By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Dr. Mark Wilson, retiring health officer with the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH), knew early on the benefits of trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and parks throughout the county.
“A lot of people are getting out and exercising, a diverse group of people, from all over our community, and that’s really been great to see, but it’s also bringing people together. It’s connecting us more…” Wilson said.
The JCDH partnered with the Freshwater Land Trust (FLT) in 2010 to develop a Red Rock Trail System® designed to connect every resident to a trail or greenspace within one mile of their home.
On Tuesday, FLT released the next phase of the Red Rock Trail System®: a 36-mile trail loop consisting of seven priority trail projects to connect the Greater Birmingham Metropolitan Area within the next 15 years. This loop will yield 19 new trail miles, connecting the cities of Birmingham, Fairfield, Homewood and Irondale, along with other cities previously included in the trail system.
Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Mayor Eddie Penny of Fairfield, Mayor James D. Stewart of Irondale and Mayor Patrick McClusky of Homewood were on hand for the announcement.
Encouraging residents to take advantage of the trail system can help correct health problems that many face across the region, Woodfin said.
“… getting residents out biking, walking, running, allowing them to connect throughout the city, changes lives,” Woodfin said.
He also pointed to the myriad of other benefits the region has seen from exercise.
“What we’ve also seen in the last 10 years is these trails don’t just have a benefit as it relates to quality of life, of health, but we’ve seen residential growth on the trails, we’ve seen economic development on the trails, so we’re excited about that,” Woodfin said.
In Birmingham, the trail extensions will reach from Birmingham-Southern College through downtown and well into the Southside. Additionally, a trail will be extended from George Ward Park in the Glen Iris neighborhood, all the way to Red Mountain Park and then down to Homewood’s Shades Creek Greenway, which touches Samford University.
Patrick McClusky, mayor of Homewood, said the trail extension will close the loop created by the Shades Creek Greenway and Mountain Brook’s Jemison Trail.
“Finishing that connectivity is something that our citizens have been wanting for a very long time, so …we’re just a very small part in a very, very large project, and we appreciate everything that [FLT] has helped us with, and we really look forward to the future and more connection to the entire Jefferson County region,” McClusky said.
The area around Miles College in Fairfield will also have a trail extended to the city of Birmingham. Fairfield Mayor Eddie Penny said the new trail will bring improved quality of life to Fairfield residents and students of Miles.
“We want to make sure that we have connectivity, so those students can be able to walk and to use this trail in addition to all the other Fairfield residents…I can’t say enough about the elderly citizens, who always look for a place to walk. Walking is one of the primary exercise activities for them…so being able to offer that would be just huge for the city of Fairfield,” he said.
James D. Stewart, mayor of Irondale, said his city is “blessed” with Ruffner Mountain and the Cahaba River and that the extension of trail through the city will add to those “assets” as the city builds a new athletic field and a new dog park, which will connect to the trail.