BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) - While beachgoers are taking to the white sands and beautiful blue waters of the Gulf Coast, the first red, white and blue signs of the Independence Day weekend are popping up along the way.
With one week until the holiday officials aren't just putting up decorations, they're preparing for huge crowds.
"It was a huge tourism boom in 2011, the year after the oil spill. In 2012, it was an increase over the previous year and was a record year. So, 2013 looks to be even better. We look for this to be another record season," said Grant Brown with the city of Gulf Shores.
Brown said preparing for the July 4 holiday means more lifeguard shifts as well as increasing police and fire patrols for the city.
"There's a lot of meetings and planning for the holiday. Even though it comes every year on the Fourth of July, you still have to go through all those checklists to make sure you have people in place and your plan is good," Brown said.
The beach season comes on the heels of a national study by the Natural Resources Defense Council which ranks the Gulf Shores Public Beach and the Gulf State Park Pavilion as two of the top 13 beaches in the country.
Brown said the study studies water quality and public notification and has helped increase national awareness for the area.
Officials expect that to boost tourism as well.
Orange Beach Police Chief Billy Wilkins said that increase in tourism means more work for his department.
"It stresses us. We can't have a department that services the biggest weekend of the year. We beef up our patrols on this weekend and the weeks after it," said Wilkins.
He says traffic tends to be the biggest headache and beachgoers should keep one thing in mind.
"People need to leave early and be patient. Just be mindful of your driving and give yourself enough time to get where you're going," Wilkins said.
Wilkins said they are also increasing emergency responders to monitor for any trouble on the beaches or roads.
The Annual Fairhope Christmas Parade was held Friday night and the warm weather did not stop the atmosphere from feeling like Christmas.
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Federal authorities say an Alabama man has been charged in a slaying at an Army post in southeast Georgia, but officials are releasing few details about the case.
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