Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve
The Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve (formerly the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center) is a 1,040-acre natural park situated on Ruffner Mountain in eastern Birmingham. The park operates educational programs which make use of the area's natural and historical resources. The center also keeps specimens of numerous native animal species, most of which are injured and unsuited for return to the wild. The nature center and park entrance are at 1214 81st Street South. The center's executive director is Carlee Sanford.
The park is crossed by 14 miles of hiking trails, highlighted by scenic overlooks, an abandoned limestone quarry and the surface ruins from an old iron ore mine. Frequent special events and guided hikes are scheduled year-round. The park hosts spring break and summer day camps.
The Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition was established on July 19, 1977 for the purpose of conserving a 24-acre site on the north side of Ruffner Mountain in South East Lake for environmental and cultural education and recreation. An additional 4-acre residential lot was loaned to the city by George and Bernice Shepherd. Kathy Spencer, head of the Coalition, helped turn the small red-painted cottage on it into an administrative office with space for nature programs.
In 1982 the San Francisco, California-based Trust for Public Land obtained an option to purchase four 120-acre parcels on Ruffner Mountain, marking the group's first conservation purchase in Alabama. The Alabama Environmental Council took on the development of the nature preserve as one of its earliest projects.
Since 1997 the preserve has expanded with parcels obtained through funds donated to the RMNC, grants from the City of Birmingham, and land acquired through Alabama's Forever Wild Land Trust, the Trust for Public Land, Jefferson County Greenways, and donations from United Land (a division of Walter Industries, which owned the bulk of the land on the mountain). During the early 2000s, the City provided over $200,000 in annual operations funding to Ruffner Mountain Nature Center.
A $600,000 project completed in 2008 added a wetlands environment to the park's educational landscapes. A series of small pools stocked with native grasses and wetlands plants are fed from an artesian well near the Irondale side of the park. Graveled paths and wood bridges form a handicapped-accessible trail around the wetland.In March 2010 the 6000-square foot "Tree Top Nature Center" was constructed near the East Lake end of the park. The $4.5 million project was designed by KPS Group and built by the Stewart Perry Company. The building was awarded a "gold" certification under the U. S. Green Building Council's "LEED" program. The structure incorporates recycled materials and computer-controlled lighting. It is raised on stilts and catches rainwater from its roof for re-use. Stone Leaf Design of Montgomery planned the center's exhibits.
Other projects in the center's master plan include acquisition of up to 500 additional acres of property on the northeast edge of the park, construction of a playground area, possible structural restoration of the Wharton Lookout Tower as an observation platform, and new entranceways.
Fund-raising for the continued realization of Ruffner Mountain Park's master plan was coordinated in a "parknership" with the campaigns to create Red Mountain Park and the Railroad Reservation Park. Together, the three parks would give residents of Birmingham more public green space than in any other American city.
In its 2011 and 2012 budgets, the city of Birmingham ceased providing operating funds to Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, despite a contractual agreement for the organization to manage the resource through 2029. Operational funds were restored in the 2013 Birmingham budget, but were again omitted for 2014.
- Kathy Spencer, 1977-
- Robbie Fearn, 2010-September 2013
- Kimberly Jeanty (interim), September 2013-July 2014
- Stan Palla, July 2014-July 2015
- Lindsey Darby (interim), July-December 2015
- Carlee Sanford, December 2015-
- Marian Harnach Nature Trail (0.7 mile loop): provides a gentle trail below the visitor's center with interpretive signage
- Geology Trail (0.5 mile loop): runs slightly uphill of the nature trail with a resting stop at Turtle Rock
- Quarry Trail (1.2 miles): leads from the visitor's center to the limestone quarry at the southern edge of the park
- Crusher Trail (0.5 mile): provides access to an ore crusher from the Quarry Trail, crossing the Ridge & Valley Trail
- Trillium Trail (0.5 mile loop): provides views of numerous wildflower stands above the parking area
- Hollow Tree Trail (0.4 mile): a moderate grade up the slope from the quarry trail, leading to the Buckeye Trail
- Buckeye Trail (0.7 mile): a steeper trail over the ridge from the high point of the Hollow Tree Trail toward Irondale
- Wetlands Trail (0.3 mile): an improved path with wooden bridges encircling the park's wetlands from the end of the Buckeye Trail or from the Pipeline Trail.
- Sandstone Ridge Trail (0.1 mile): extends from the wetland to a sandstone outcrop
- Ridge & Valley Trail (1.4 miles): from the far end of the Buckeye Trail, where it rejoins the Quarry Trail, crossing several small creeks and traversing 1,020 feet of elevation change
- Silent Journey Trail (0.3 mile): A fork of the Quarry Trail, rejoining it at its terminus
- Hawk's View Overlook Trail (0.4 mile): From the terminus of the Quarry Trail to an overlook of downtown Birmingham and Sloss Peak
- Possum Loop Trail: Extends from the Quarry Trail terminus around the southern end of the park and back to the Hawk's View Overlook Trail (includes a bypass route)
- Pipeline Trail (0.7 mile): a graded connection between the wetland and the Ruffner Road parking area
- Lizard Loop (1.0 mile): a gentle loop on old rail beds on the park's eastern end, accessed from the Pipeline Trail
- Barton, Olivia (June 24, 1982) "Mountaintop park dream step nearer." The Birmingham News
- Bouma, Katherine (April 5, 2006) "Treetop visitor center, lake planned for urban forest Ruffner park to grow." ' The Birmingham News
- Hickerson, Patrick (May 17, 2008) "Ruffner Mountain Nature Center offering sneak-peek tours of new wetlands habitat." The Birmingham News
- Cooper, Lauren B. (August 21, 2008) "Stewart Perry wins contract to build $4.5M Ruffner Mountain center." ' Birmingham Business Journal
- Bouma, Katherine (August 21, 2008) "Ruffner Mountain Nature Center in Birmingham soon will be opening a new visitor center." ' The Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (March 1, 2010) "Ruffner nature center unveils treetop view." The Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (May 27, 2012) "Ruffner Mountain Nature Center expands offerings as city proposes no funding." The Birmingham News
- Jeanty, Kimberly (October 31, 2013) "Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve Announces New Staff" Birmingham Times
- Chapman, Michelle (February 5, 2014) "A different path: Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve heading in a new direction." Weld for Birmingham
- West, Ty (January 28, 2016) "Ruffner Mountain names new executive director." Birmingham Business Journal
- Chambers, Jesse (September 20, 2017) "Ruffner's Trailblazers" Iron City Ink
- Kelly, Mark (2018) Back to Nature: A History of Birmingham's Ruffner Mountain. Birmingham: Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition
- Worthy, Ariel (October 19, 2017) "For 40 years, Ruffner Mountain has been the Magic City’s urban forest." The Birmingham Times