Massive 750 mile trail system planned for Birmingham

Carolyn Buck
Carolyn Buck

Today’s guest columnist is Carolyn Buck.

We are laser-focused on building a massive trail system for Birmingham.

Seven hundred and fifty miles of multi-use trails, parks, bike lanes, and sidewalks to connect Jefferson County residents.

Trails for recreation, alternative transportation, physical and mental health, the preservation of green space, community connectivity, economic development, and tourism.

Demand has exploded 

Although an estimated 2.5 million people use our Red Rock Trail System (RRTS) trails every year, we’ve seen an increased uptick of usage during the COVID-19 pandemic as people are seeing a greater need for safe places to go to find solace and connection with the outdoors.

Six years ago, Comeback Town published an article about Freshwater Land Trust’s (FLT) up-and-coming RRTS.

Much has changed in six years

Since then, FLT has expanded the Red Rock Trail System to 125 miles of trails, and it’s still growing.

We’ve facilitated critical connections in Jefferson County. And we’re gearing up to push even harder to get more trails on the ground and create even more connections.

Trails built since 2016

We’ve facilitated some pretty amazing, groundbreaking trails in the last six years.

  • Kiwanis Vulcan Trail: This one-mile extension was completed in 2017 as part of a $5.6 million project led by the Kiwanis Club, adding on to the 1.2-mile already existing trail. The off-road trail is now 2.2 miles long and connects Vulcan Park & Museum to Green Springs Highway.
  • High Ore Line Trail: Two miles were completed in 2016, followed by the third and final mile in 2019. This rail-to-trail connects Midfield at the Jefferson County Western Health Center to Red Mountain Park.
  • Wildwood Preserve: FLT opened its 51-acre Wildwood Preserve to the public in 2018, complete with almost a mile of wooded hiking trails.
  • Bessemer Rail Trail

    Bessemer Rail Trail: Bessemer’s first-ever rails-to-trails project opened in 2018, a one-mile trail with plans to extend it further.

  • Five Mile Creek Greenway in Gardendale: This two-mile addition completed in 2019 means that trail users can walk, run, and bike eleven miles round trip between Gardendale and Fultondale on a flat, crushed gravel trail.
  • Clairmont Walking Trail: This 0.8-mile trail runs through the heart of Crestwood.

Trails opening soon

While we have 125 miles on the ground, there’s still quite a ways to go to reach our ultimate goal of 750 miles. Trails currently under construction include two segments that will facilitate game-changing connections in downtown Birmingham and pave the way towards connecting to Ruffner Mountain.

One segment is currently under construction and will connect the Rotary Trail to Avondale’s 41st Street. We anticipate its completion in early 2022.

Another segment, which has already been designed, will pick up at 41st Street and connect to historic Continental Gin. Construction should start at the beginning of 2022.

These two segments combined will add nearly two miles to complete the Jones Valley Trail Corridor and should be open in time for the 2022 World Games.

We’ve gotten significant attention

Innovate Alabama, a report The Hoover Institution at Stanford University prepared for the Alabama Innovation Commission in October, addresses four critical economic development issues in the State, including outdoor recreational infrastructure. The report prominently features the RRTS – holding the RRTS up as an exemplar of what The Hoover Institution recommends Alabama should strive to accomplish.

In 2020, we also received a national SHIFT Award for Land Management Innovation for the RRTS, one of only six recipients from across the country.

Red Rock Trail System plan and brand

As we continue to build more trails, we are working with the national active transportation company, Alta Planning and Design, to update the RRTS’s ten-year-old master plan. We are also rebranding the RRTS to be more recognizable and accessible for all, including a new RRTS logo, mapping, signage, and wayfinding.

What’s next for the Red Rock Trail System

One of FLT’s immediate priorities is to connect Red Mountain Park, Railroad Park, and Ruffner Mountain and create a 22-mile trail loop around the Greater Birmingham Area with a special emphasis on the Civil Rights District and connecting downtown Birmingham to its neighboring suburbs. Beyond that, there’s more to come.

Carolyn Buck, Freshwater Land Trust’s Red Rock Trail System Director, has overseen the ever-expanding Red Rock trail network in Jefferson County for the past five years. She is originally from Texas and received a B.S. in Environmental Science from Baylor University.

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David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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10 thoughts on “Massive 750 mile trail system planned for Birmingham”

  1. So is there one continuous trail that I can run 10 miles on? Ride 20 miles on my bike? Where are the 750 miles of trail or are you adding up every quarter mile “trail” within a 50 mile radius? I’m looking for something like the Beltline in Atlanta, Katy Trail in Dallas, or Buffalo Bayou trail in Houston. The video appeared to look like yall are going to just open some alleys.

    1. Eventually, most disparate trails will be connected. The Jones Valley Trail is our equivalent of Katy Trail. Lots of development should continue to occur along the corridor similar to KT. There is a long run goal to connect Red Mtn Park to Ruffner Mtn. This section would come close to a 20 mi bike ride.

      1. Jones Valley Trail is 0.6 miles long. I wouldn’t even call that a trail. When you say connected, will there be a dedicated trail because it appears like they’ve just allocated some back alleys, sidewalks, and some go-betweens as “trail”. I bring all this up because the “trail life” is a big deal in new urban cities. When Birmingham talks about their trails, they act like they’re on par or close and there’s a massive difference. I hate to be Mr. Negative but 750 miles of trail is click bait. Few of those are long enough to break a sweat on, have zero development.

        Now, I know it’s a long term plan and that’s good, but I still dont see a plan to anything like those I mentioned above.

    2. The 750 miles of trails will be a network of trails all across the county. As mentioned, one of the proposed trails will extend continuously from Red Mountain Park through downtown to Ruffner Mountain Park….about 15
      miles I think. Only a part of the trail (hopefully) would be on-street bike lanes. The Katy Trail in Dallas (which I have ridden on) is very nice but only 3.5 miles. The trail from the Rotary trail to Continental Gin is an equivalent distance.
      I wish we could all have a more positive attitude when discussing initiatives for the city instead of such critical and comparative tones. If we are so concerned about the things being planned here not being comparable to cities like Dallas and Houston and Atlanta (which have multi-billion dollar economies and comparable funding streams), maybe we can jump in with a donation or volunteer to make it happen here!

  2. Jim,

    Thanks for your reply! A circuit around the Greater Birmingham area is our goal and we are currently updating our master plan to include feasibility studies so that we can begin fundraising for what we hope will be a 22-mile loop. In the urban context, we are having to get creative, hence using an alleyway as a trail (similar to conditions seen in Chattanooga), but we look for any plausible way to take a trail off-road. I would be happy to take you out for a tour on the trail that is currently under construction that will tack on to the Jones Valley Trail and then walk you through our design plans for the connection to Continental Gin Complex, which should break ground in the next few months. It might seem a bit untraditional, but we have developed these segments in consultation with some of the gold standard partner cities across the nation, so we remain hopeful that users will enjoy them like residents in other cities enjoy their trails.
    However, if you’re looking for a longer trail to bike or run, I would suggest visiting the Five Mile Creek Greenway starting in Fultondale and ending in Gardendale. It is an in-and-back trail and will get you 11 miles in total, and we hope to begin adding on another 1.75-miles later this year.

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