with new experiences and adventures.
When you mix limestone and water it is like having a blind date, things tend to get a little complicated. A majority of the cave systems in Alabama were formed from water shaving away at the limestone; This process started millions of years ago and is sill continuing to run its course. Now we have underwater streams, tunnels, and caves that are ready for all kinds of divers to explore. A majority of the caves and underwater systems lay in the northern part of the state.
Although the caves consume a majority of the northern part of Alabama, they also move underground to the southern region of Tennessee and the northwestern area of Georgia. It is no wonder the National Speleological Society (NSS) decided to position their headquarters in the center of these popular spots, Huntsville, Alabama.
The NSS is an organization dedicated to the purpose of advancing the study, conservation, exploration, and knowledge of caves. The NSS is the umbrella organization for local or regional caving groups, or “grottos,” which explore caves through recreational caving, sometimes called spelunking. An organization affiliated with the NSS is the Alabama Cave Survey (ACS), a group that surveys and maps Alabama caves.
According to the ACS, there are over 4,100 known caves in Alabama and the ACS has mapped about a quarter of those. In most years, several dozen more are reported to the group. The NSS also contains groups who specialize in cave rescue and cave conservation.
Local diver Terry Hall, electrical engineer who loves diving, has over 1000 dives over the past 20 years. He does mostly technical diving now, focusing his efforts on the freshwater caves in Alabama. People do not realize how many caves there are in Alabama. There is a huge section of the caves that have underwater sections like those in Florida.
Most of the diving that Hall does with his cave diving buddies are exploratory.
“The sites have not been mapped or really explored. There are great fresh water caves in Alabama, both underwater and dry caves. The northern central part of Alabama has a high concentration of caves, and they are all cool in their own way. My favorites include the caves that are unmapped that you really have to explore. There is a group of us who like to dive near the Tennessee River, so far it is the longest underground river in Alabama. It used to be a dry cave, but was flooded when they dammed the river.”
Right now, they have mapped and explored about 4,000 ft. of the submerged cave, but many miles remain unexplored.
Blue Water Park
Formerly known as Dive Alabama, Blue Water Park is owned by Mark DiGiorgio, who also owns Scubaventures Dive Center: a PADI 5-Star center offering sales, rentals, training, and travel.
“I have been doing my dive training here for 30 years,” says DiGiorgio. “The facility is very nice and conveniently located on the I-65 corridor, making it a convenient location for all kinds of divers needing training or just doing local diving. When it came up for sales I pounced on it.”
Blue Water Park’s main goal is to provide outstanding service to divers which is why the park has maintained its full-service capabilities—rental gear (including dry suits), air and nitrox fills, and gear and tank repairs—to keep everything divers could possibly need on the grounds.
Totaling in at around 26 acres, the quarry is undoubtedly the star of Blue Water Park. While the depth ranges from four to 140 feet, the quarry has an average depth of 100 feet. And with three 20-foot training platforms, and three training pools containing four and 10 foot platforms, the quarry adequately serves scuba instructors and students alike.
Divers Supply manager, Chris Roberts likes to go to Blue Water Park due to the convenience and the great facilities they offer:
“They have really nice facilities. We conduct nearly all our training at Blue Water Park. They have lots of stuff to see in the lake, like cars and trucks. It is very convenient: the quarry is located nearly in the center of town, just 10 minutes from downtown Birmingham. Non-divers can go to the downtown Galleria, while the dive group dives.” explained Chris Roberts.
During the summer months, the surface temperature stays around 86 F. The bottom temperature, however, always remains in the 52 F to 54 F range, with two or three thermoclines. Visibility ranges from approximately 25 feet in the summer to 50 to 100 feet in the winter.
For those looking to do a little site seeing, our local aquatic life includes bass, sunfish, catfish, bream, bluegill, Japanese koi, carp, freshwater jellyfish, and turtles. Divers will also enjoy the many underwater attractions including fire trucks, cars, boats, a school bus, and a statue of a dolphin.
DiGiorgio and the rest of the Blue Water Park staff are excited to work with surrounding dive centers, instructors, technical divers and recreational divers to create a memorable, return-worthy experience.
