On January 28, 2005, the Freshwater Land Trust and U.S. Steel announced one of the largest urban conservation efforts in Alabama’s history. The Land Trust negotiated a two-year option from U.S. Steel to purchase the 1,108-acre Red Mountain Park in Birmingham.
This land, valued at $16.5 million, was optioned for two years at the discounted price of $7 million. Upon completion of the land purchase, U.S. Steel pledged an additional $1 million in cash for the development of park amenities. The property provides the opportunity to connect a 64-mile network of greenways that would allow a person to bicycle from Bessemer to Mountain Brook without ever encountering vehicular traffic.
This project is the largest philanthropic gift in U.S. Steel’s 100-year history. It is anticipated the park could easily attract a million visitors a year to our community.
To help the Freshwater Land Trust make Red Mountain Park a reality, in 2005 the Red Mountain Park Steering Committee was created. The Committee was made up of community leaders including mayors and representatives of towns surrounding Birmingham as well as representatives from the Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Alabama Department of Labor, the Vulcan Park Foundation, area businesses, the Auburn Center for Architecture and Urban Studies, and the Birmingham Historical Society.
The Park’s First Funders
The Hugh Kaul Foundation was the park’s first major funder. The Foundation gave the Land Trust $100,000 to establish the Red Mountain Park Fund that was held at the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. This fund was established to demonstrate critical private sector support for the project, provide match for federal funding, challenge others to contribute, and to allow the Steering Committee to develop a comprehensive master plan for the park. Thousands of dollars in donations—mostly in increments of $25 and $50- were made by individuals excited about the possibility of Red Mountain Park.
In 2005, Red Mountain Park received a huge boost when the Jefferson County Commission pledged $4 million for Red Mountain Park property purchase and park development. Then, in September of 2005, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham awarded $75,000 from its grantmaking funds to the Land Trust for the development of the Red Mountain Park Master Plan. This generous gift allowed the Steering Committee to hire a nationally known landscape architect, Wallace Roberts and Todd from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The firm made their first of many visits to Birmingham in June 2006. Public meetings were incorporated into the planning process to receive public feedback on proposed Park amenities. The draft Master Plan was finalized in January of 2007.
The Alabama Power Foundation awarded the Land Trust $40,000 in April of 2006 to develop an economic impact study. This extensive study, conducted by ConsultEcon in Massachusetts, was vital to help us tell the community and other funders of what the economic impact of Red Mountain Park would be to the Greater Birmingham area and the state of Alabama. Red Mountain Park will generate millions in total economic activity, job creation, and earnings.
Our senators and representatives in Washington helped make Red Mountain Park a reality. $2.5 million in federal funding was secured through the incredible efforts of Representative Artur Davis, Senator Jeff Sessions, Representative Spencer Bachus, and Senator Richard Shelby.
In 2006, leaders at the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and Region 2020 recognized that the creation of Red Mountain Park along with Railroad Park and the expansion of Ruffner Mountain Nature Center would make Birmingham a leader in parks and open space. They started the Three Parks Initiative to raise money from area philanthropic foundations and businesses for these three parks.
Their incredibly successful efforts and generosity of area businesses, foundations and individuals resulted in over $15 million for the three parks. This community effort and support was vital to the creation of Red Mountain Park.
The Freshwater Land Trust thanks the vision of these early funders to Red Mountain Park, who saw early on what Red Mountain Park will become.
Creation of the Friends of Red Mountain Park
From a desire to see Red Mountain Park become a reality, John Cobbs, a local triathlete and web designer, created the Friends of Red Mountain Park soon after the project was announced. This group quickly grew to thousands of members through word-of-mouth advertisement only. Not only did he create a terrific website (www.friendsofredmountainpark.org) to keep the public informed about Red Mountain Park’s progress, but his group is an incredibly valuable extension of the Red Mountain Park effort today. The creation of the Friends of Red Mountain Park is an excellent example of how community support is vital to the creation of a community park!
Current Park Ownership and Management
On April 17, 2006, the last day of that year’s legislative session, Representatives Paul DeMarco and Merika Coleman and Senators Rodger Smitherman and Jabo Waggoner helped us pass a state bill that created the 15-member Red Mountain Greenway and Recreational Area Commission. This Commission owns, manages, and operates Red Mountain Park. Governor Bob Riley signed the bill into law on April 21, 2006.
Today, the Freshwater Land Trust is involved in Red Mountain Park’s progress, and we are enthusiastic supporters of its management. We are incredibly proud of our efforts to create Red Mountain Park, and we thank U.S. Steel for giving us the opportunity to make it happen. To see what’s happening today at Red Mountain Park, please visit www.redmountainpark.org.