By Michael Sznajderman
Alabama NewsCenter Staff
Officials from the Birmingham area joined corporate and community leaders last week to celebrate the latest extension of the Red Rock Trail System. The nonprofit behind the project is peering ahead to the next phases of a decades-long endeavor to create a 750-mile network of trails, bike lanes and sidewalks connecting all corners of Jefferson County.
Representatives of the Freshwater Land Trust, along with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and other officials from the city, and the Jefferson County Department of Health, cut the ribbon on the final segment of the Hugh Kaul Trail that connects sections of the booming Avondale neighborhood. The addition of the segment means walkers and bikers can safely travel more than 3 miles on protected trails or sidewalks from Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham to the edge of the Crestwood neighborhood. Plans for the corridor extend the trail east to Woodlawn and on to Ruffner Mountain nature preserve.
“This is an incredible day for all of us,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. She thanked supporters behind the latest project, which included more than 45 organizations and individuals, including the Hugh Kaul Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation, Jefferson County Department of Health, Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation, Ram Tool Construction Supply Co. and the Robert R. Meyer Foundation.
“We’re excited to be a part of the ongoing efforts to expand the Red Rock Trail System,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power’s vice president of Environmental Affairs and a Freshwater Land Trust board member. “It’s great to see the broad, community support for these trails, but it’s even more exciting to see more and more people getting outside and enjoying them.”
Dr. David Hicks, with the Jefferson County health department, said biking and walking trails offer significant physical and health benefits, which is why the agency has been a longtime supporter of expanding walkability across the county. He said the public-private partnership supporting Red Rock continues to strengthen as the trail system expands and links more neighborhoods and communities.
Carolyn Buck, Red Rock Trail System director for the land trust, said a recently updated master plan has identified seven priority projects as the nonprofit and its partners plot the next phases of the trail expansion. One of those priorities is to extend the existing Civil Rights Trail in downtown Birmingham, connecting it to the east with the newly completed City Walk BHAM and extending it south and west to Legion Field. Existing Civil Rights Trail sections already take walkers from the Smithfield neighborhood up historic Center Street to “Dynamite Hill,” where some of the most virulent battles took place during efforts to desegregate the city in the 1950s and 1960s.
Also among the priorities is a more ambitious plan that would create a 36-mile walking and biking “loop” around greater Birmingham. To date, more than 125 miles of the 750-mile Red Rock system have been constructed, but in unconnected sections around the county. The long-term goal: tying all the sections together with new trails to form a comprehensive countywide network.
During the ribbon-cutting, Woodfin pointed to Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn and said it was clear that O’Quinn was “beaming inside” to see the completion of the Hugh Kaul Trail.
O’Quinn, whose district takes in a large swath of central Birmingham, said that years ago, he commuted to downtown from the city’s Crestwood neighborhood, when there was no pedestrian or bicycle-friendly route. He said completion of the Hugh Kaul Trail creates a “welcoming” path that “solidifies the connectivity” among several Birmingham neighborhoods, and the people and businesses within them.
To learn more about the Freshwater Land Trust, visit freshwaterlandtrust.org.