Massive trail system planned for Birmingham

Wendy Jackson, Executive Director Freshwater Land Trust
Wendy Jackson, Executive Director, Freshwater Land Trust

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Wendy Jackson.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

When it comes to great walking, jogging, and cycling—Birmingham doesn’t usually come to mind.

EV World selected Birmingham as one America’s five least bike-friendly cities

“Growth has led to sprawl, but city planning has lagged behind in growth when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian safety…a lack of bike lanes and useful paths across the city make it one of the least bike-friendly cities in the United States.”

Well, we’ve had enough and we’re going to change the landscape of Birmingham forever.

We at the Freshwater Land Trust are in the process of building one of the most comprehensive trail systems in America—and we’re about ready to go from embarrassing to ‘big league.’

750 mile trail system

We’re calling it the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail Systems and it will bring together the green spaces and communities of Jefferson County with a single trail network.  This ambitious project envisions a 750-mile transportation network that includes multi-use trails, sidewalks and bike lanes that can be easily accessible.

The trail system will meet the recreational and transportation needs of our community and encourage economic development in each city through which the trails will pass.

Great cycling—while improving our environment

Equally important, the plan is designed to preserve land by improving water quality throughout Jefferson County’s watersheds—water quality that has been sacrificed many times in the past.  These trails will provide natural barriers against pollution and spur community interest in preserving the natural beauty and health of these areas.

Community based

The vision for the Red Rock System began with the communities themselves. Feedback from over 3,000 Jefferson County residents created the backbone of the project.

The Freshwater Land Trust coordinates the work being done in conjunction with community members, city officials, and staff from all the municipalities within Jefferson County, and partner organizations, such as the Jefferson County Department of Health, that want to see these trails come to life.

The Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System Master Plan is organized into 7 corridors:

  1. Jones Valley and Valley Creek Corridor/ Central Spine of the Network
  2. Village Creek Corridor/ The Olmstead Vision
  3. Five Mile Creek Corridor/ The Great Partnership
  4. Shades Creek Corridor/ Over the Mountain Greenway
  5. Cahaba River Corridor/ The Living River
  6. Turkey Creek Corridor/ A Natural Sanctuary
  7. Northern Beltway Corridor/ A New Opportunity

When completed, these projects will give folks in our Birmingham region previously unimaginable access to the entire city via a series of trails that can be walked, run, or biked.

Some of the areas most beloved recreational venues, such as Red Mountain Park, Vulcan Park, Railroad Park, and Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, will all one day be connected by this system of trails.  A complete visual breakdown of the plan, including existing and proposed trails, can be found at

Massive project

Because the scope of the project is so massive, planners have allotted ample time to bring it to life.  Each of the trails being built requires land acquisition and planning and engineering before construction can begin.  However, enthusiasm and energy for Red Rock has encouraged people to meet the challenges and carry forward.  Many miles of trails have already been built (including several in just the last year) with more ground being broken all the time.

Rotary Trail

The latest effort in the Red Rock plan is the Rotary Trail.  The Rotary Trail is the signature project for the 100th anniversary of the Rotary Club of Birmingham.  Funded entirely by the Rotary Club, the new trail fulfills all of the goals of the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System.

The Rotary Trail links Railroad Park (another symbol of Birmingham’s commitment to economically and environmentally beneficial urban greenspace) to Sloss Furnaces along the Jones Valley Corridor, which connects the east and west sides of Birmingham.  The trail is accessible to walkers, runners, and cyclists and has been enthusiastically embraced by Birmingham citizens.  The Rotary Club was awarded Water Conservationist of the Year for their role in the creation of this trail.

Other Trail Connections

Several other trail connections are underway, adding to the comprehensive system that will one day connect the entirety of Jefferson County:

  • The 4-mile extension of the Civil Rights Trail into the Smithfield, Enon Ridge, and East Thomas neighborhoods includes bike lanes, sidewalks, and a one mile off-street trail along an abandoned street-car line connecting East Thomas Park to Parker High School.
  • Construction is underway on the High Ore Line rails-to-trails project that will provide a two-mile walking path along an elevated rail line from U.S. Highway 11 in Midfield near the new Jefferson County Department of Health’s West Health Center to the north side of Red Mountain Park.
  • 6.5 miles of bike lanes, trails, and sidewalks within Pratt City and more than three miles of bike lanes and sidewalks in Ensley.
  • Work continues on another rails-to-trails project to acquire a 16.5-mile abandoned rail corridor along Five Mile Creek. The trail will connect Center Point, Tarrant, Fultondale, Gardendale, Brookside and Graysville.
  • The Cahaba Road Zoo Loop Trail connects the Birmingham Zoo and the Birmingham Botanical Garden for the first time. This trails connects the cities of Birmingham, Homewood and Mountain Brook via a walking path along the perimeter of the Birmingham Zoo’s property.
  • The City of Vestavia has built a pedestrian bridge over Little Shades Creek to expand McCallum Park, while also building a trail along the creek that will eventually connect into Hoover.

Birmingham is often described as one of the most fragmented and disconnected regions in America, but our Red Rock Trail System will allow our communities to come together one mile at a time.

Wendy Jackson, aka “Mother Nature’s real estate agent,” and Executive Director of the Freshwater Land Trust has more than 20 years’ experience in the field of conservation. During her tenure as Executive Director, the Land Trust has helped to protect more than 10,000 acres of land in north-central Alabama. Wendy’s passion for river and land conservation has fueled her work to establish meaningful projects such as the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, the Five Mile Creek Greenways project, Red Mountain Park, and the Red Rock Ridge & Valley Trail System.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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6 thoughts on “Massive trail system planned for Birmingham”

  1. Maps.  Please appoint someone responsible for public communication regarding these soon-to-be resources.  May i suggest detailed maps that include relevant land features, GPS coordinates, and other trail features to help guide the would-be trail user to its location and its course.  For the trail systems belonging to this network that are already in place, this fundamental detail seems to be missing…..lacking…..unable to be found.  
     Thanks for the great work Freshwater Landtrust

  2. *The trail work that Wendy Jackson and the Freshwater Land Trust are doing is truly transformational. Folks, we are becoming a city that is quickly becoming the envy of all. Kudos to you, Wendy! You make us proud, proud, proud. 

  3. *Dear Ms Jackson,

    A very positive plan to improve the quality of life and enhance critical natural resources.

    It’s very different but Austin, Texas is one of the best examples of a major U.S. city of accomplishing your goals. Chattanooga is expanding the Tennessee River trail from Lookout Mt to Chickamauga Dam.

    Your vision is the boldest. Thank you for your leadership !

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