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To Ruffner’s founder, Kathy Stiles Freeland, the mountain will always hold her heart


By Pat Byington


Ruffner founder Kathy Stiles Freeland (center) flanked by current Director Carlee Sanford (left) and former director Maggie Clancy(right). (Provided Photo)

Kathy Stiles Freeland is founder and the first executive director of Ruffner Mountain Nature Center.

She has also served in leadership positions with the Alabama Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and worked with Conservation Alabama and the Birmingham Audubon Society.

BhamNow asked Freeland what makes Ruffner so special. Freeland served as executive director from 1979-1989 and 2004-2009.

Here’s her response:

“Over 40 years ago, I became part of a coalition of different interest groups with one big shared dream — preserving over 1,000 acres of green space called Ruffner Mountain.

“We envisioned a place where Birmingham residents could find peace and quiet, children could learn about nature in nature, and native wildlife (plants and animals) could thrive.

“Fortunately, this dream captured the imagination and interest of the entire Birmingham community. Dogged determination and commitment over many years made that dream come true. Being a part of that effort was the most rewarding experience of my life.

“Any human or organization that is 40 years old will have had its high and low points and Ruffner has had those. Other green spaces have evolved (following Ruffner’s example) and life has changed in many ways with a lot of competition for people’s attention.

“However, there will always be a need for a quiet place to get away and reflect without phones and computers. There will always be a need to provide children opportunity to be outdoors and to discover nature, and definitely, there will always be a need for natural areas for native plants and animals.

“Ruffner is here to stay and to serve future generations. It has excellent leadership today and its membership base is growing. I hope the entire community will become a part of this amazing place by becoming a member.”

“My son was 11 years old when Ruffner was founded. Today he is a grandfather and I am a great-grandmother. It is a wonderful coincidence that Ruffner’s 40th birthday celebration is Oct. 21 — my great-granddaughter’s first birthday. She has already been taken on many outings to Ruffner and pretty soon she will walk on her own two feet to the limestone quarry like her mother, grandfather and great-grandmother have done many times before.”