Cheaha State Park’s new leadership team guiding improvements, adding programs

Cheaha State Park’s new leadership team guiding improvements, adding programs
The boardwalk at Cheaha State Park. Improvements at the park are underway since Alabama voters passed Amendment 2 last year. (Alabama State Parks)

A new management team is settling in at Cheaha State Park, just in time for the prime season for Alabama’s highest point to show off its spectacular autumn scenery.

Justin Howard is the new superintendent at Cheaha and Callie Thornton will serve as assistant superintendent. Renee Raney is park operations supervisor while Mandy Pearson continues in her role as park naturalist.

Pearson started in her role in mid-2016, while Howard took the reins as superintendent on Aug. 16, 2017. Thornton and Raney came on board May 1.

The new team is working on projects and plans to reinvigorate the park, which has faced challenges from budget restraints in the past. New kitchen equipment has been installed and repair work on the swimming pool is nearing completion. Infrastructure work that had been delayed is also ongoing with results that will make enjoying Cheaha easier, but will unlikely be noticed by visitors.

“We’re heading in a new direction at Cheaha State Park,” said Kelly Ezell, Alabama State Parks Central District Superintendent. “The passage of Amendment 2 last November has made it possible to address some long-needed maintenance issues. We’re making repairs and this new management team is working to bring Cheaha where it needs to be.

“They are going to be great new leaders for that park. They all have very important roles. Renee has called Cheaha State Park an ‘island in the sky,’ and she is so right. It is such a beautiful, special place. These four leaders are going to help the park reach its great potential.”

Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein agreed that Cheaha State Park will be a jewel in the system’s crown. “These are exciting times for our Cheaha team,” he said. “They bring a new enthusiasm to the park and we’re eager to see what improvements in the park and in its programs are in store for our visitors.

“There are many things on the ‘to-do’ list at Cheaha, most due to the budget uncertainties the entire system had before the passage of Amendment 2 last November,” Lein said. “Now that we are able to make solid plans for renovations and improvements, the leadership team will go forward with making the park the best it can be.”

Howard has previously worked at Cheaha State Park and is returning after several years at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville. Thornton brings experience as an owner of a small business. Raney’s primary focus at the park will be planning and working special events.

“We are pumping new life into that park,” Ezell said, “and I’m very excited. In the not-too-distant future, I think we will see a completely different face on Cheaha State Park.”

Cheaha State Park is in the middle of the Talladega National Forest and is home to Alabama’s highest point, 2,407-foot Mount Cheaha. The 2,799-acre mountaintop retreat offers visitors quiet surroundings and a lodge that can be used for family gatherings and business functions. Visitors can also find the Cheaha Trailhead that connects the park with the long-distance Pinhoti Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Cheaha State Park is at 19644 Highway 281 in Delta.

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