Five Mile Creek

Today, thanks to those who chose to look beyond its pol­luted shores, Five Mile Creek has a bright new future as a com­mu­nity asset. The stream is help­ing to bring eco­nomic revi­tal­iza­tion and hope to the com­mu­ni­ties along its banks.

Years ago, Five Mile Creek’s image was dis­mal. The Five Mile Creek water­shed in Jef­fer­son County has been impacted both envi­ron­men­tally and socio-economically by heavy man­u­fac­tur­ing and the devel­op­ment and sub­se­quent decline of the coal min­ing and coke-processing indus­tries of the early 20th cen­tury. The stream was known to be one of the state’s most pol­luted with an unfor­tu­nate nick­name of “Cre­osote Creek” due to its for­mer chem­i­cal odor and slick sheen on the water’s surface.

The remark­able story of the Five Mile Creek Part­ner­ship began when the City of Tarrant’s Fire Chief William “Billy” Hewitt began look­ing to con­vert a dilap­i­dated and flood rav­aged mobile home park into a new city park. Dur­ing this same time, Wendy Jack­son of the Fresh­wa­ter Land Trust was look­ing to acquire land along the stream as part of the Jef­fer­son County Green­ways Pro­gram. A chance meet­ing between these two even­tu­ally lead to the estab­lish­ment of the Five Mile Creek Green­ways Partnership.

In 2002, the cities of Birm­ing­ham, Cen­ter Point, Tar­rant, Ful­ton­dale, Brook­side and Graysville signed an inter­gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment that pledged coop­er­a­tion to develop a series of parks and green­ways along Five Mile Creek. In addi­tion to the com­mu­ni­ties, Cawaco Resource Con­ser­va­tion and Devel­op­ment Coun­cil, the Jef­fer­son County Com­mis­sion, the Fresh­wa­ter Land Trust, and the Regional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion of Greater Birm­ing­ham signed the agree­ment. Also pledg­ing sup­port were the region’s two mem­bers of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Repub­li­can Spencer Bachus and Demo­c­rat Artur Davis, along with the state’s two U.S. sen­a­tors, Richard Shelby and Jeff Ses­sions. The Five Mile Creek Part­ner­ship was thus cre­ated with the goals of improv­ing Five Mile Creek’s water qual­ity and to pro­vide recre­ational opportunities.

Since the inter­gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment was signed, more than $4.2 mil­lion has been secured through county, state and fed­eral sources to begin the trans­for­ma­tion of Five Mile Creek from a pol­luted, flood-prone eye­sore into an envi­ron­men­tal and recre­ational haven — one that could even­tu­ally become a major tourist draw for the region.

The part­ners shared a vision of a net­work of trails, green­ways and parks along the entire 28-mile stretch of Five Mile Creek. Creek­side buffers will help improve water qual­ity while stim­u­lat­ing eco­nomic revi­tal­iza­tion and growth for the com­mu­ni­ties along the Creek. This vision was hailed as inno­v­a­tive, and the Partnership’s long-term goals were thought by some to be overly ambi­tious. But these hard­work­ing part­ners have proved that some­times the great­est cat­a­lyst to pos­i­tive change is sim­ply say­ing the words “we can” when oth­ers say “we can’t.” On Novem­ber 17, 2002, The Birm­ing­ham News praised the part­ner­ship in an edi­to­r­ial that read,”…these are not towns with deep pock­ets in search of a project to eat up the bud­get sur­plus. They are small towns whose lead­ers sim­ply want to build a legacy for future generations.”

Today, with no ded­i­cated fund­ing source, the Five Mile Creek Part­ner­ship has worked to cre­ate a green­way plan that includes a net­work of parks and green­ways in each of the towns along its shores. Other Part­ner­ship accom­plish­ments include:

  • The acqui­si­tion of 588 acres of land in the upper water­shed by the Fresh­wa­ter Land Trust. Addi­tional acqui­si­tions in Jef­fer­son County, Brook­side and Cen­ter Point are being finalized
  • $1,250,000 in trans­porta­tion fund­ing awarded to develop Tarrant’s park and green­ways system
  • A $200,000 Brown­field Assess­ment Grant awarded to the Fresh­wa­ter Land Trust to assess brown­fields within the water­shed for rede­vel­op­ment as green­ways and eco­nomic redevelopment.
  • Prop­erty assessed by the Brown­field Grant is given a clean bill of health and is pro­posed as a dona­tion to the City of Ful­ton­dale. The City of Ful­ton­dale is plan­ning for cre­ation of a his­toric park along the creek that will pre­serve turn of the cen­tury bee­hive coke ovens
  • The adop­tion of the Part­ner­ship by the Magic City Chap­ter of the Alabama Power Ser­vice Orga­ni­za­tion (APSO). APSO has helped con­duct three clean-up events (and a third event in April) and pro­vides vol­un­teers to sup­port work within the green­ways. The Brook­side event in 2004 brought 200 vol­un­teers who col­lected over 14 tons of debris from the stream and con­structed two canoe launches. The sec­ond event in 2005 attracted over 200 vol­un­teers to the City of Tar­rant for a “Park-Raising.” The vol­un­teers built the city’s park in one day at the for­mer site of a repeat­edly flooded mobile home park. These events have received national atten­tion, includ­ing a pho­to­graph and arti­cle in USA Today.
  • In part­ner­ship with APSO, edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als about Five Mile Creek have been devel­oped and are being dis­trib­uted to schools within the watershed.
  • Char­rettes con­ducted by Brook­side and Tar­rant have planned the redesign of their down­town areas.
  • The pro­duc­tion of a quar­terly newslet­ter that fea­tures cur­rent infor­ma­tion and activ­i­ties on the Five Mile Creek Partnership.
  • The City of Tar­rant acquired the for­mer Birm­ing­ham Water Works aquaduct which will allow the city to con­nect their schools, senior cen­ter, play­ground, ath­letic fields, and library via a green­way that tra­verses the city.
  • Jef­fer­son County begins work to acquire an aban­doned rail­road right of way from CSX Rail­road that runs from Ful­ton­dale past Graysville and includes the largest wooden rail­road tres­tle in the east­ern United States. Rails to trails projects are planned that will bring con­nec­tiv­ity to the “string of pearls” along Five Mile Creek.
  • U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey con­ducts water qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing along the stream which indi­cates the work of Part­ner­ship is improv­ing the stream’s health.

These suc­cesses have largely been achieved on shoe­string bud­gets and via in-kind dona­tions and by lever­ag­ing every penny pos­si­ble through grants and inno­v­a­tive part­ner­ships. Today, the Part­ner­ship is being hailed as a national model for other watersheds.