Inland Lakes, Swamps, and Rivers: Artifact Diving
Situated along the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama has 53 miles of coastline and about 77, 000 miles of shoreline of navigable waters. Major rivers include the Alabama River, Chattahoochee River, Tennessee River, and Tombigbee River. Major lakes include Guntersville Lake, Lewis Smith Lake, Martin Lake, West Point Lake, and Wilson Lake.
Because of the state’s strategic location and deep historic significance, the state’s offshore waters and river systems have served as important sources for food and transportation, especially during the heyday of the steamboat. Alabama’s waters have seen their share of military action, too, including during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.
According to Steve Phillips, former owner of Southern Skin Divers Supply, one of the country’s oldest dive shops founded in 1953, “Our area has a rich history and much of that history, or what remains of it, is located underwater. During the Civil War, for example, the south literally threw their supplies, food, ammunition, and guns into the rivers so they would not be taken and used against them by the advancing Union army. Later, when the Union retreated, they threw their supplies into the lakes, swamps, and rivers to prevent the same.”
Although you might think that you are allowed in all the beautiful underwater wrecks, it is not true. The state only owns the abandoned wrecks, remains, and other underwater treasures. All Union wrecks and Confederate wrecks are not actually abandoned, but are protected by two specific groups. The United States Navy has jurisdiction over all of the Union wrecks, and the General Services Administration has jurisdiction over all of the Confederate wrecks. Just keep that in mind as you go exploring different vessels under the water.
In a machine all of the parts work together to form one final product. In Alabama there are two organizations working to keep the land and archeological resources clean and pristine. The Alabama Historical Commission, dedicated to the archeological resources, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, dedicated to the underwater land; these groups plan and work together to keep your underwater playgrounds just the way you like them.
“We have lots of divers who like to go looking for these submerged artifacts,” explained Phillips. “These local divers are amateur archeologists who seek to protect and preserve these important elements of history. In the past, many of these items were discarded in nearly lakes, swamps or rivers. They are found by these amateur historians who take them home and treasure them – in most cases whatever they found has no real commercial value – but they have a great time looking for it and finding it. That is what life’s about -having an adventure.”
According to the laws in Alabama, you can dive in all the states 77,000 miles of waters, and find and keep isolated items that are not determined to be historically or significant culturally resources. Some of the states protected sites are shipwrecks or former Indian burial grounds. Diving, digging or removing artifacts is prohibited according to state law.
These amateur historians have contributed greatly to the understanding and appreciation of the history of the state’s nature treasures.
St. Stephens Historical Park “A legend. A destination. A piece of paradise.”
Situated in St. Stephens, Alabama is the St. Stephens Historical Park. Beyond the ample diving space there is a variety of history to explore while you are taking a break from the water. The park features an old town that was a huge part of the history of Alabama from the late 1790s to the early 1820s. The park also includes a recreational area fit with multiple activities amongst the Quarry Lake, the Indian Bathtubs, and even horseback riding.
Jennifer Faith is the current park director for St. Stephens Historical Park, and expresses her thoughts on the spectacular park:
“The park was once the territorial capital of Alabama; the park is 200-acres big, and boarders the west bank of Washington County’s Tombigbee River. The recreational has a beautiful 90-acre quarry lake with white-sand beaches that boasts multiple types of water activities. There is RV and primitive camping available, boat rentals, and even an in-camp store. The now-abandoned settlement of St. Stephens sat atop a limestone bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River and hosted Alabama’s first seat of government. The park is full of history and fun.”
If you’re from out of town, or maybe even a resident of Alabama, and want to learn some history as you gear up to go diving, then this is the right place. St. Stephens Historical Park is full of history and equipped with everything you could need for a nice vacation.
Beyond these amazing locations in Alabama there are many other types of diving spots waiting to be explored by new divers in all parts of the state.
Although Forrest Gump made his way around the United States and the world, he always ended up back in Alabama. We know that once you get the chance to try the diving in Alabama you will fall in love, it will be hard to leave, and when you do all you will think about doing is going back!