Forging New Partnerships in Birmingham
Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.
Like many industrial legacy cities across the United States, Birmingham is undergoing a transition. Formerly the “industrial capital of the South,” the city is moving away from steel production to a more knowledge-based economy, including banking and medical research. Fifteen minutes from downtown, the iron ore-rich mountain that so many companies depended on for raw materials has been undergoing a transition of its own, thanks to a dedicated group of citizens and community leaders in Birmingham who came together to create Red Mountain Park.
After the industrial frenzy of World War II, when demand for iron and steel reached its highest peak, the mines in Red Mountain began to play out. Eventually, U.S. Steel cut its losses and ceased ore mining, leaving the private land vacant for more than forty years. In 2005, U.S. Steel sold 1,200 acres of land atop the mountain to the Freshwater Land Trust for less than half its value and contributed $1 million in seed money to develop a public park on the site, effectively doubling the amount of green space in the city of Birmingham.
Building an extraordinary park requires an extraordinary vision. The Red Mountain Greenway and Recreation Commission, comprised of representatives from local governments, area businesses, universities, nonprofits, and other organizations, launched a planning process with extensive involvement from communities around the proposed park. The resulting master plan established ambitious goals for the park. In addition to providing universally accessible recreational opportunities and preserving the history of Red Mountain, one of the goals of the plan was to create a financially self-sustaining urban park that is not reliant on government funding. The first phase of the park opened in 2012, with 10 miles of trails and the revenue-generating Red Ore Zip Tour, followed by a treetop obstacle course, the Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest, in 2013. The dollars from these adventures alone account for half of the park’s operating budget, with more adventure activities due to open in future phases.
Even though it’s not complete, Red Mountain Park has had a major impact on surrounding communities, and is on the leading edge of the movement to increase and improve the city’s green spaces and trails. From increasing activity levels to raising property values, it’s clear that though the mountain can no longer be mined for ore, it still has much to offer the citizens of Birmingham.
To learn more about Red Mountain Park, please visit:
City Parks Blog is a joint effort of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance to chronicle the news and issues of the urban park movement.The Center for City Park Excellence, a division of The Trust for Public Land, works to make cities more successful through the innovative renewal and creation of parks for their social, ecological and ...