- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

David and Patty Adams were looking forward to zip lining for the first time during their trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, as part of their 40th wedding anniversary.

But on Monday, the Arkansas couple learned that the zip line course was abruptly closed and that their scheduled Wednesday trip was canceled.

“That was one of the reasons we were coming down,” said David Adams, who is spending the week on vacation in Gulf Shores. “We had thought about it for the last month. We got there today, and it was closed down.”

Gulf Adventure Center, the zip line course located between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on state property, will continue to be closed until further notice.

State park employees were on site Monday removing signs. Internet service was to be shut down. Employees were told that all operations were immediately closed.

“Our position is that we have every right to be open,” said Tom Schlinkert, managing partner of Gulf Adventure Center.

He said the zip line course is closed for the time being. “We are hopeful some negotiations can occur at the legal level that will create an environment where we can meet and resolve this issue,” he added.

Jennifer Weber, the general counsel with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said that Schlinkert needs to abide by the terms of a 2012 contract between the two sides and begin removing the zip line course. He has 60 days to do so, she said.

“We’ll continue to monitor the site and ensure compliance with the contract,” Weber said. “The operator and employees are welcome to the site … (to remove) the business and the infrastructure.”

Schlinkert and the department are involved in a dispute over the 4-year-old contract that allowed for the zip line course to open at Gulf State Park’s Lake Shelby.

At issue is whether Gulf Adventure Park and the state should use their best efforts to find a “mutually agreeable alternative site” for the zip line course at Gulf State Park. The contract requires the state to assist in the relocation, including $40,000 to remove the course, if the property is needed for the Gulf State Park project.

That project, which is largely funded with BP money, is a $135 million renovation to the park and the addition of a hotel and conference center. The conference center facility is to replace an old lodge, destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Weber said the closure is unrelated to the State Park project. Schlinkert isn’t so sure.

He points to the long-term master plan for the Gulf State Park project, which calls for the zip line course to be relocated to the park’s existing golf course. The golf course would be closed, under the plan, and converted into a more natural setting with hiking trails and other amenities.

Weber said she was unfamiliar with the plan.

The state’s park director, Greg Lein, told AL.com last month that back in 2011 and 2012 - when the contract with Schlinkert was first negotiated - there were uncertainties about whether Gulf Adventure Park’s Lake Shelby location would be utilized for the state park project. Lake Shelby has since been removed from consideration.

Lein, instead, said that the zip line course creates hassles with park fees that are already in place, and with future planning at Lake Shelby.

Schlinkert said he’d like to know more about those plans.

“It would seem to me that since they are a state agency, they should properly explain to a good faith concessionaire their reasoning for what they do,” Schlinkert said. “I don’t think a ‘because we said so’ is appropriate reasoning.”

Schlinkert wants to take the dispute to mediation, an out-of-court process to resolve disputes, but said state officials are requesting an in-person meeting with him, which he fears could result in him waiving his rights to mediate the conflict.

“We are very concerned about that,” he said.

Weber said the state is willing to meet with Schlinkert. “We were always open to discuss that, through his counsel. We’ve been trying, I guess, to find a mutually convenient date for mediation. We have not been able to do that successfully since early August and we’re still working with his counsel to set up a potential meeting.”

She added, “there was never an agreement that the zip line would continue its operations in the meantime. Our position was that the contract was terminated effective Oct. 1. He had 60 days (to remove the facility).”

The original four-year agreement contained options to renew for two additional four-year periods. Commissioner Gunter Guy Jr., in a June 20 letter to Schlinkert, indicated that the state would not renew the contract beyond Oct. 1 but the letter contained no details as to why the state wanted it closed.

Schlinkert said it turns a profit for the state, and Lein also agreed that the facility had been a money-maker for Alabama.

Meanwhile, Schlinkert said he plans to continue paying his eight full-time staff their salary.

“I’m still paying them and will keep paying them until I get a resolution,” Schlinkert said. “It’s not their fault. These are the people who made this what it is … who made it TripAdvisor’s top attraction and shined a light on the State Park and these are the people who ended up getting shafted.”

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